Several years ago, during a tour to promote The Media Project book called “Blind Spot: When Journalists Don’t Get Religion,” I took part in an excellent forum about religion and the news at a media institute in Bangalore, India. Here’s how I described that scene in a 2010 post that ran with the headline, “Life and death (and faith) in India.”
… I was struck by one consistent response from the audience, which I would estimate was about 50 percent Hindu, 25 percent Muslim and 25 percent Christian. When asked what was the greatest obstacle to accurate, mainstream coverage of events and trends in religion, the response of one young Muslim male was blunt. When our media cover religion news, he said, more people end up dead. Other students repeated this theme during our meetings.
In other words, when journalists cover religion stories, this only makes the conflicts worse. It is better to either ignore them or to downplay them, masking the nature of the conflicts behind phrases such as “community conflicts” or saying that the events are cased by disputes about “culture” or “Indian values.”
I thought about that scene again while reading yet another Washington Post report about India’s ongoing protests linked to rape and, to be specific, the lukewarm efforts by the nation’s powers that be to deal with the crisis.
What does this have to do with religion?
A year ago, during a conference on religion and the news in Kiev, I showed friends of mine who work in the mainstream press in India several examples of American coverage of the infamous incident in which a young woman died after being gang raped on a bus. They were all struck by the fact that the stories consistently avoided issues of race, religion and, of course, caste.
The bottom line: For better and for worst, India is one of the most intensely religious cultures on earth and there are few moral and cultural issues in modern India that do not involve religion in one way or another.
Is it easy to describe the role that religion plays? More often than not, the answer is “no.” Culture and religion and race and caste are all tumbled together in daily life in India.
Thus, I would like to stress that this latest rape crisis story in the Post is better than most in that it at least mentions two of the major religious themes linked to this issue — even if it doesn’t specifically explain or even mention the religious specifics. For example, there is this: