Hidden cams, vilification by Kannada channel leaves student in hijab case distraught

Suvarna TV’s team went inside the residence of hijab case petitioner Aliya’s grandparents, claiming they are part of an NGO, and secretly filmed her cousin and grandmother.
Hidden cams, vilification by Kannada channel leaves student in hijab case distraught
Hidden cams, vilification by Kannada channel leaves student in hijab case distraught

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In a controversial news ‘investigation’, Kannada channel Asianet Suvarna decided to ‘sting’ the petitioners in the ongoing hijab case in the Karnataka High Court. Most of the petitioners are minors, and after creating a narrative demonising these students, the Suvarna TV team went with hidden cameras to the addresses of the girls. Claiming to be NGO workers, the team then talked to families and neighbours of the girls, and presented innocuous exchanges as sinister plots. 

In one instance, the Suvarna reporter and team went into the residence of petitioner Aliya Assadi’s grandmother, and used hidden cameras on her grandmother and cousin. Speaking to TNM, Aliya says, “I live with my parents in a rented house and that is the address mentioned in my court petition. My grandmother's address was given to my college when I joined, it is also in my Aadhaar card. Did the college leak the details? I am sure they did. They did it previously too and we have got so many threat calls.”

The video package was run with the title 'ISIS involvement behind hijab'

Aliya is a student of the Government Women’s College in Udupi, and has been denied entry to her classroom since December 27, 2021 as she along with other students were told they could not wear hijab in class. She was also among the first few students who approached the Karnataka High Court over the issue. Since the start of the row, she and her family have been subjected to abuse and uncomfortable attention after their personal details were leaked, reportedly by the school authorities.

With the media continuing to demonise her, and with one TV channel now physically invading her privacy, Aliya is distraught. "When I insisted on wearing the hijab to class, I thought it would be a campus issue, a matter of student rights. It became a huge controversy, we have been slandered in every way,” she says. 

“But this is too much. What is my grandmother's fault? What is my cousin's fault? Why are they being hounded? How can journalists come to their house with hidden cameras?" she asks. 

“They told my cousin they work with an NGO and will help us. My grandmother and cousin had no clue this was a hidden camera operation till the visuals aired on the channel. What is their crime? They got into my father's auto also and struck up a conversation. Do they realise the kind of danger they are putting us in?" she asks.

In the 15-minute package that was published on Friday, February 19, the narrator begins with questioning why the girls have decided to insist upon this religious claim now and who is behind it. The show decides that destructive forces like ISIS have been waiting to take advantage of a situation like this, so they can divide India.

They use terror organisation ISIS and Pakistan’s spy agency ISI interchangeably. They also infer a remark by Revenue Minister R Ashoka stating that the issue has got international attention, questioning how the students could create an international stir, unless foreign forces were at work to destroy India's unity. 

The show has repeated visuals, where girls wearing hijab and protesting are juxtaposed with the narrator commenting about how the country is being divided by “stubborn girls''. The narrator further censures the girls for creating a problem where none existed before and remarks how this is playing into the hands of those who want to create discord in the society.

Further, the package features one student stating that until now, these students were wearing the hijab on campus and removed it in class and wore it again before leaving. “There was no issue till now. I don't know why suddenly this right to follow religious practice came into their minds,” the student says. The student also says there was never any friction between the classmates and they were all good friends. The narrator immediately seizes upon this point to say that insistence of their religious rights by the six girls had resulted in this turmoil and ruined their friendship.

The narrator promises to show the audience what the girls were thinking and who is behind their actions. Saying that they have hunted down the addresses of the girls who have petitioned the High Court, the reporters visit addresses provided in the High Court of the petitioners Shafa and Muskaan, where they get nothing from the neighbours and relatives. Neither the neighbour nor the relative of the petitioners the reporter spoke to, had anything out of the ordinary to say, leaving the narrator with nothing to support the show’s sinister presumptions.

The show seems to reserve special venom for Aliya, whom they describe as the girl who ‘has been obstinate from the beginning’ about wearing the hijab. They enter the house calling it ‘high drama’ though no drama is evident, as they find Aliya’s polite grandmother and cousin at the house. The narrator is outraged that Aliya is not at the address provided, as if her absence is an indication of her supposed guilt for an imaginary crime. At no point does the reporter identify himself, and proceeds to record them on hidden camera. Despite facing constant questions, the duo answer them patiently and do not even ask them to leave. While the cousin quietly claims to have no knowledge of the issue, Aliya’s grandmother says that hijab has always been a part of their religion and tradition. Absurdly, the reporter then says Aliya’s grandmother respects the hijab, perhaps attempting to convey that her opinion is valid, but Aliya’s insistence on wearing the hijab is dangerous.

The reporter and his camerperson track down Aliya’s father Ayub, who drives an auto, pretend to hire him for a ride and then strike a conversation with him about the hijab row. Once again, the reporter cannot find anything disquieting about him, as Aliya’s father breaks down recounting how his friends have accused him and his daughter of ruining their children's education and how they have told him to ‘go back to Pakistan.’ “I was born here and have been living here all my life. How can they say that to me?” he asks. Striking down the show’s note that the girls have destroyed the harmonious fabric of the area, he asks, “The girls are told not to speak Urdu in school, but speaking Tulu is allowed. How is that justice?”

They then track down Hajra’s father who says they were approached by a group of people, who wanted to take the matter to court. He says he would welcome the Court’s decision on the matter.  

For all the conspiracy talk in the narrative, the ‘investigation’ by Suvarna found nothing incriminating against anyone. Unable to sustain its own misguided spite, the show ends with stock footage portraying the region as an idyllic place of religious harmony and declares that an unnamed organisation is helping them fight the matter in Court. The management of Suvarna News declined to comment on the matter.

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