‘The Spice Jet Incident : Something fishy is going on !’
Viewers and listeners of a national TV channel NDTV (in India) woke up one morning and found themselves in the midst of what appears to be a storm in a teacup, but made out to be a huge discussion of civil rights in India. A young Muslim ex military officer who had seen honourable service in the Indian Army (as did his father and other relatives) was asked to deplane from an airline (Spice Jet)about to take off on a domestic flight, because his briefcase was found on the tarmac with no identification labels, it would seem. The young man was requested twice to do so and then he comes out disgruntled and takes photographs on his mobile.
The concerned ground staff bring him in for questioning. The young Muslim is angry and agitated and considers this an instance of racial/communal profiling and alleges that one or more of the staff used communal slurs against him. He reports to the Minorities Commission who has promised to look into the matter.
NDTV picks up on the story and Barkha Dutt, the anchor is full of concern that this should be happening in secular India ( although ofcourse, this has been happening in nearly all airports over the world, most importantly in the US).
One could not help feeling that there was a certain glamourisation of the event. India too now had at least ONE such incident !
What was interesting was that it got linked up immediately to the familiar story of discrimination towards Muslims. A Muslim lady spoke about some alleged experiences of discrimination since school days (although she was from a privileged family). Ashutosh Varney, well known political scientist, and Lord Meghnad Desai, who can be relied upon to say the politically correct things, both pontificated about civil rights being absolutely vital for a democracy. Lord Desai, in fact, said something that sounded very impressive. The young Muslim ex officer did not have to say anything about his patriotic service to the country, it is a civil right not to be frisked or asked to deplane without due cause.
Needless to say, Barkha Dutt jumped at this opportunity and clutched at this particular straw in the wind : Hindus, she intoned indignantly, don’t have to demonstrate their patriotism ! It should be pointed out to Ms.Dutt that Hindus do have to demonstrate their patriotism. Some are even now languishing in jails under false accusations. And that includes at least one young woman who has been brutalised beyond recognition.
One sensible voice was the lone Muslim who pointed out that he could not get excited over an airline ticket, there were many more serious issues about unemployment, not only for Muslims but for the majority of the poor and underprivileged in the country. He was in the minority (not to make a pun !).
What struck this viewer was that no one was paying attention to the well known legal principle : innocent until proven guilty. Spice Jet and the ground staff were tried and found guilty(by implication) on national television even before the facts were fully out. Given the circumstances and the context of actual and existing terrorist acts inside India, it was only normal for the ground staff to have refused permission for the young to re enter the plane and travel as he had planned until the matter had been thoroughly investigated. God forbid, if something had happened, then the entire country would have been up in arms and lynched them for negligence.
What is even more surprising is that while a young agitated person sensationalised the issue (where with due respect he did behave in an odd manner, perhaps because as a privileged person he was not used to being treated like an ordinary citizen !) NDTV jumped on the bandwagon, and almost indicted the entire country for being communal, and this at a time when in international forums, anti India forces are attempting to put the country in the dock for all sorts of imaginary grievances.
It may also be remarked that during the time that the present writer has been viewing NDTV there have been no equally important programs on the plight of Hindus in various parts of India, notably the murder and mayhem in parts of Bengal, where the Mamata Bannerji government has been going on an all out spree to appease the Muslim vote bank. One reads of regular burning of temples, and rapes and murders, looting of shops etc. similar to the outbreaks of violence during the partition riots. Nor is there even a nominal mention of the horrific roasting to death of 59 Hindu pilgrims returning from Ayodhya on the Sabarmati Express on that fateful day in Gujarat, while the aftermath of violence was dutifully mentioned once again.
What precisely is going on ? The move seems to be not only Gujarat but also all of India is now in the dock. The young Muslim claims to be patriotic, but surely he must know how this story will travel to various parts of the globe which are hostile to India, and all because his amour propre had been offended.
This incident, whatever the pontifications of a Meghnad Desai or an Ashutosh Varney, is not about civil rights, but about the safety of passengers and about the overall safety of a country. In the opinion of this writer,the ground staff did what they had to do, given the nature of the circumstances.
All that the young Muslim had to do was to confirm who he was and allow them to go through his baggage. Many of us who travel have had similar experiences.
This was not a ‘communal’ incident. Blowing it out of proportion is, in the opinion of this writer, a communal act.
(The writer is a Political Philosopher who taught at a Canadian university)
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