Sunday, December 05, 2004

The Matter of Teesta S. and Tavleen S.

On Teesta Setalvad's response to Tavleen Singh's frontal attack on her -- that she "maligns" India on the matter of the pogrom in Gujarat -- Sudeep takes exception to our views, specifically our argument that:

We have friends in NRI America who share Ms. Singh's views. To them, the real scandal is less that fellow Indians were burnt alive in Gujarat -- rather they are offended by, what they perceive, hysterical anti-India screeds by liberal journalists and academics. This loss of perspective is obviously preposterous. Even if their criticisms of these journalists are right, are these not merely sideshows to the real tragedy of Gujarat?

He then logically asks us:

If journalistic shenanigans are merely a sideshow, then why are you wasting "blog-inches" on what is a sideshow in a sideshow (journalists on journalist ethics in relation to the Gujarat riots) ? ... Is it not an implicit admission that the characterization of what happened in Gujarat is as important as what actually happened ?

We dare not minimize the importance of journalists' characterization of explosive situations like Gujarat -- and where they err, deliberately or otherwise, they should be called out. But journalist bias (which is sadly legion in India) cannot be turned into a useful crutch to divert attention from the undeniable core fact that our fellow Indians were charred to death in Gujarat.

We have contempt for jihadists and their liberal enablers when they talk up "root causes" for terrorism because these are mere distractions from the acts of violence perpetrated in their name. Does our rejection of the "root cause" argument negate the issues surrounding these causes? Certainly not -- but we are unprepared to cut terrorists any slack on account of them. Further, unless the "root cause" communities abjure violence fully, their cause fades to black.

It's the same here. As long as the monsters of Gujarat are able to evade justice, how can we give credence to things like Atal ji astonishing "root cause" question in Parliament:

But who set the fire first? (referring to the train lynching in Godhara)

and Tavleen Singh's "shoot the messenger" question in Indian Express:

What it is about is the number of magazines and NGOs that have thrived on maligning India for being a country as fundamentalist as our Islamic neighbors. Is it not time to ask where their funds come from?

Our blog-inches in this matter reflect our rage that India continues to fail the victims of Gujarat while the best among us are wasting time arguing about secondary issues.


sudeep said...

my problem wasn't with the gist of that "friends among NRIs.." statement, in fact, I find myself agreeing that many people are merely concerned with avoiding any "communal shame" that news of such incidents/riots etc cause, and the fact that this is loosing perspective.

Having said that, a portrayal of the situation in India as similar in scale to the one prevailing in Pakistan or Bangladesh is surely moronic or dishonest besides being disturbing - not because it causes a loss of face, or because its plain lying and shoddy reporting, but because it has very real repercussions (as opposed to "unreal" shifts in perceptions about India). I am sure you are aware how things are different between the countries in the Indian Subcontinent, so I wont bother repeating them. I am also sure that you understand how a blatently false media picture may be misused by foreign powers, e.g. Iraq and WMDs, or the frenzy over Jenin, and the relative disadvantage it places India and Indians in.

Having established the importance of media characterizations of events, one does want to look at how fair and balanced these portrayels are. Analyzing the behaviour and biases of journalists is surely not distracting focus from the riots in Gujarat. Infact, any right minded conservative can not demand that all journalists have a single minded focus on the riots to the exclusion of everything else. It is a technique more suited to communist and totalatarian states.

Tavleen Singh, based on her track record, is a fairly balanced person, not a bigot, (atleast IMO) and she is within her rights to question the reportrage (pun intended) of the CC duo. Its only fair to look at their lopsided track record - in CC, in public functions abroad, and in their activism and newsbytes that they give out - and ask the question, where are their funds coming from ? CC has acknowledged that at least on some occasions theyve used money coming from the Congress party (to run anti BJP ads in major english language national newspapers). Where else are the funds coming from ? Its not as if they have something to hide, do they ?

As an aside, I did not ask you for any anti-Jehadi credentials, I do not think Tavleen Singh should have to prove her "secular" or non-bigot credentials. However, this should not stop people from examining the track record or publications by activists or public personalities, which is what Tavleen S has done. Her claim is that articles on muslim fundamentalism or hindu grievances in the Indian Subcontinent, published in CC are less than 10% of the total column inches, when clearly it is a major problem. I scanned their archives (found a link that worked) - there are no articles on Sikh victims of violence, no articles of victims of left wing violence (a recent IE report quoted Indian govt. sources saying that 8-10,000 people had died in left wing terrorism in India in the past decade), no articles on victims of Christian/church inspired militants in the NE, or something very recent in public memory - the marad violence.

I admit, I have not done a thorough and exhaustive job of looking at their archives, any such excercise will be, by its nature time consuming. But people should be able to ask such questions and point out the nudity of our emperors without fear of being labelled or bracketed as bigots, or hindutvawadis or whatever invective is in fashion.


sudeep said...

Dont mean to keep harping on the same note, but excerpts from Tavleens original article

>> NOW that Hindu fundamentalism is on the verge of extinction, can we start discussing it and fundamentalism in general with a degree of detachment?

>> What puzzles me is how a phenomenon that could be extinguished by an electoral defeat should have assumed such proportions that someone as supposedly knowledgeable as President Clinton’s national security adviser, Sandy Berger, could liken it to Islamic terrorism?

>> It is from the writings of Indian journalists that Western policy makers got the impression that Hindu nationalism was as much a threat to the world as radical Islam and that nuclear weapons were as unsafe in our hands. It is from the writings of Indian journalists that Western NGOs formed the impression that Christians and Muslims in India were on the verge of being wiped out. You may remember how often we reported that Gujarat was the ‘‘laboratory’’ for this plan but what you probably do not remember is the untruthful reports (never denied) that churches were being burned by Hindus in districts like the Dangs. What you probably do not remember is the alleged gangrape of nuns in Jhabua (allegedly by Hindu fanatics) that never happened and that again went un-denied .

>> With Hindutva gone for the foreseeable future, can we now please start dealing with the more serious problem of radical Islam? And can we hope that the magazines who thrived on painting India as a country of fanatics will now concentrate on exposing communalism of the other kind?

Personally, I doubt this or we would already have seen some attempt in these journals to draw attention to the fact that the most successful exercise in ethnic cleansing in India has been of Hindus from the Kashmir Valley.

This is a scepticism that I share with Tavleen. She doesnt talk about the Gujarat riots, but thats hardly - "a useful crutch to divert attention from the undeniable core fact that our fellow Indians were charred to death in Gujarat." Talking about something else is not denying that Gujarat riots happened.