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Empowerment of Muslims in India Through Information and Communication
Book Review
Yoginder Sikand

Author: A.U. Asif

Publisher: Institute of Objective Studies, New Delhi (

Pages: 151

Price: Rs. 180


The role of the mass media in empowering communities is a recognized fact. Given that Muslims in India are, on the whole, a marginalized community, the mass media can play a crucial role in promoting internal reform and facilitating the community’s social, economic, educational and political empowerment. The importance of the mass media is further enhanced in the current context of growing anti-Muslim sentiments which large sections of the media, national as well as international, are engaged in actively cultivating. This is the underlying message of this timely book.

The book begins with a chapter surveying the Muslim presence in the mass media, both print as well as electronic, in India today. The author points to the negligible presence of Muslim employees in “mainstream” media organizations and to the remarkably low number of Muslim-owned newspapers and magazines in languages other than Urdu. Of the approximately 750 daily English newspapers in the country, only one, the Mumbai-based Mid-Day, is owned by Muslims. Yet even this single paper, an evening tabloid, cannot be said to represent Muslim views. Barely half a dozen of the roughly 3500 daily Hindi newspapers in the country are run by Muslims. Only two of the 225 daily newspapers published from Kerala in Malayalam are Muslim-owned. Gujarat has a single Muslim-run Gujarati newspaper. The situation is similar in the case of other regional languages. Likewise is the case of periodicals in languages other than Urdu. Most of these, A%sif says, are poorly and rather unprofessionally managed.

The remaining section of the book consists of interviews with media persons, Muslims as well as others, eliciting their views about Muslim representation in the Indian media. Understandably, there is considerable repetition in what they have to say, and this, the author, could conveniently have left out. The interviews itself lack depth, are somewhat superficial and the language is rather shoddy. An issue that many interviewees deal with is the negligible number of Muslims in the non-Urdu media. Various explanations are offered for this, including discrimination and lack of sufficiently qualified applicants. While many Muslim respondents working in “mainstream” media houses stress that they do not face any discrimination in the workplace; and in covering Muslim issues, some say that they have to be extra-cautious in dealing with issues related to Muslims and Hindu-Muslim conflict so as not to appear to be “biased” or “pro-Muslim”, a burden that Hindu journalists do not have to carry. It is almost as if Muslims, in contrast to Hindus, cannot be expected to be objective and fair in discussing issues related to Hindu-Muslim controversies. A related issue that should have been raised in this regard but is curiously absent in all the interviews is that of the caste-class character of the “mainstream” Indian media, being dominated almost entirely by “upper” caste Hindus.

Another issue, which is barely touched upon in the interviews but which deserves to be discussed in considerable detail, is the tendency of large sections of the non-Muslim media to present Muslims and Islam in a negative light. The issue of Hindutva-leaning journalists and the impact of Western media discourses demonizing Islam and Muslims is hardly discussed. However, some interviewees do point to the fact that the non-Muslim media displays little or no interest in highlighting positive stories or images of Muslims and in discussing their manifold social, economic, educational and political problems and concerns. Instead, Muslims are talked about almost only in the context of some controversy or the other, particularly in the context of violence, thus reinforcing negative stereotypical images of Muslims.

A third issue that some interviewees refer to is the condition of the Urdu media. Some of them argue that the future of Urdu and Urdu journalism is bleak in India, both because of the discriminatory policies of the state vis-à-vis the Urdu language as well as because north Indian Muslim elite, who appear to champion the cause of Urdu, have done little to promote it. Poor working conditions in Urdu media houses, lack of freedom, professionalism and objectivity, and tendency to engage in “desk-work” rather than “field-work” are a characteristic feature of many Urdu publications, they argue. Other features of large sections of the Urdu press, such as an overwhelming focus on urban Muslim issues and lack of stories and reports on rural Muslims, who constitute the majority of the Muslim population, the inter-sectarian debates that some Urdu publications excel in fanning and the narrow focus of many of these on Muslim communitarian issues while ignoring broader issues facing the country as a whole are, however, not dealt with, although they should have.

The book concludes with an ambitious list of suggestions for Muslim organizations to adopt in order to increase Muslim presence in media houses and to counter anti-Muslim prejudice being spread through the media. These include setting up news and feature agencies specializing in Muslim-related issues, establishing media institutes in every state, providing scholarships for Muslim students pursuing courses in mass media, organizing workshops for media persons to sensitize them on Islamic and Muslim issues, co-ordination between Muslim and other like-minded journalists, launching daily newspapers in English, Hindi and regional languages and starting more Muslim community radio stations and Urdu television channels that would focus on Muslim social issues. If any of this actually comes about remains to be seen, however.

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