Lasting beginnings of 'fake news‘: the televised 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat
The 2002-violence against the Muslim minority in the Indian State of Gujarat was the first of its kind that was live-televised to national audiences. This lecture will elaborate on how it was precisely this unprecedented mediatization that has rendered the violence unidentifiable, und unpublishable, as a crime.
Lunch Lecture by IIAS fellow Britta Ohm from the Institute for Social Anthropology, University of Bern, Switzerland and the Academy for the Popular Arts (hdpk), Berlin, Germany.
Lunch is provided. Registration is required.
'On 27th February 2002, carriage S6 of the Sabarmati Express train caught fire outside Godhra station in the State of Gujarat, India, killing 57 Hindu nationalist activists, including women and children, who were returning from a political rally in the city of Ayodhya.'
This apparently merely descriptive sentence continues, until today, to evoke objections and counter-narratives, which read, for instance, like this:
'On 27th February 2002, carriage S6 of the Sabarmati Express train was stopped by a crowd of militant Muslims outside Godhra train station who stoned and set fire to the train, killing 57 Hindu activists who were on their way back from Ayodhya.'
Or like this:
'On 27th February 2002, carriage S6 of the Sabarmati Express train was attacked outside Godhra station by an organized group of Muslim terrorists who mercilessly burnt 57 innocent Hindu pilgrims returning from the sacred shrine in Ayodhya.'
The fire in the train was followed by large-scale anti-Muslim violence which ravaged Gujarat between March and May 2002 and is accordingly described either as a (legitimate) 'spontaneous retaliation' at 'the Godhra massacre' or as a (criminal) pogrom/'genocide' organized by Hindu nationalist (Hindutva) groups and supported by the then Gujarat government. This government, of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was led by chief minister Narendra Modi, who in 2014 was elected prime minister of India and for whose popular legitimacy the narrative of the 'Muslim terrorist' and the 'Godhra massacre' - and the 'exaggeration'/'fake news' of Hindu(tva) aggression‚ respectively - have been essential elements.
Remarkably, the continuously 'unsettled' status of the Gujarat violence 2002 and its polarized understanding across various Indian publics and even the scholarly community, has still hardly been related to its uniquely mediatized background. In this lecture, I will argue that it was not despite but because of its 24/7 live-coverage by commercial television that the Gujarat violence has remained a lasting matter of antagonistic truth-claims. As such, it marked a substantial power shift that has been enforced and articulated through the questioning of erstwhile interpretational authorities both in politics and the media and an unprecedented popular interpretability of information. The swift appropriation of political/media skepticism by a Hindu nationalist discourse of immediacy, anti-ideology, popular empowerment and legitimate anti-minority sentiment has thus become inscribed in the very evolvement of a liberalized and digitalizing media landscape in India, thereby much preceding recent western-centric debates on ecosystems of false information, political claims of fake news, and organized troll campaigns.
Britta Ohm is Associate Researcher at the Institute for Social Anthropology, University of Bern (CH), Senior Lecturer at the Academy for the Popular Arts (hdpk), Berlin (GER), and currently an Affiliated Research Fellow at IIAS. She continues to do extensive fieldwork, with a focus on trajectories of (professional) production and discourses/practices of post-secularism, religion, democracy and fascism, in the media/television landscapes of India and Turkey. Her work has been published in volumes and journals such as European Journal of Cultural Studies, Television & New Media, Culture Unbound, Media International Australia and Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture. She is also a contributor to Open Democracy and German-language publications. At the IIAS, she is working on a manuscript on publicness and violence in the context of the Gujarat pogrom 2002.
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About IIAS Lunch Lectures
Every month, one of the IIAS affiliated fellows gives an informal presentation about his/her work-in-progress. IIAS organises these lectures to provide the research community with an opportunity to freely discuss ongoing research and exchange thoughts and ideas. Anyone with an interest in the topic is welcome to attend and join the discussion.