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Thursday, January 21, 2021

Sudarshan News controversy: Be careful about what you watch on TV

The Supreme Court is hearing a case involving private TV channel Sudarshan News for a controversial show on alleged infiltration of Muslims into civil services examination conducted by Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). Now this is very rare. The top court making its stand over the telecast of a TV show. Why? What does the show air? Well there lies the big controversy that has made it to the front page of major news outlets in India. In this article, we shall talk about all aspects related to the Sudarshan News channel UPSC Jihad issue and also inform you why you should choose carefully what you watch on TV.

The Centre told the top court that it has issued a showcase notice to the news channel for the programme “Bindas Bol” where the focus is sudden rise in the number of Muslims in civil services; the channel calls it “UPSC Jihad”. Sudarshan News has been given time to file its reply by September 28. The SC refused a pre-broadcast ban on the show. A bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud is now hearing a plea against the provocative show and on September 16, 2020, the top court temporarily restricted the channel from airing the remaining episodes.

Sudarshan News UPSC Jihad controversy: Explained in 6 points

1. What did Sudarshan news show?

On September 11, Sudarshan News broadcast its controversial show on Muslim ‘infiltration’ in the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) examination after the Supreme Court overturned a Delhi high court order staying the programme. Sudarshan News editor-in-chief Suresh Chavhanke hailed the show as “investigative journalism” bringing the truth about “anti-national” activities to viewers, but the one-hour long episode used misinformation to legitimise dangerous conspiracy theories.

Sudarshan News aired four episodes in the programme on September 11, 12, 13 and 14, 2020, and there are around six more episodes remaining to be broadcast in the programme series. The Supreme Court has put a pre-broadcast ban on the remaining episode till the time the case is decided.

2. Who filed petition against the show, what did he say?

The petition against the programme has been filed by a lawyer, Firoz Iqbal Khan, who submitted that “Bindas Bol” contained statements which were derogatory about the entry of Muslims into the civil services. In the programme’s trailer, which was widely shared on social media platforms, the anchor and editor-in-chief of Sudarshan News, Suresh Chavhanke, was seen questioning how there had been a sudden increase in the number of Muslims succeeding in Indian Administrative Service and Indian Police Service exams. Khan has contended in his petition that such views were derogatory to Muslims, had a divisive potential and was in violation of the programme code spelled out under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act of 1995 which regulates television content.

3. What were the claims made by the news channel?

Mainly five major claims were made by the channel. A) Sudden increase in Muslim aspirants: The entire show was based on the premise that a greater number of Muslim aspirants are taking the UPSC exam, thus suggesting an organised ‘infiltration’ in Indian bureaucracy. B) Age relaxation for Muslim candidates: Sudarshan News claimed that the age-limit for Hindu candidates is 32 and the same for OBC Muslims is 35. C) Benefit of ‘more attempts’ to Muslims: The channel also claimed that Muslims are given the advantage of more attempts to take the exam. Hindus can take the exam six times while Muslims get nine attempts, as per Sudarshan News. D) Qualifying marks lower for Muslims: At about 45:30 minutes into the show, Chavhanke claimed that cut-off marks are also set lower for Muslims. He compared the minimum qualifying marks in 2009 (for reasons best known to him) for Muslims and Hindus as if no ‘non-Muslim’ belongs to the SC/ST and OBC category. E) Free coaching centres only provided to Muslims: Chavhanke then proceeded to describe another ‘favour’ given to Muslims. At 47 minutes, he said that former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh set up five coaching centres for UPSC exams “out of which, four were set up in Muslim universities. However, all these claims can be challenged if you go through the official UPSC website in details and follow the trend of the exam over the years.

4. What did the channel say in defense?

Sudarshan News has maintained that the intention of the programme is not to vilify the Muslim community but to highlight the allegedly dubious sources of foreign funding received by an organisation that supports and provides coaching for civil service aspirants.

5. What did the Supreme Court say?

On September 21, the top court had pondered over the nature and extent of its order regulating “Bindas Bol” saying it did not want to “curtail” freedom of speech as the programme has “public interest” involved on issues of “foreign funding” and “reservation”. The channel has urged the apex court to lift the stay on the telecast of the remaining six episodes of the controversial programme, saying the channel would abide by laws. But the Centre tol the bench of justices DY Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and KM Joseph that it has served a four-page notice seeking a written submission from the channel regarding violation of programme code and why action should not be taken against it. The bench has adjourned the hearing in the case till October 5.

6. Why is the show termed dangerous?

Competitive communalism thrives on stereotypes, prejudices, apprehensions, incriminations and recriminations. But very few could have foreseen public discourse plumbing into such a nadir. While the boorish, snide remark of ‘jihad’ is a predictable diatribe on the part of Sudarshan News, there are equally damaging stereotypes that find many takers on the other side. On 15 September 2020, a visibly alarmed Supreme Court stopped its telecast with these words: “This programme is so insidious. See how insinuating is the subject of this programme that Muslims have infiltrated the services and this puts the examinations of UPSC under scanner without any factual basis. Aspersions have been cast on UPSC. Such allegations without any factual basis, how can this be allowed? Can such programs be allowed in a free society.”

A. It creates hate and anger

Many apprehensions are rife among the Muslims about the Indian State and its apparatuses. Their misgivings operate at two levels. At one, the Indian State and its agencies are suspected to be ill disposed towards the Muslims. Therefore, those who work for the government are despised as compradors and stigmatised as Sarkari Musalman, that is, the ones who struck a Faustian bargain with a Mephistophelian State. At another level, Indian Muslims do want to integrate more closely with the State in order to mainstream themselves in contemporary India. But the sense of alienation is so pervasive that they harbour a fear of discrimination.

B. No educational information in the show

The show is fully based on false claims. Muslims may be about 15 per cent of India’s population, they are only 3.68 per cent of India’s graduates. Thus, their 3-5 per cent presence in different civil services rather commensurately represents the educational status of the community. This number can swing a bit either way from year to year without impacting the natural correspondence between the qualified and competing candidates on the one hand and the selected ones on the other. So, if there were more schools, colleges, and technical and professional institutes, in some years their output would reflect in different walks of life, including the government services. However, if the community displays the hurry to increase this proportion without having expanded its educational base, it would be pursuing the chimera of an unviable top-down model of development.

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