In our media watch roundup, let’s take a look at the bravehearts from India and Gaza who made news this month.
(Bilkis’ letter released through her lawyer after the latest order)
It was a sigh of relief when the Supreme Court of India restored the life imprisonment of eleven criminals in the Bilkis Bano case. This verdict came after the brave Bilkis Bano and other petitioners challenged the Gujarat government’s decision to grant remission to the 11 convicted rapists and murderers two years ago. The Supreme Court observed that the remission order was not in the jurisdiction of the Gujarat government and slammed the government for acting in tandem with the convicts. “The order of the Supreme Court has been used for violating the rule of law for passing the remission orders. The order was obtained by ‘playing fraud on the court and by suppressing material facts”, the court said.
Bilkis Bano was 21 years old and five months pregnant while fleeing the horror of ruthless rioters during the communal riots that broke out in Godhra, Gujarat, in 2002. Seven of her family members were killed, including her three-year-old daughter, whose head was smashed on the ground by the perpetrators. After a long struggle for justice, in 2008, the criminals were sentenced to life imprisonment on the charge of gang rape and murder. In 2022, the Gujarat government unleashed all eleven criminals, shaking the nation’s faith in justice. “Please undo this harm. Give me back my right to live without fear and in peace,” Bilkis Bano pleaded.
Who is to be blamed for this grave violation of law and human rights? The government that passed the remission order is the culprit in this offence. If we lived in an age where the judiciary was paramount in upholding human rights, this government should have resigned immediately. But we live in an age where the sloganeers of ‘Beti Bachao’ are the ones who garland the convicted criminals and distribute sweets everywhere while they are unlawfully released. Shouldn’t the government that wrongly supported the rapists and made the victims grapple with fear be punished? Our idea of justice is so weak that we are satisfied with the eleven accused being sent back to jail, forgetting all the injustice caused and the mysterious hands that worked at the backdrop.
Thanks to the bold women of the nation who worked to secure justice for Bilkis Bano. Besides the petition filed by her challenging the remission order, several other PILs (Public Interest Litigations), including one by CPI(M) leader Subhashini Ali, independent journalist Revati Laul and former vice-chancellor of Lucknow University Roop Rekha Verma, have challenged the release of the criminals. TMC leader Mahua Moitra had also filed a PIL against the remission. At the Supreme Court, a bench of Justices BV Nagarathana and Ujjal Bhuyan pronounced the historical verdict.
However, the leading media houses of the nation did very little to condemn the perpetrators. The newspapers that carried the news of the criminals’ release in their front pages with pictures of them being garlanded by the ruling party members hesitated to give some space in their front pages to publish the Supreme Court’s verdict of sending them back to jail. It is equally shocking to learn that the 5 top female anchors of the nation’s famous TV channels who howl and scream in their efforts to instigate communal sensitivity daily, portraying themselves as the voice of women, ran out of words to express solidarity with Bilkis Bano.
President Droupadi Murmu, in her maiden Independence Day eve speech on August 14th, 2022, praised our nation’s girls for all their achievements and promised equality and freedom for women. But the very next day dawned with the news of the release of Bilkis Bano’s culprits, posing a question of whether the promised freedom was for women or was it for their rapists.
This win of Bilkis Bano, however small it might be, is a struggle of a woman for the sake of all the women in the country, a sacrifice for regaining the self-respect of women and the courage to stand against the mighty administration. Now that the culprits have appealed to the court to extend their surrender date, the nation waits to see how the law will take its course.
How would the world come to know about the horrors of Israel in Gaza if not for the bold journalists who are reporting day and night, risking their lives and their families? It is a known fact that the major media houses are either owned or influenced by the zionist regime. The New York Times recently carried news of the killing of nine Israeli soldiers with a headline saying, “9 soldiers killed in a single day, underscoring war’s cost to Israel”. At the same time, the NYT never made it a headline when more than a hundred Palestinians were killed every single day for three months. This is the sad state of almost all the major international media houses, which have forgotten all their responsibilities towards humanity. Nearly all news from Israel comes out after thorough censoring by the Israeli army. ‘The Intercept’ carried an article by Ryan Grim on 4th January 2024, which said, “Whether reporting from the Middle East, the United States, or anywhere else across the globe — every CNN journalist covering Israel and Palestine must submit their work for review by the news organisation’s bureau in Jerusalem before publication, under a long-standing CNN policy. While CNN says the policy is meant to ensure accuracy in reporting on a polarising subject, it means that much of the network’s recent coverage of the war in Gaza — and its repercussions around the world — has been shaped by journalists who operate under the shadow of the country’s military censor.”
However, amidst the grave betrayal by the media houses, South Africa showed a ray of hope when it took an extraordinary step, asking the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to rule on whether the continuing violence unfolding in Gaza amounts to genocide. South Africa still carries the scars of apartheid. Levy Ndou, a political analyst, said. “Remember, we only got out of apartheid 30 years ago, and we know what it did to us, and when we see human rights abused like what is happening in Israel, we have to act.” The case is underway, the Scotland yard is collecting evidence, and this decisive step by South Africa would hopefully get the international community to act immediately. The images, videos and live footage from Gaza that are surfacing on the internet are the most crucial evidence that reveals the atrocities carried out by Israel against the Palestinians. This evidence is brought to light by the brave journalists reporting from Gaza tirelessly. While the world leaders are with the war criminals, these bravehearts bring out the truth and proof of the ongoing onslaught.
(Lama Jamous, a 9 year old journalist)
Israel has killed more than a hundred journalists and reporters since the war began. These killings were carried out deliberately and explicitly targeting the journalists. Ayat Al Khaddour, a freelance journalist, constantly reported the crimes of Israel and revealed proof that Israel uses white phosphorus in its attacks. Within hours of this revelation, Ayat was killed along with an unknown number of family members in an Israeli airstrike on her home in Gaza. Journalists reporting from Gaza do not merely die; they are targeted for their truth-telling. Every news they bring out is an indictment. Bilal Kaled, a photojournalist from Gaza, says, “I know that there are some images that are inappropriate to circulate. But I want the world to see them and smell blood”.
The journalists in Palestine are among the frontline fighters who dare to show the world the magnitude of suffering in Gaza. With very few means of communication left, they show the world the horrific situation using their phones and cameras.
Wael Al Dahdouh, Al Jazeera’s Gaza Bureau chief, was live on air when his wife, son, daughter and 18-month-old grandson were killed in an Israeli airstrike. He was seen at the hospital holding their lifeless bodies. Less than 24 hours later, he was back on air, saying, “I saw that it was my duty, despite the pain and the bleeding wound, to return in front of the camera and communicate with you on social media as soon as possible. I will do this till my last breath.”
Journalists in Gaza have raised the value of journalism. Youmna El Said, Motaz Azaiza, and Plestia Alaqad are among the journalist heroes who set out every day to report, leaving their families feeling that they would not return to their families again. It is a battle between the weapons of immense powers and the sincere reports of these journalists.
The world is watching everything through the eyes of these reporters. Miko Peled, an Israeli author and son of an Israeli general, openly criticised the zionist ideology, saying it is a racist, violent regime that has taken over Palestine. “It is a supremacist apartheid system with genocidal policies. I grew up in Zionism, so I know it. I reject it completely, and you have to if you have a conscience,” he opined.
Pope Francis, in one of his statements condemning the war against Gaza, said, “Perhaps we need to realise more clearly that civilian victims are not ‘collateral damage’ but men and women with names and surnames..”
The journalists of Gaza who sacrifice everything to show the truth to the world and those who lost their lives doing it are the real warriors today. They do their work tirelessly, and now it is up to the world leaders and their conscience to wake up and take action to stop the genocide and war crimes.