Sunday, August 08, 2021

How Indian Media interprets data: Journalists' conditioning that never let's them go beyond 'Muslim backwardness'

 

Shams Ur Rehman Alavi

It’s painful to write this piece. But just read these few points to understand how even statistics are interpreted in a particular way due to ‘conditioning’ and biases.

1.How many times you see headlines that say, ‘Percentage of illiterates among Hindus 2–1/2 times times the percent among Jains’ or ‘Sikhs, Christians ahead in literacy in particular regions, X community still lag’ or ‘Buddhists performing better than Y community in this state’, and ‘Muslim women literacy rate set to beat Hindu women in rural India now’*.

This is a fact that Muslim women now have higher literacy rate in rural parts of the country that Hindu women. But have you seen anywhere this reported or big headlines that show this upward trend!

Also, the statistics now clearly indicate that overall [rural plus urban] literacy among women above five years is— Hindu women (69%) and Muslim women (68.1%). Quite close. Isn’t it. The Ministry of Statistics, NSS, PLFS, all reports, you can check and find it yourself.

2. Unfortunately, despite this data that is available in public space, it is the only Hindu-Muslim binary and ‘Muslims as backward’ headline appearing in papers despite so many other figures and different points.

Now, even if Muslims were behind — moving fast or slow, the journalists rarely mention overall figure of illiterates, as it will reveal something else — almost 250 million or nearly 25 crore Hindus are illiterates.

3. In India, every data is analysed in newspapers and reported in a way that it must not show majority community in poor light or backward. When there are figures, they are picked in a way to ‘reveal less, hide more’, and also presented in a particular manner — that’s the status quo of reporting.

Perhaps, it’s due to conditioning that just this aspect or on these lines, the story on social indicators is believed to be written and rarely people try to look deep into the reports and see the changes.

4. So extrapolation, NFHS surveys & reports like PLFS or others give us a picture. Even if we tilt towards positive side and believe that figure will reduce dramatically by next Census, still around25 crore or 250 million [illiteracy] are illiterate in India. Imagine extent of the problem.

5. If a community is small, then it’s comparatively easy to catch up. Small groups have shown way. Bigger the group, the tougher it is. As per 2011, illiteracy figures were 25.8 cr and 5.42 cr for Hindu & Muslim. 2021 are estimates.

6. If you imagine a rosy picture & say 25 crore, even this is bigger than population of 190 countries, only less than China, US and India. Still, we focus on nonsense, every day discuss those issues. Politicians, Anchors want not just illiteracy but probably want to snatch our brains too.

7. Now coming to second part of the article. I didn’t want to write it but such is conditioning of journalists that I have to write and I must remind — remember, as per statistics, Hindus still have the lowest level of educational attainment of any major religious group according to international studies. Jews are at the top but Christians and Muslims are also much ahead.

8. Globally, the average is 5.6 years of schooling, and 41% of Hindus have no formal education of any kind. On average, Hindu men have 2.7 more years of schooling than Hindu women, and just over half of Hindu women (53%) have no formal schooling, compared with 29% of Hindu men.

9. Whoever owns media can make you believe anything and such is power of ‘mainstream media’, its narrative that you blindly start believing them. If someone says something, talk on statistics and look at the complete picture. 

Ideally, educational backwardness or anything should not be linked with religion. In a huge country, there are regional differences, also state support, many factors, and any ‘issue’ should be seen as just an ‘issue’, not on communal lines.

But in India, media and channels’ job is apparently just to communalise and show entire Muslim community permanently as ‘backward’, hence, when it is linked to religion all the time, we too need to explain it with statistics.

10. As a citizen in world’s biggest democracy, we must know our real situation — it shouldn’t be that we are either too self-critic, gullible and believing that ‘we are bad, we don’t want to study, our community is really against education’ or even turn over-optimist. 

11. Opportunity and state support can make a community prosper fast and taking away support can have negative affect. We must know reality, neither turn pessimist, nor self-hating, but be aware and always make efforts to move ahead. 

12. Communities that are so big that they number hundreds of million, are so easily termed ‘backward’. This sort of crass generalization, ignoring the regional differences [the regions too are huge, states that have population over 100 million and even 200 million — ranging from Maharashtra to UP and are 175 most countries of the world] and without evidence and bringing focus on all indicators, is not just careless but dangerous.

One last point — never believe media’s narrative blindly, as the social conditioning and training of most journos in news rooms [or just because they feel it is the model or style going for generations] is to present news in a fashion by cherry picking data, so that Muslims feel they are indeed ‘poorest, backward, and behind everyone else’.

*It's true now, as per latest government survey results.

NOTE: The photo of child with skullcap is deliberately used as Indian Media has made this photo as symbol of backwardness. Though it shows how presence of maktab and madarsa ensures that even without availability of schools, Muslims do far better and get basic literacy with ease due to these institutions.