Two stories that expose our collective hypocrisy

Flix Wednesday, February 04, 2015 - 05:30
By Chitra Subramaniam (Opinion) I do not agree with Shireen Dalvi, editor of the Urdu daily Avadhnama. I also have issues with the way we in the media have covered the story which has gone from a setting where people work to the person, her religion and personal achievements. Coming at the same time when the story of Mridusmita Bhuuyann, a journalist in Assam is dragged by her hair by the police goes almost unnoticed, I find we are hypocrites, bordering on collective cowardice.  Avadhnama’s story is about the right of a newspaper in India to publish what the editor and reporters deem appropriate, relevant and necessary. The story is not about belonging to a religion or coming first in class. Dalvi has been forced to go underground following threats after the newspaper she edits published some Charlie Hebdo cartoons on January 17th. This is unfortunate and does not speak to the India of our founders. I find it telling that among the people supporting Dalvi on twitter and Facebook with hashtags and “likes” following the incident are the same who pulled down their own stories and news programmes on the Charlie Hebdo massacre – lip service and pretense is dangerous especially in journalism. It raises false hopes on the one hand and gives others the opportunity to call our bluff.  The reasons for my disagreement with the current set of events surrounding Avadhnama and its editor and us as journalists are manifold. I list three which strike me as relevant to this post.  The journalist Following the incident, Dalvi has granted interviews to Mumbai Mirror and Newslaundry where she tells her story and her struggle but ends it all by sounding like a victim (no one heard my side). Millions of people in the world have struggled against odds to achieve their goals. Her letter published on NDTV’s website is apologetic. We are now left with the story of a 46-year-old single mother of two on the run. I take it that being on the run here is about the harassment of having to go to many places following many First Information Reports (FIRs) which require her physical presence in police stations and not living incognito. If it is the latter, she must be given police protection. I find it disturbing that Dalvi says publishing the Charlie Hebdo cartoon was an inadvertent error as she does not understand French. This is where she makes it worse for herself – are we to believe that a journalist with 20 years of experience does not understand what her newspaper is publishing in the context of all that is known following the newsroom massacre in Paris?  Nowhere does she mention that it was the Urdu Patrakar Sangh (see Indian Express report at the end of this post) which asked for her arrest and if blame has to be apportioned for stirring an already divisive atmosphere in the country, it has to start there. Dalvi has also been quoted in news reports as saying while the world stood in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, she feels alone. That is how the cookie crumbles. The world is not focused on India, much less on the achievements of Indians. Indian is not focused on Indians as ignoring Bhuuyann’s story succinctly underscores. At the same time of the Paris shootout, 2000 people were massacred in Nigeriaby Boko haram and a few hundreds died in Syria.  Threats to journalists Journalists understand risk and threats as well as they understand bribes and enticements. Threats can come from religious extremists, dictators, arms-dealers, politicians, corporations and hired killers. They may or may not be anonymous – ask Bhuuyann. Charb the editor of Charlie Hebdo was a provocateur par excellence in a language and country where political satire and lampooning is a well evolved genre. When he said he preferred death to a life on his knees, he prefaced that comment by saying he had no attachments, material or human. That was his story. Following that massacre, there have been editorials and letters in France including one from one of the founding fathers of the weekly. He says he had warned Charb of the consequences of his actions. Others questioned Charb’s right to expose his staff to life threats given that their offices had been destroyed by a petrol bomb two years ago.  Editors have responsibilities to their readers. They also have responsibilities towards their staff which includes their physical safety. Some of India’s largest publishing houses have crawled when threatened by governments while others have been enticed with money to either spike a story or indulge in propaganda. It is a mixed bag out there - the courageous have hit back or stayed the course in full knowledge of the consequences of their actions. I find it disturbing to that Dalvi says ignorance of French was her stumbling block.  How we are missing the point Via the interviews, we know Dalvi was a topper, she educated herself despite several odds and went on to become the first woman editor of an Urdu daily in India. There are not many women who edit newspapers in India and that alone should have been Dalvi’s and our winning card, a rallying point for clearing space for robust journalism. She and all of have destroyed that by bringing god into it. God, any god, does not give you a seat-belt when you get on a roller-coaster.  I hope Dalvi will return to her job soon so Avadhnama thrives. I also hope we use incidents like this to ask ourselves why Bhuuyann’s story is ignored. Assam is closer than Paris. Tweet Follow @thenewsminute

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