"Catering contractor hacked to death in Tamil Nadu"

"Tension prevails in Thirubuvanam after murder of former PMK functionary"

"Murder of PMK man near Kumbakonam sparks tension"

"PMK man murdered in Kumbakonam, heavy police deployed fearing communal tension"

These are samples of headlines from the mainstream media of a murder in Thirubuvanam, a small town known for silk saris near Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu, on Wednesday.

Also read: PMK man hacked to death in Kumbakonam

News headlines are supposed to enlighten and inform, but here, alas, they have done the opposite. They obfuscate and hide, thereby setting a false and flawed narrative.

For, the real story is: Muslims suspected to be behind man's murder for thwarting conversion bid.

Here is the background. The victim, the 42-year-old V Ramalingam, was killed on Muslim Street in Thirubuvanam by a gang  wielding sharp weapons. The murderous men mercilessly attacked Ramalingam with long knives and sickles and he suffered fatal cuts and injuries. A profusely bleeding Ramalingam was declared dead on arrival at the hospital. The deep cuts and lesions on his body tell a tale of absolute brutality.

Ramalingam was attacked apparently because he had tried to prevent a few Muslims who were trying to convert the Dalits in the village. A video, that has now gone viral on social media, has Ramalingam arguing with the Muslims and trying to tell them that they were causing religious chaos in an otherwise harmonious area.

Ramalingam, in the video, tells the Muslims that he can get them houses for rent in his locality, whereas can they (Muslims) get him a house for rent in their area? At one point, he takes out the cap of a Muslim and wears it, saying he has no problem with it. Ramalingam then goes on to smear holy ash on a Muslim man's forehead, who immediately erases it.

Ramalingam also tells the Muslims that he doesn't mind eating the food they give him after their worship. "Will you guys eat the food we give after our prayers?"

Surely, it is no coincidence that Ramalingam was heinously bumped off after this incident. Investigating police officers  confirm that prima facie the murder of Ramalingam was due to the fracas with the Muslims.

Now, go back to the headlines cited above. The murder has no bearing on Ramalingam being a Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) functionary nor is his profession of being a caterer a clincher in the case. His being referred to as a PMK man or a caterer is a cruel obfuscation. He was killed because he was Ramalingam, a Hindu.

Worse, there is no mention of who committed the crime. Okay, the case is being investigated. But the police themselves have officially said that the local Muslims were suspected to be behind the crime. So why sheepishly hide it? If not for the viral video, the news outlets would hide behind the inelegant euphemism: "members of a minority community are suspected to be behind the incident." 

It is understandable, and even recommended, for news outlets to play safe and not trigger communal passions. Sensational and screaming titles can lead to that. But in this case, the unseemly urge to push the truth under the carpet is what is making people see red. For, the events leading up to the murder has already been captured in video and has become viral on social media platforms. So, to play coy is now silly, stupid, and dare we say, irresponsible. It gives room to conspiracy theories.

Because, at the other end of the spectrum, the crimes of Hindu right-wing seem amplified disproportionately. In a sense, it is silly and shameful to be talking of these things as if these are competitive events.  

But when one set of events are seen to be played up while another bunch of similar occurrences are reported in a decidedly low-key manner, people become suspicious of regular media. The rise of social media news sources — most of them unreliable and dubious — are a direct result of the news media going about its work in an evidently lopsided manner.

The rise of right-wing politics, where Hindus rightly or wrongly feel victimised, can be also argued to be an upshot of this tendency of mainstream media outlets to play favourites. Media responsibility is about being seen to be fair to all. The scales of news reporting should not tilt one way or the other.

In Ramalingam's unfortunate murder, mainstream media has been neither responsible nor fair.