ON THE NIGHT OF 23 FEBRUARY this year, Delhi was on the brink of large-scale communal violence. For several months, peaceful protests had been taking place against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the proposed National Register of Citizens. The protesters had been demanding the rollback of these government initiatives, which many fear will strip a lot of Indian Muslims of their citizenship. Earlier that afternoon, the Bharatiya Janata Party politician Kapil Mishra gave an incendiary speech in northeastern Delhi, warning that if the protests in the area did not stop, he would clear them out by force. The speech set in motion a cycle of violence targeted at Muslims. Vehicles, blazed and still burning, were strewn across the streets of localities such as Jafrabad, Maujpur and Chand Bagh. Reports through the day accused the Delhi police of inaction at best and collusion with rioters at worst.
About eleven kilometres away, on the ground floor of a tall building at Delhi’s ITO area, the printing press of Jagran Prakashan Limited was getting newspapers ready for the next day. Before dawn, stacks of different papers the company publishes were kept in a van. Two among these were Dainik Jagran, India’s most widely read Hindi newspaper, and Inquilab, one of India’s most read Urdu newspapers. The stacks of the two papers were not of the same size. For every hundred copies of Jagran, there were a few Inquilabs. Similar vans left printing presses in cities such as Patna, Lucknow, Mumbai, Kanpur and Aligarh—which saw police violence against anti-CAA protesters the previous evening as well.
The two newspapers, run by the same group, and which travelled in the same vans to reach chai stalls and newspaper stands, seemed to be reporting two different realities. Inquilab’s headline: “Firing on Aligarh’s Protesters. 7 people hurt. Stone Pelting in Jafrabad.” The strap explained: “UP Police embarrasses humanity once again and lathi charges women, fires on unarmed protesters. One young person injured by a bullet.” Two pictures, one above the other, showed police personnel at the sites of violence, standing amid rubble in Aligarh and striding with resolve in Delhi. A box in blue highlighted the key story in Delhi: “Kapil Mishra’s march becomes the reason for violence in Jafrabad. CAA supporters and opposers clash, riot-like situation. Violence in Karol Nagar as well.”