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Muslims are asked weird questions by employers

Given jobs only if more capable than non-Muslims, says Arfa Khanum

Monday, July 05, 2010 06:30:52 PM, Staff Reporter

Arfa Khanum Sherwani – a journalist and newly-elected Senior Vice President of the Aligarh Muslim University Old Boys’ Association

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Malegaon: Are Indian Muslims discriminated against? The question is always raised with claims against and in favour of the allegation. For Arfa Khanum Sherwani – a journalist and newly-elected Senior Vice President of the Aligarh Muslim University Old Boys’ Association – too the experience at workplaces is not totally healthy. Though personally she never faced discrimination because of being a Muslim, she is of the view that while seeking jobs, Indian Muslims are expected to prove that they are more capable than non-Muslims, and most of the times, they are even asked uncomfortable questions by the empolyers.

“There are cases where Muslim job candidates have been asked weird questions about their religion and community. And this is also a fact that in order to get the same job and the same opportunities, a Muslim has to prove himself or herself more capable than a non-Muslim would need to”, she says in her interview with Yoginder Sikand on Indian Muslims and the Media.

Stating that she might be ‘lucky not to have experienced much discrimination and gaining access to work opportunities’, Arfa says, “It is safe to say that while discrimination against Muslims in the media is not something that can be called ‘organised’ or ‘institutionalised’, there are certainly some reporting beats where Muslim journalists have to be extremely cautious while reporting. They are supposed to take the same line as dictated to them, and can only speak their minds at the risk of being branded or being labeled as ‘Muslim journalists’. This is particularly so with regard to such issues as terrorism, minority affairs or Pakistan.”

Observing that like other industries, Media too is driven by market forces and therefore has both merits and demerits, she says, “There are certain unwritten lines or ideological barriers in the media that one cannot cross. One has to completely follow these rules if one wants to retain one’s job. So, for instance, you cannot openly take a stand and question whether or not a particular person, who happens to be a Muslim, is really a terrorist as your media house alleges him to be. Or, for instance, if your channel is vociferously anti-Pakistan, you cannot afford to plead for a rational discussion on Indo-Pak relations.”

Arfa who has the experience of working with big media houses including The Pioneer, The Asian Age, Sahara TV and NDTV, observes that pro-Hindutva journalists who have infiltrated the media try to keep ‘implicit control’ on what and how a particular issue especially those related to Muslims would be covered. “This was not the case two decades ago. Today, things have been made much more complicated with a sizeable number of journalists now sharing the Hindutva worldview and supporting Hindutva politics”, she says.

She also observes that Muslim journalists are given the job to write on the Muslim issues. But because of restrictions and too much pressure not to cross unwritten lines, they end up lacking in objectivity.

“While covering only on Muslim issues, one faces the problem of being identified as a ‘Muslim journalist’, rather than just a journalist plain and simple, whose Muslim-ness is simply incidental or of no importance in his or her professional life. In this way, you tend to get bracketed, segmented and separated from the rest of your colleagues. Your scope is then immensely narrowed down, and people begin to raise questions about your very objectivity in covering Muslim issues just because you are a Muslim.”

In reply to a question, why only bad news about Muslims—whether real or concocted—is considered newsworthy, Arfa observed, “This, in part, has to do with the inherent nature of what the media considers as news. Only extremes make news. So, it is largely the fault of the media that moderates don’t excite media interest. Bad news is good news for the media. A positive thing has to scream from the fences to be heard, while negativity gets an immediate hearing in the media, which then reinforces inherited stereotypes and negative images.”

“It’s like only if you rave and rant that the media notices you, and, therefore, the silent moderate sensible Muslim majority gets no media coverage. So, this tendency to sensationalise, to highlight the dark and dramatic, is inherent in what is considered to be newsworthy by the media. This applies to Muslims in the same way as it applies to other communities or issues as well”, she said.

“Moreover”, she added, “Because most journalists have little or no personal interaction with Muslims, there is a tendency to treat them and practices associated with them stereotypically, in some cases even as a totally different species. Often, journalists who handle Muslim-issues are just fresh graduates who have not the slightest understanding of the subject. Given the way the media is structured, they don’t have enough time to read or study or properly investigate these issues. And so what we get are often immature commentaries and reactions.”

At the same time, Arfa says, it would be wrong to think the fault lies entirely with the media alone. Criticising the Muslim leaders who in order to grab attention indulge in issuing reactions and opinions that ultimately result in creating stereotype against the community, she said, “I would insist that obscurantist Muslim figures, who are highlighted by the media are also to blame for the media sensationalizing Muslim issues. They provide the media the fodder that it wants, such as by issuing absurd fatwas, which are almost always about women.”



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