Media Analysis: How ‘Fanatic Evangelism’ Was Declared As Motive Behind Gurgaon Shooting
Giving the Gurgaon attack a ‘fanatic evangelism’ angle wasn’t an isolated instance of provocative reporting.
On October 13, the wife and son of a Gurgaon district judge were shot in broad daylight by their personal security officer (PSO) while on duty. On October 16, the police declared that the sole motive behind the murder was “sudden rage”. Several initial media reports had, however, linked the murder to “religious conversion” even before the police concluded its investigation. They declared that PSO Mahipal pressurised the judge’s family to embrace Christianity, which led to frequent altercations, and the subsequent attack. The basis of these reports was the perpetrator’s spiritual inclination and the multiple statements he gave during police interrogation.
Dainik Jagran had first reported the incident on October 13, according to which, Mahipal’s motive behind the murder was yet to be ascertained by the police. However, in another report published two days hence, the Hindi news outlet declared that the “entire matter linked to religious conversion.”
This article began with reporting that the police were in the lookout for Mahipal’s “guru” and “guru ma”. It subsequently meandered to incidents in the past when according to “CID sources” the duo was detained for converting people in the lieu of medical assistance. Mahipal too was allegedly involved in the same. “सीआईडी सूत्रों की मानें तो महिपाल अभी तक 2 दर्जन से अधिक युवाओं का धर्म परिवर्तन करा चुका है। (If CID sources are to be trusted, Mahipal has till now religiously converted two dozen people),” Dainik Jagran reported.
Immediately after establishing a link between Mahipal and his ‘Christian’ leaning, Dainik Jagran connected it to the murder. Umbrellaed under the sub-heading “was pressurising Judge’s wife and son to religiously convert”, the report narrated that Judge Kant’s wife Ritu and son Dhurv opposed to Mahipal’s religious impositions which led him to behave indecently with them and get fits of rage. “इसी वजह से आरोपी ने रेणु और उनके बेटे ध्रुव को शनिवार को गुरुग्राम के सेक्टर 49 स्थित आर्केडिया मार्केट में गोली मार दी। (For this reason the accused shot at Renu (Ritu) and her son Dhruv on Saturday at Arcadia market in Gurugram sector 49),” declared Dainik Jagran.
Dainik Bhaskar published a report on October 15, titled – “Judge family murder case: Was this the only reason the gunner shot the judge’s wife-son, the entry of ‘guru’ and ‘guru ma’ into the shootout (translated).”
The media outlet reported about a “religious conversion gang” which was run by Mahipal’s alleged ‘guru’ Indraraj. The police were also searching for this ‘guru’ and another ‘guru ma’ who seemed to have had a strong influence on the accused.
In a subsequent paragraph, Dainik Bhaskar declared of its own violation that the motive behind the murder was ‘religious conversion’ – “मीडिया रिपोर्ट के मुताबिक, सूत्रों से यह भी पता चला है कि महिपाल कई महीनों से जज की फैमिली पर धर्म परिवर्तन का दबाव बना रहा था। यह भी कहा जा रहा है कि एक महीने से इस बात को लेकर जज के परिवार से उसका झगड़ा भी हो रहा था। शनिवार को मौका पाकर उसने जज की पत्नी-बेटे को गोली मार दी। (According to media reports, sources say that Mahipal was imposing religious conversion on the judge’s family for several months. It is also being said that since the last month, he had been getting into fights with the judge’s family for the same reason. Taking an opportunity on Saturday, he shot the judge’s wife-son.)”
On October 15, Oneindia had published a report on the incident, titled – “Gurugram shootout: Gunner Mahipal was involved in a religious conversion racket, wanted to make judge’s wife Christian.”
According to the report, अतिरिक्त जिला एवं सत्र न्यायाधीश गुरुग्राम की पत्नी रेणु व उनके बेटे ध्रुव पर महिपाल यादव धर्म परिवर्तन का दवाब डाल रहा था। दोनों ने उसकी बात नहीं मानी, तो आरोपी ने उनके साथ अभद्र व्यवहार और उन पर गुस्सा करना शुरू कर दिया था। सूत्रों का दावा है कि इसी वजह से आरोपी ने रेणु और उनके बेटे ध्रुव को शनिवार को गुरुग्राम के सेक्टर 49 स्थित आर्केडिया मार्केट में गोली मार दी| (The wife Renu and son Dhruv of Additional District and Sessions Judge Gurgram were pressurised by Mahipal to convert to Christianity. When both of them did not listen to him, he became furious. According to sources, the accused shot Renu (Ritu) and her son Dhruv on Saturday at Arcadia market situated in Gurugram sector-49.)
The news organisation’s reportage was identical to that of Dainik Jagran’s. Same as the latter, Oneindia wrote that Mahipal murdered the judge’s wife and son because they had opposed forced evangelism.
In an October 17 report, news organisation Eenadu India also declared that Judge Kant’s wife and son were murdered because they opposed religious conversion imposed upon them by Mahipal. According to this report, “महिपाल, जज की पत्नी रेणु व उनके बेटे ध्रुव पर भी पिछले काफी समय से धर्म परिवर्तन का दबाव बना रहा था. दोनों ने उसकी बात नहीं मानी, तो आरोपी ने उन पर गुस्सा करना शुरू कर दिया था. इसी वजह से आरोपी ने रेणु और उनके बेटे ध्रुव को शनिवार को गुरुग्राम के सेक्टर-49 स्थित आर्केडिया मार्केट में गोली मार दी. (Since the last few months, Mahipal was pressurising the judge’s wife Renu (Ritu) and son Dhruv to religiously convert. When both of them did not listen to him, he became furious. For this reason, the accused shot Renu (Ritu) and her son Dhruv on Saturday at Arcadia market situated in Gurugram sector-49.)”
News organisation Aaj Tak had initially reported the incident bereft of Mahipal’s ‘Christian’ links. After his spiritual leaning came up during the police investigation, Aaj Tak published another report which obliquely connected the murder with religious conversion.
“उसने हिन्दू धर्म को त्याग कर ईसाई धर्म अपनाया था. बताया जा रहा है कि धार्मिक बातों पर जज की पत्नी के साथ उसकी बहस होती थी. पुलिस हिरासत में भी महिपाल कह रहा था कि धर्म परिवर्तन को लेकर जज की पत्नी उसे परेशान करती थी. (He surrendered Hinduism and embraced Christianity. It is being told that he used to have arguments with the judge’s wife on religious matters. Even in police custody, Mahipal said that the judge’s wife used to trouble him on the matter of religious conversion),” reported Aaj Tak.
While the article did not explicitly link the murder to ‘religious conversion’, the title of the report was provocatively worded and implied the same.
On October 14, Swarajya published an article titled – “A Christian ‘Inquisition’ In India? Gurugram Shooting Being Probed As An Act Of Fanatical Evangelism By A Neoconvert”. The title suggested that the ‘religious conversion’ angle wasn’t something that came up during police investigation but was being probed as a probable motive behind the murder.
The report claimed that Mahipal was allegedly forcing the judge’s family to convert. Incidentally, Swarajya also quoted a statement of Commissioner of Police KK Rao which hinted at Mahipal’s Christian leanings but did not establish that the murder was being probed as an act of ‘fanatical evangelism’. “Investigations are on and we are still to know the real motive. Yes, he had been speaking about the Bible,” said Rao.
Unlike most of the before-mentioned Hindi news organisations, Swarajya did not directly link the murder to religious conversion or the family’s opposition to it, however, the prejudiced language used in the report attempted to prematurely blame Mahipal’s spiritual inclination for the crime.
OpIndia’s reportage was similar to that of Swarajya’s. Its October 14 article was titled – “Gurugram double shooting being perceived as a result of fanatic evangelism by a neoconvert.”
In the first paragraph, the media outlet – “the initial investigation insinuates that the shooting may be a result of fanatical evangelism of the gunman.” Incidentally, the source hyperlinked for this information was Swarajya.
OpIndia’s article was largely similar to Swarjya’s report. Though in the title there was an attempt to subtly suggest a link between religious conversion and the shooting, the outlet did not go as far as to directly connect the dots.
How other media organisations reported the ‘Christianity’ angle
Following the October 13 incident, Gurugram police began probing the possible motive behind the crime. A Special Investigation Team (SIT) was also formed for the purpose. The police were investigating all facets that might have led Mahipal to shoot his employers, and during the probe, Mahipal’s religious inclination was discovered. Many news organisations declared this as the motive behind the murder. However, there were several others that reported it only as a police discovery and refrained from prematurely linking it to the murder.
NDTV published several reports on the incident (1, 2, 3, 4). None of these either linked the crime to fanatic evangelism or quoted any police officer as saying that the motive behind the murder was Ritu’s opposition to embrace Christianity.
The Times of India also extensively covered the crime. In the report where the media organisation talked about Mahipal’s religious leanings, the title of the article itself explicitly mentioned that the cops were “clueless” and searched for the accused’s spiritual guru. This report was published on October 15, the same day Dainik Jagran, Dainik Bhaskar and One India declared fanatic evangelism as the motive behind the murder.
The Times of India also reported that the police’s investigation found that Mahipal’s ‘guru’ and ‘guru ma’ had a strong influence on him. However, the media outlet followed this statement with – “but none of this has yet helped them (police) understand what led a man with no history of misconduct or violent behaviour to shoot at a family he was assigned to protect…”
In an October 16 report, The Times of India quoted a judicial officer, who is also Judge Kant’s colleague, as saying, “the guard was heard saying ‘devil’ and ‘shaitan’ while firing (at Ritu and Dhruv). The use of this kind of words indicates something else. This doesn’t reflect normal stress and frustration.” This was comprehended by several media organisations as ‘Satanic’ terms. However, DCP Sulochana Gajraj, who is heading the SIT probe into the attack, was quoted by The Times of India as saying that Mahipal told the cops during interrogation that the words meant “bad and dirty person.”
Deputy Commissioner of Police (Crime) Sumit Kumar gave an identical statement about the use of the words ‘devil’ and ‘shaitan’ to Hindustan Times. This was reported in an October 14 article.
In a subsequent October 15 report published by the media outlet, DCP Kumar also said that “Mahipal had been watching videos related to religion and it is suspected that he had been attending ‘conversion’ camps.” However, Hindustan Times clarified in the following sentence that the news organisation “could not independently verify the claim” and that “the police also could not explain as to how his alleged attendance at such camps could be connected to Saturday’s shooting.”
A report published by The Tribune was used by several media outlets to claim that Mahipal was speaking about the Bible. This report was published by the news organisation on October 14 and it indeed mentioned that Mahipal spoke about the Bible with investigation officials. He said that “it was every Christian’s duty to eliminate demons.” However, in the immediate paragraph, The Tribune quoted Commissioner of Police KK Rao who said, “Investigations are on and we are still to know the real motive. Yes, he had been speaking about the Bible.”
Another reportage that stood out was an October 16 article published by News18. The news organisation visited the accused’s village and spoke to family members to understand what provoked him to kill. According to News18’s ground investigation, Mahipal had a troubled personal life and in 2014, he changed his religion to Christianity, which several of his relatives resisted. However, they were shocked to hear the news of the attack as his demeanour gave them no reason to suspect.
Haryana Police chief B S Sandhu said the motive was still not clear as there was no record of violent behaviour before. “We are trying to ascertain the reason behind this ghastly act. Our top priority is to solve the case,” he said, per News18. While some of Mahipal’s friend’s said that he was unhappy with the job as the judge’s family made him run household chores, the police were yet to ascertain the motive behind the attack.
Murder NOT linked to Mahipal’s spiritual inclination: Police
The Haryana police held a press conference on October 16 to provide details about its investigation into the attack. “After probing all aspects of the case, we have reached the conclusion that Mahipal left the car unattended when the judge’s wife and son went shopping in Arcadia market, Gurgaon. When he was questioned and rebuked for not returning on time, he shot the duo in a fit of rage,” said DCP (crime) Sumit Kumar.
One of the reporters questioned if this was the sole motive behind the murder, to which DCP Kumar replied, “Mahipal praised the judge’s family during interrogation and said that they never troubled him.” He added that the accused did seem to have a temper, and the sole motive behind the murder was the rage he felt when his absence was questioned and he was asked to hand over the car keys.
DCP Kumar also clarified that the claims suggesting that Mahipal’s family said that he was under tremendous work pressure were not discovered by the police and only reported by the media.
Alt News contacted DCP Kumar and questioned if the probe revealed any connection between ‘fanatic evangelism’ and the attack, to which, the officer perspicuously reiterated that the sole motive behind the murder was “sudden rage”.
After the press conference, news organisations that had previously linked the murder to ‘religious conversion’ also reported the police’s statements. However, none of them provided any clarification on their earlier misreporting based on which the ‘evangelism’ angle was viral on social media.
A journalist with Swarjya, Vikas Saraswat, made an entire thread of tweets based on faulty media reports and portrayed that the murder was linked with fanatic evangelism.
Gurugram double shooting a result of fanatic evangelism? Accused constable Mahipal, himself a recent convert, was pressurising judge's family to convert to Christianity. He has converted 14 others including CRPF men. https://t.co/fdusljLdCg
— Vikas Saraswat (@VikasSaraswat) October 14, 2018
Madhu Kishwar, who has circulated misinformation multiple times in the past, retweeted Saraswat’s tweet adding, “But English papers are hiding this fact. Given the aggressive planting of churches in Haryana & Punjab along with gross methods, including financial lure & crazy psychic games being played by missionaries, they are attracting social misfits & anti-social elements into their fold.” Kishwar is followed by Prime Minister Modi on Twitter.
But English papers are hiding this fact. Given the aggressive planting of churches in Haryana & Punjab along with gross methods, including financial lure & crazy psychic games being played by missionaries, they are attracting social misfits & anti social elements into their fold https://t.co/Burr7DbUco
— MadhuPurnima Kishwar (@madhukishwar) October 15, 2018
Another usual suspect Prashant Patel Umrao also made tweets on the attack.
#Gurgaon Judge Krishnkant Brahmin family was killed by Mahipal yadav because he had concerted to Christianity 6 months before & was talking about superstitious things continuously & when she interrupted him, then he killed them.
— प्रशान्त पटेल उमराव (@ippatel) October 14, 2018
At a time when communal divide in the country is aggravated by vested interests, the role of the media is to not provocate but present unbiased information. In the rat race of ‘breaking’ news, sensationalism ensures the maximum audience but premature and/or prejudiced reporting not only provides twisted facts but also sways public opinion in the wrong direction. Giving the Gurgaon attack a ‘fanatic evangelism’ angle wasn’t an isolated instance of provocative reporting. Earlier this month, several news organisations fueled communal hate-mongering on Anki Garg’s murder.
This article was first published at Alt News.