Here’s something that was published in Mint on June 11, 2010:
“I have also never understood why we’re always on steroids when it comes to festivals and weddings. Diwali? Personally, I’ve always believed Ram was a loser and I have no idea why Sita didn’t leave him many years before he threw a tantrum that resulted in her walking through fire… I’ve always thought of Holi as National Be Molested (Colourfully) Day. I hate the way we destroy our oceans by aggressively dunking thousands of non-biodegradable elephant idols in them every year. The one time I went to India’s richest temple, I was so put off I swore I would never go back.”
Written by Priya Ramani, this column has, since then, become something of a “hall of fame” entry in the public discourse about festivals, culture and traditions. festival
This is festive season. After wrapping up Dussehra/ Navaratri, people are right on the cusp of Diwali celebrations. In Delhi and NCR however, this time, the Supreme Court had banned the sale of firecrackers, reportedly as a test case, to see how it impacts pollution. This has elicited applause in certain sections and recrimination in others. On the one hand, there are people who think this was long overdue while on the other side there are those who think such decisions are arbitrary and also target one single religion or its practices.
While not venturing into that debate, The True Picture decided to embark upon a study to analyse how news reports, reportage and opinion — the three big flavours of English print and digital media coverage — have covered various religious and cultural practices.
The True Picture searched and scanned about 2,147 articles of media coverage to arrive at the below insights.
The study aims to understand how news and events which pertain to religion and culture are handled in the Indian media.
The primary reason why both Bakrid and Jallikattu have been in the news so often in recent times is the overarching question of “cruelty to animals”, as it has been defined in the public discourse. Individuals and groups, on various sides of the debate, on both issues, have usually tended to pivot on this question. Now, what has our analysis found?
We found 214 articles on Bakrid and 386 on Jallikattu.
Our analysis revealed that there were:
- 88 articles with a Positive Content Tone on Bakrid, 49 Negative and 77 Neutral.
- The same figures for Jallikattu are: 181, 74 and 131, respectively.
- In terms of Headline Tone, Bakrid had 67 Positive, 50 Negative and 97 Neutral.
- For Jallikattu, Headline Tone stood at: 175 Positive, 88 Negative and 123 Neutral.
Thus, in percentage terms, leaving out the Neutral articles, we found the following with the remaining articles:
- 64% articles on Bakrid had a Positive Content Tone and 36% Negative.
- On Jallikattu, 71% articles had a Positive Content Tone and 29% Negative.
- With Headline Tone, Bakrid scored 57% Positive and 43% Negative.
- With Headline Tone, Jallikattu had 67% Positive and 33% Negative.
But is this the true picture?
Since there was a spate of news reports after the lifting of the ban on Jallikattu whose content would, by the very nature of the facts reported, make the Content Tone and often the Headline Tone, too, Positive, we wondered if this was an accurate reflection of coverage.
Therefore, in our next round of analysis, we checked how the coverage broke up among News Reports, Opinion and Reportage.
Figure 1: Bakrid News Reports – Content Tone
Figure 2: Bakrid Opinion – Content Tone
Figure 3: Jallikattu News Reports – Content Tone
Figure 4: Jallikattu Opinion – Content Tone
Figure 5: Bakrid News Reports – Headline Tone
Figure 6: Bakrid Opinion – Headline Tone
Figure 7: Jallikattu News Reports – Headline Tone
Figure 8: Jallikattu Opinion – Headline Tone
A clearer picture emerges from Figures 1 to 8. As we pass from news reports, through reportage to opinion pieces, with each category increasing the scope for the writer’s opinion, we come to see the following:
- While 63% Content Tone was Positive in news reports on Bakrid, when it comes to opinion articles, 100% of Content Tone is Positive.
- On Headlines, Positive articles on Bakrid escalate from 55% in news reports to a full 100% for opinion pieces.
- While 74% of Content Tone in news reports on Jallikattu is Positive, when it comes to opinion pieces, Positive Content Tone falls to 50%.
- With regard to Headline Tone, too, Jallikattu falls from 69% Positive for news reports to only 50% for opinion.
It is clear that news reports and reportage were presumably driven by the positive turn of events for Jallikattu, skewing the overall picture. However, as the gradient of opinion rises, the negative tone on Jallikattu also rises. On the other hand, as the scope for opinion expands, the positive tone on Bakrid starts dominating the discourse.
Since all opinion pieces on Bakrid appear to be Positive, what does the typical Positive opinion article on Bakrid say? And since half of opinion pieces on Jallikattu appear to be Negative, what does such an opinion piece typically say? Let us next look at some samples. (All emphases are added)
On September 15, 2016, Aejaz Saiyed wrote the article “Itna Gussa Kyun? Chiding Against Goat Slaughter Only Flares Anger” in The Quint. Below is are three excerpts:
- The word society means “a group of people involved in persistent social interaction, or a large social grouping” – and the term has a definite democratic angle to it. So, putting forth a dictum like “don’t slaughter goats inside my housing society” sounds a bit unilateral and dictatorial.
- What is even more amusing is that she mentions that she was expecting the goats to be taken to the slaughter house for slaughtering on the day of Eid. Really? I find that amusing because anybody born and brought up in a multi-religious, multi-cultural, democratic country like India ought to know that goats are slaughtered within residential areas during the three Eid days, and this has been a practice since time immemorial.
- In a housing society with a majority Muslim population, this constant chiding and instigating will only flare misgivings and anger.
A Deccan Chronicle editorial, “Keep jallikattu banned”, published on May 24, 2014, had the following points to make:
- The point, however, is not about whether humans or animals suffer more in such events that boast of a cultural tradition and are supposed to bring out the valour in men. We must learn to stop applauding cruelty to animals just because there is a history to it.
- While the bullfight has the protection of cultural-heritage status in Spain, lovers of jallikattu know the pointlessness of the bull run as it is staged here save for a pocket of social acceptability in a rural society.
The Hindu editorial “Ending cruelty to animals”, published on May 13, 2014 (updated May 23, 2016), said:
- By banning jallikattu, the popular bull-taming sport associated with annual harvest festivities in Tamil Nadu, the Supreme Court has made it clear that the law on prevention of cruelty to animals “overshadows or overrides the so-called tradition and culture.”
- The proscription flows from two principal considerations: the avoidance of cruelty and the continued inability of jallikattu organisers and authorities to avoid injuries and fatalities to human participants and bulls, despite regulations. In the case of jallikattu, it is inherently violent and involves letting bulls run wild with the sole objective of allowing some intrepid youth demonstrate their valour by holding on to the fleeing animals.
On two festivals, with the same fundamental issue informing the debate – “cruelty to animals” – as far as the media and commentators hold an opinion, it is 100% in favour of Bakrid and only 50% in favour of Jallikattu.
In the excerpts above, we come across an opinion which cites history and tradition, as well as democracy and multiculturalism, to justify animal slaughter for Bakrid, in which the animal faces certain death. In the case of Jallikattu, we come across an opinion which says that cruelty to animals cannot be allowed even if there is history behind it and even if it is just a sport, where it is not certain that the animal will even be harmed, let alone killed.
Let us next look at not another set of festivals but two issues, at the heart of both of which lies the question of “women’s rights and dignity” – dowry and triple talaq.
In the Supreme Court’s judgment on triple talaq in August 2017, we find the phrases: “divorce… abruptly, unilaterally and irrevocably terminates the ties of matrimony”, that divorce “divorce altered the status of married women, which can leave her destitute” and “alters the legal status of the concerned person, as against the whole world”.
Let us first look at excerpts from some of the representative opinion articles on these two issues. (All emphases are added)
On May 13, 2012, Ragini Nayak wrote the article “A sickening mindset: boys are assets, girls a burden” in The Hindu. Below is an excerpt:
“[W]hile a son’s marriage brings dowry into the family, a girl is always associated with the term parayadhan. Females are regarded only as temporary members of their natural family.”
On July 29, 2017, Shuma Raha wrote the article “New Anti-Dowry Law Shoves Us Back to the Patriarchal Era” in The Quint. Below is an excerpt:
“There have been some cases of abuse, yes. But most have been by savvy urban women. This cannot be the excuse to dilute the law and deny its benefit to countless women who are physically and psychologically assaulted for dowry. This week, the Madras High Court ruled that a husband should not be “mechanically” asked to provide maintenance to his wife and children as he needs to take care of his aged parents too. Though the ruling is unrelated to the 498A judgement, it chimes in with the growing anti-woman stance of the courts. It’s a signal that we may be returning to a time when men decided what was good for women and when to rein them in.”
On October 14, 2012, Dinesh Khanna wrote the article “Dowry prohibition laws and British Indians: Some reflections” in The Times of India. Below is an excerpt:
“Section 498A makes the assumption that the husband and his family are presumed to be guilty of the alleged crime. The legal system considers all complaints filed by the wives to be genuine and immediately actionable. The same is achieved easily as this law is a cognizable offence and hence investigation agencies have little or no way of rejecting a complaint as else it may affect their jobs under the pressure of national and state commission for women.”
On Triple Talaq:
On June 11, 2016, Anusha Rizvi wrote the article “The Indian Media’s Focus on Shayara Bano Betrays an Ignorance of Important Precedents” in The Wire. Below are some excerpts:
- “Some of these cases, such as the Shayara Bano case filed recently, catch the attention of the media. Consequently many commentators with little knowledge of Muslim personal laws become interested in the need to reform them…”
- “Just because a Muslim personal law exists, that does not automatically debar Muslim women from approaching the courts for remedies. This in turn creates a two-tiered system of protection for them which is not available to women of other communities. Moreover, this system reduces the load on our already overburdened judicial system by resolving matters outside the courts.”
- “In putting all our efforts into banning triple talaq we are catching the wrong end of the stick.”
- “Islamic law also lays down certain safeguards for women. One of the safeguards comes in form of the mehr, which is a pre-negotiated amount that a bride is entitled to and it is recorded in the nikahnama.”
- “Dowry is not just a non-Islamic concept, but is in fact anti-Islamic. However, dowry has now become a prerequisite for all Indian marriages…”
On May 29, 2017, Abusaleh Shariff and Syed Khalid wrote the article “Unimportance of triple talaq” in The Indian Express. Below is an excerpt:
“[T]he incidence of “triple talaq in one go” is rare and insignificant. Projecting the minuscule victims of triple talaq as the major issue to be confronted to empower the Muslim community is questionable.”
Now that we have seen the excerpts, they show that Negative opinion in the case of dowry can range from outright condemnation of social mores and patriarchy to the call for strict legal intervention and continued oversight. The only opinion piece that has been considered Positive on dowry, is a piece that is only criticising the misuse of the law and not calling for dowry to be an acceptable social practice or to be moved out of the ambit of the law.
In the case of triple talaq, commentators whose articles are Positive towards it have argued that the question is one of personal law and the state and courts of law have no business to intervene. Even if they do, there is sufficient safeguard for women within the religious personal law, so secular law only becomes the second tier of a two-tiered protection.
However, what do the articles we found tell us about how these issues are covered?
For 352 articles on dowry and 266 articles on triple talaq respectively, after leaving the Neutral-toned articles, we found the following:
- On dowry, 3 articles have a Positive Content Tone as opposed to 68 Negative.
- On triple talaq, 48 articles are Positive in Content Tone as opposed to 136 Negative.
- With Headline Tone, 9 articles are Positive on dowry and 40 Negative.
- Headline Tone stands at 40 Positive for triple talaq and 94 Negative.
- 96% of the articles are Negative on dowry in Content.
- 74% are Negative on triple talaq in Content.
- For Headlines, dowry has 82% Negative.
- For headlines, Triple talaq has 70% Negative articles
The picture on these two issues, too, becomes a lot clearer when we consider the break-up by article type.
Figure 9: Dowry News Reports – Content Tone
Figure 10: Triple Talaq News Reports – Content Tone
Figure 11: Dowry Opinion – Content Tone
Figure 12: Triple Talaq Opinion – Content Tone
Figure 13: Dowry News Reports – Headline Tone
Figure 14: Triple Talaq News Reports – Headline Tone
Figure 15: Dowry Opinion – Headline Tone
Figure 16: Triple Talaq Opinion – Headline Tone
From Figures 9 to 16, we see the following:
- 79% news reports have a Negative Headline Tone on dowry as against 67% for triple talaq.
- In opinion pieces, no article had a Positive Headline Tone on dowry whereas 6% articles on triple talaq had a Positive Headline Tone.
- In Content Tone, 97% news reports are Negative on dowry.
- 71% news reports are Negative on triple talaq.
- On Content Tone of opinion pieces, triple talaq is at 91% Negative.
- On dowry, Content Tone of opinion pieces is 87% Negative.
On a regressive practice like triple talaq, as we saw, there were voices still supporting it and calling for religious personal law to not be interfered with. The tribulations women faced due to this practice were even sought to be rationalised or downplayed.
However, on a matter like Dowry, there’s simply no voice that has spoken in favour of the practice and rightly so. There’s complete consensus on this, and yet again, rightly so.
Diwali is not only the biggest festival in India but also among one of the world’s most pre-eminent festivals. It certainly has a pan-India appeal. With about 10 days to go for Diwali 2017, the Supreme Court’s ban on the sale of fire crackers in Delhi-NCR came to dominate news headlines and flood the news as well as opinion pages of publications.
As far as status quo on Diwali is concerned, crackers are an integral part of the celebrations. Therefore, voices that have been calling for a ban on crackers or complaining about pollution (both air & noise) would be counted as Anti Status Quo. Voices ranging from being celebratory about Diwali and/ or saying that Diwali is not the only or primary cause of pollution, would be counted as Pro Status Quo.
On a total of 469 articles, leaving out the Neutral articles, our analysis threw up the following data:
- Anti Status Quo Content Tone and Headline Tone were at 105 and 106 articles respectively.
- Content Tone and Headline Tone were Pro Status Quo for 103 and 104 articles respectively.
- Pro Status Quo and Anti Status Quo Content Tone were exactly balanced at 50% each.
- Headline Tone, too, was balanced exactly at 50% Pro Status Quo and Anti Status Quo.
The picture we get shows the media discourse on Diwali for a relatively long time. Let us next see what the Content and Headline break-up among types of articles has to show.
Figure 17: Diwali News Reports – Content Tone
Figure 18: Diwali Opinion – Content Tone
Figure 19: Diwali News Reports – Headline Tone
Figure 20: Diwali Opinion – Headline Tone
From Figures 17 to 20, we see the following:
- 41% news reports on Diwali had a Anti Status Quo Content Tone.
- When we move to opinion, Anti Status Quo Content Tone jumps to 67%.
- On Headline Tone, 43% news reports were Anti Status Quo.
- However, on Headline Tone, Anti Status Quo tilt in opinion pieces jumps to 82%.
Let us now look at some representative excerpts:
On November 2, 2013, Aanchal Tuli wrote an article headlined “Fleeing Delhi to avoid Diwali madness?” in The Times of India. Below is an excerpt:
“As the countdown to Diwali begins, most Delhiites face the annual stress of shopping for gifts, battling the crazy traffic on roads, and most of all the pollution from the bursting of crackers.”
An article titled “This Diwali, don’t bomb birds, animals” by Mehak Jain in The Times of India which was “updated” on October 29, 2016, says:
Bursting firecrackers may be entertainment for people but it can and does cost birds and animals their health and life. The explosive sound of crackers scares a young bird or a puppy so much that it gets disoriented and runs or flies around aimlessly.
Birds are equally distressed by crackers. The loud sound makes them leave their shelters and hover around in the sky.
On November 11, 2015, The Economic Times published an editorial titled “How to preserve Diwali as celebration”. Below is an excerpt:
Diwali has come to be characterised by high volume gift-giving, and bigger, noisier and brighter firecrackers. So have the problems that such increased spending brings… We must rethink this annual gifting ritual and use of fireworks to show off our happiness, so as not to raise the level of pollution from vehicles and burning chemicals. Pollution in the air has, in many cities such as New Delhi, reached levels that damage lungs and shorten lives. The deafening sound of crackers going off in every nook and corner for hours on end creates extreme discomfort for the old and the infirm, not to talk of pets. How can we celebrate the festival of lights retaining it as a festival of joy without converting it into a public health problem?
An article titled “Smog, pollution multiply health risks” by Bindu Shajan Perappadan in The Hindu, which seems to have been first published on November 11, 2012 and updated on June 22, 2016, says:
Delhiites never seem to have had it so bad, health-wise that is. Still grappling to get dengue, malaria, chikungunya and viral fever that have been plaguing the city since this past September under control, the thick smog that has enveloped the city for over a week now has forced many – especially those with asthma, high blood pressure, heart condition and infants and older persons – to make a beeline for the hospitals.
Nova Speciality Surgery internal medicine personnel Dr Navneet Kaur said:
“There has definitely been a jump in the number of people coming in with pollution-related problems. This is a situation that we see typically around Diwali and immediately after the festival. Breathing problems are the most common ailment that people are reporting in with at present.”
The Supreme Court ban on the sale of firecrackers in Delhi certainly has not come out of the blue. A consistent body of opinion has been campaigning over the years to dampen the celebratory spirit of Diwali, ostensibly rallying behind causes like air and noise pollution, or even because animals and birds get disoriented.
But the problem with fireworks is confined to Diwali. The celebratory fireworks on July 4th in the U.S., or New Year’s Eve, or fireworks near the Sydney Opera House are spectacles that are to be marvelled at.
When we come to Holi, we have a total of 460 articles. Holi has, for long, been looked upon as a largely northern Indian festival. But in recent years, it has been reportedly increasingly celebrated in southern India as well.
Let us first look at some excerpts from articles negative in Content or Headline Tone or both.
On March 9, 2015, Mayank Tewari wrote an opinion article titled “Predators hide behind the excuse of playing Holi” in DNA. Below is an excerpt:
For countless women across the country, Holi isn’t a festival associated with colours; ditto for countless men across the country; to be sure, for a large population of India, Holi is the great molestation festival where men have their way with women from their family or their neighbourhood or complete strangers. To them, colours offer the perfect camouflage. There is an outpouring of unwanted physical affection, which, in ordinary terms, is understood as molestation or sexual assault.
On March 30, 2016, The Asia Age carried a news report titled “Posters in JNU claim Holi against dalit women”. Below is an excerpt:
The Jawaharlal Nehru University campus on Tuesday saw new posters put up describing Holi as an “anti-women” festival.
The posters — which were pasted on the walls of eateries, markets and schools on the campus and titled “Why does Brahmanical Patriarchal India celebrate burning of Holika, an Asura Bahujan woman What is Holy about Holi ” — are being circulated on social media.
“Historically, the festival has also sexually abused dalit women in the name of celebrations. The act of ‘burning’ dalitBahujan women is essentially a patriarchal and brahmanical practice, still a rampant practice in India. Let us not forget the case of Soni Sori who was attacked with an acid-like substance by brahmanical forces. Culturally, Holi is the coming together of the Right and the Left symbolically burning the dalit Bahujan woman, with the blessings of Manu, with joy and pomp in the public sphere. Holi will not only remain anti-bahujan, anti-dalit and anti-adivasi women in character, but is against womanhood itself. SAY NO TO HOLI!” the poster read.
On March 19, 2016, Bindu Shajan Perappadan’s report in The Hindu headlined “‘Stop hooliganism, harassment of women ahead of Holi’” said:
In many parts of Delhi and the National Capital Region, the festival is misused to assault women and girls by throwing colour, dirt and water-filled balloons on them.
“While such hooliganism is borne by the public at large, it is women who are particularly targeted, and on whose complaints little action is taken. The situation is so bad in Delhi-NCR, that women are compelled to stop stepping out of their homes for school, college, work as the festival comes close,” the group [Centre for Struggling Women ] stated.
On March 8, 2012, Anahita Mukherji’s reportage in The Times of India, run with the headline “When festivity takes on unholy hues on Holi”, said:
International Women’s Day will be celebrated with much fanfare across the world, but in Delhi, no functions will be held this time. The reason — the functions were held a day earlier since many women won’t be too keen to step out of their homes on Thursday. It’s Holi and the women in the Capital will be on their guard.
While Holi has, for long, been an excuse for men to sexually harass women across the country, the scene is particularly bad in the country’s rape capital.
Coming to the numbers, leaving out the Neutral entries out of the total 460, we found the following:
- 154 articles had a Positive Headline Tone.
- 120 were Negative in Headline Tone.
- With regard to Content Tone, 133 articles were Positive
- 119 articles were Negative in Content Tone.
- 53% articles were Positive in Headline Tone.
- 47% articles were Negative in Headline Tone
- 56% articles were Positive in Content Tone.
- 44% were Negative in Content Tone.
If we break up the Content Tone and Headline Tone in terms of article type, we see the following:
Figure 21: Holi News Reports – Headline Tone
Figure 22: Holi Opinion – Headline Tone
Figure 23: Holi News Reports – Content Tone
Figure 24: Holi Opinion – Content Tone
From Figures 21 to 24, the details are as follows:
- News reports were divided 50-50 Positive and Negative in terms of Headline Tone.
- News reports were at 55% Positive and 45% Negative as per Content Tone.
- In opinion articles, 67% articles had a Positive Headline Tone and 68% had a Positive Content Tone.
In the case of Holi, some commentators unimpressed by the festival want to remake it into what in their opinion would constitute the “right” version of Holi – say, without water or certain kinds of colours.
And yet, some of the articles with a Negative Content Tone on Holi have said things remarkably hostile to the festival. Sometimes the hostility has woven a political narrative around Holi too. At other times, negative opinion articles have depicted Holi as festival of hooliganism.
In the end, it all counts when we consider how the media reports a festival, what it chooses to highlight, rightly or wrongly, even as we consider what it has left out. We do not wish to judge or draw conclusions beyond interpreting what the data has shown us.
The years considered were 2012 to 2017. Discounting dead links, a total of 2,147 articles came up in our search, which were found using Google Search. The search was up to 15 pages deep in Google Search for every keyword/ topic.
The following publications were considered: The Asian Age, Deccan Chronicle, Deccan Herald, DNA, The Times of India, The Economic Times, Hindustan Times, The Hindu, The Indian Express, The Pioneer, The Tribune, The Telegraph, The Wire, Scroll.in, The Quint, Swarajya.
The respective end dates for the search results, pertaining to the search keywords, are the following:
Holi: July 26, 2017
Diwali: October 10, 2017
Bakrid: October 10, 2017
Jalikattu: August 17, 2017
Triple Talaq: August 25, 2017
Dowry: August 20, 2017
We subsequently removed articles whose links had gone dead and/or the stories per se could not be found on the publication’s website any more.
Our database is available here.