1. Spicing up the riot cases
2. Lunawada mass graves
3. Madhu Trehan's attack
Also see Coverage of English media of Mumbai violence simplistically
5 The case of Kausar Bano
6. Memorial of Resistance
7. Tavleen Singh
8. Rais Khan
October 25, 2012
CJP Rebuts Malicious Campaign by The Pioneer
The Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), a Mumbai based registered trust strongly rebuts the malicious campaign once again launched by the Pioneer a newspaper edited by Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Chandan Mitra. In a story laced with outright falsehoods the newspaper has alleged that the CJP has violated the law, namely the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA).
Since we work in the public domain we place the following facts for your information while emphasising that what the Pioneer has been resorting to since 2010 constitutes unprofessional journalism: not once were we contacted before this or other stories was carried. In October 2010 we had through our lawyers issued a legal notice to the newspaper (pasted below) following a spate of articles which visibly toned down that newspaper’s coverage after the notice. This time too legal action will follow.
The CJP has not violated any law or rule and has collected donations for its primarily legal rights work from national and international sources through lawful means. The Pioneer deliberately picks out CJP’s Secretary Teesta Setalvad for its remarks on violations when it is not her but a Board of Trustees that have been functioning collectively and supporting this work. Teesta is deliberately being projected as recipient with malicious intent.
CJP provides legitimate legal aid to help victims of mass crimes to access justice, a Constitutional mandate supported by international human rights standards. Bringing perpetrators of violence to justice – is being deliberately dubbed as mala fide activity.
“Seeking donations in the name of helping riot victims” is a vague generalization. Different donors made contributions for specific purposes and not something as vague as “helping riot victims”. The donations received by CJP were for two very specific objectives:
(1) Legal Aid to victims of the mass crimes: We emphatically state that the foreign contributions received by CJP for legal aid were accordingly earmarked and used for that very purpose.
(2) Aid for Two Ambulances for Mumbai City: In the wake of the 26/11 terror attack on Mumbai, a need was felt for a citizens’ initiative to augment the existing ambulance service in Mumbai. This was in view of the fact that very many people who received bullet injuries at the Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus simply bled to death because they were not enough ambulances to rush the injured to hospitals. We again emphatically state that the foreign contributions received by CJP for legal aid were accordingly earmarked and used for that very purpose. Two ambulances purchased with such contributions have been in service in Mumbai since 2009. Donations from international music personalities and groups including Jethro Tull through his manager Ian Anderson, Naomi Campbell, Chatwals (through the IMG Lakme group) were received to run these two ambulances that even today run in Mumbai.
(3) The foreign contribution received from Ford Foundation was for “Peace building activities in Gujarat & Maharashtra”. We affirm that the money was earmarked and utilized accordingly. It was a grant received for a period of 3 years, received in three annual instalments after submission and approval by Ford Foundation of annual narrative and financial reports.Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand are only two of the 6 trustees of Sabrang Trust.
Since 2010, the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture (UNVFT) has been supporting our legal work and the amount received from them has been utilized for legal aid alone as per the itemized budget approved by UNVFVT (United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture). It is a matter of great pride for CJP that its legal efforts to bring justice to the victims of the communal carnage in Gujarat is supported by UN agency and administered by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Geneva.
The CJP would like to emphasise that the accounts of both CJP and Sabrang Trust are audited annually within the stipulated time every financial year and the audited accounts along with the auditor’s report are submitted regularly in the prescribed format to the Income Tax Department, the Charity Commissioner’s Office and the FCRA department of the Union ministry of Home Affairs.
The CJP with its committed Board of Trustees consisting of IM Kadri (President), Nandan Maluste (Vice President), Arvind Krishnaswamy (Treasurer), Teesta Setalvad (Secretary), Cyrus Guzder (Trustee), Alyque Padamsee (Trustee), Anil Dharker (Trustee), Javed Akhtar (Trustee), Taizoon Khorakiwala (Trustee), Rahul Bose (Trustee), Javed Anand (Trustee), Gulam Pesh Imam (Trustee), Cedric Prakash (Trustee) stands by the work it has undertaken to ensure implementation of the rule of law through providing legal assistance to victims and witnesses of mass crimes.
Both the CJP and Sabrang Trusts are two separate entities. All expenses of both trusts are incurred after sanction is received from the Trustees.
From September 2010 right until when our lawyer Ms Aparna Bhat served a legal notice on The Pioneer on October 23 2010, this newspaper has first indulged in pathetic, one-sided slander-mongering against Secretary of Citizens for Justice and Peace (Copy of Legal Notice pasted below) even going to the journalistically unprofessional levels of publishing Teesta Setalvad’s colour photograph on the editorial page, simply based on one-sided and vicious statements of a former employee who had been discontinued due to unprofessional activities on 18.1.2008. After the legal notice, some semblance at objectivity was pursued by the newspaper.
Now again on 25.10.2012, a series of falsehoods have been published by The Pioneer, with a deliberate and malicious intent. The CJP would like to state thatThe Pioneer is functioning like the cheap propaganda wing of the party in power in Gujarat and not a newspaper. The fact remains that CJP’s consistent legal aid to victims and witnesses has been one of the factors –along with the Supreme Court’s monitoring and witness protection -- enabling them to depose in Courts against powerful accused. It is these vested interests supported by the powerful in the state which are, in a concerted fashion, launching this current malicious and ill-intentioned attack on CJP.
We would also like to point out that previously vicious allegations of “tutoring” by CJP have been unequivocally turned down and rejected by the trial courts in Gujarat (Sardarpura and Naroda Patiya cases-2011,2012), Best Bakery case (2006.2012) and SC Registrar General’s Report (2005). Despite this spokespersons and lawyers of the ruling party in Gujarat continue to spout falsehoods on television in the media. The Pioneer in general and through its article published today, is part of this pattern.
The persistent falsehoods against our organization despite this vindication in courts of law is a tactic and part of the vicious rumour-mongering that the political party responsible for the violence in the state of Gujarat and its parent organizations are well-known for. The motivations behind earlier campaigns by the Pioneer, edited by a man who is member of Parliament from the party that is in power in Gujarat, and other spokespersons are not simply to malign CJP—the real motive is to intimidate witnesses and even attempt to obstruct the course of public justice.
I.M. Kadri Nandan Maluste
(Vice President) (Secretary)
Arvind Krishnaswamy Javed Akhtar Cyrus Guzder
Alyque Padamsee Anil Dharker Javed Anand
Cedric Prakash Ghulam Pesh Imam
Arvind Krishnaswamy Javed Akhtar Cyrus Guzder
Legal Notice Sent on 23.10.2010
I am retained by and act under instructions from the Citizens for Justice and Peace who has advised me that your newspaper Pioneer has been carrying a series of slanderous articles against them particularly targeting their Secretary, Ms.Teesta Setalvad.
My clients advise me that since the past two months especially, but even earlier, months on 6.9.2009, 7.9.2009, 8.9.2009. 10.9.2010, 12.9.2010, 22.09.2010, 18.10.2010 and 19.10.2010, 20.10.2010 and 22.10.2010 Days you have made allegations against the Secretary stating that she has influenced witnesses, altered their versions of their statements and is trying to mislead the course of justice. My clients advise me that these allegations are an utter distortion of the truth and slanderous, made with a political motive to protect those accused of heinous crimes in 2002. They advise me that since you belong to the same political party that is currently the ruling dispensation in Gujarat and which is being criminally investigated for conspiracy into mass murder etc. you have a vested interest in these slanderous and defamatory reports.
My clients further advise me that you are making these baseless allegations on the basis of alleged disclosure made to you by a former employee of my client without verifying the same from my client and not verifying the facts. In your newspaper, you are also carrying the same allegations either attributed to this former employee, or some of the accused in the ongoing trials or the State of Gujarat itself.
My clients further advise me that the articles are being published at a time when the trials are in progress and eye witnesses are deposing, and moreover that a criminal investigation into the political dispensation in Gujarat is underway and is aimed at, if not likely to affect the course of justice and is a clear case of interference with the administration of justice.
In the circumstances you are hereby called upon to desist from carrying out these articles, which are clearly slanderous and defamatory in nature immediately failing which my clients would be forced to take appropriate legal action both criminal and civil as they may be advised.
I am sure that you would comply with the requisition contained herein and thus obviate the necessity of having to initiate any action against you.
What was the impact of Communalism Combat's ad campaign against the Sangh Parivar? Will the independence of the magazine be compromised by the fact that the Congress and Left funded this campaign? Javed Anand and Teesta Setalvad discuss why they decided to intervene in the electoral process and why they feel we are witnessing the beginning of a crackdown on NGOs opposed to the Hindutva ideology.by Meher Pestonji
You have conducted a prominent ad campaign against the Sangh Parivar in the build-up to the recent elections. For the first time Communalism Combat has taken an active role in the electioneering process. Why did you think it important?
Communalism Combat is a vehicle through which we try to combat communal conflict. Both minority and majority right-wing. We're aware of the limits of the reach of a small publication like ours. So we thought that one possible way of intervening in the coming elections was through paid advertisements. Not everybody reads long articles. Not everybody retains what they read. The ad is a format through which the corporate world sells goods and sometimes ideas. So we wondered whether we could use the same medium to communicate a message.
In 1992, after the Babri Masjid demolition, public statements were made by prominent Indians through paid ad space to convey their disgust at what was happening to a wide audience. In the 1998 elections NRI groups placed ads in select newspapers like Indian Express, Mahanagar and Combat, asking people to vote for a secular democracy. In the 50th year of Independence also, ad space was used to convey secular messages.
With that in mind we approached political parties that are opposed to the BJP ideology....
Did you approach the parties or did they approach you?
We approached them. Because this was an extremely critical election. For the first time large sections of what had been the third front were moving in droves to the BJP. This was paralleled by the ominous and dangerous attempt of the BJP trying to communalise the armed forces post-Kargil as they'd done with the police. Sending rakhis to soldiers, draping bodies of martyrs in saffron flags. Till then they'd been operating at the level of society, now they were acting at the level of state as well.
Last October Murli Manohar Joshi had the effrontery to prepare a new educational agenda for the nation. It couldn't be carried through because the chief ministers stormed out of that meeting. But UP and Gujarat which had BJP governments have seen the saffronisation of every educational/cultural institution in the last two years. While secular liberals keep hoping they'll get tamed while they're in power in Gujarat, it's become impossible for anyone from a minority community to even express anguish. Not just in cities but in rural areas as well. Not just Muslims but now even Christians are being targetted. A few days ago even as Vajpayee was being sworn in as the new prime minister there was a spate of attacks on Christians in Gujarat. Five-seven incidents in a single day. They've decided to unleash their venom and are doing it. They're getting emboldened all the time.
So their talk of postponement of the Hindutva agenda is limited to two-three mosques, the uniform civil code and Article 370 on Kashmir. But as far as targetting of minorities goes it continues.
What you're saying is that the visible agenda appears to have been postponed but the invisible agenda continues.
It's not even invisible any more. It's blatant if only you look around to see. Unfortunately the media is not supporting us. Reportage is fragmented, exchange of information is fragmented. So things aren't widely known. When I was in UP I was horrified at the kind of saffronisation that's taken place in educational and cultural institutions. In Orissa incidents were unfolding -- the burning down of Rehman and the murder of Father Doss -- even while the election process was on.
Let alone the rhetoric of securlarism, even the right to life and property of minorities is under threat.
It's against this backdrop that we approached political parties saying we had shared concerns and could offer them three concepts to strategise their electoral approach. The first was providing fact-sheets or backgrounders in three or four areas like dalits, women, a state-wise break-up on threats to life and property of minorities, state level break-up on how much work political parties have put in in the last three years. The second was a media monitor, a daily look at how the media is covering the election from which tips could be drawn for secular political parties, how the BJP was being covered, the kind of issues they were throwing up. Since the BJP was identified as the main enemy we suggested ways for other parties to work out their strategies. And the third concept was the ad campaign.
What was the impact of the ad campaign?
The ads appeared all over India -- UP, Maharashtra, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra -- wherever elections were taking place. Eighteen ads appeared in 16-18 publications in English, Hindi and regional languages. Other publications lifted the ads and reprinted them without cost. A paper called Meerut-e-Samachari with a circulation of about 40,000 reproduced the ads as part of voter conscientisation. So did The Asian Age. They were also converted into leaflets, xeroxed and used by local groups in Lucknow, Delhi, Pune, Bombay. The Times of India carried a report from Phulpur village in UP where the ad on Kargil was being discussed by candidates and voters, the general reaction being that since it came from an independent body rather than some political party it must carry greater credibility.
How far do you think the ads influenced the voter pattern?
It's very difficult to analyse the impact. But we can say that the ad campaign was able to point out some of the ideological precepts of the Sangh Parivar. We were able to create awareness of the RSS and the freedom movement, the RSS and Gandhi, the RSS and Kashmir, about Vajpayee's role in the freedom struggle. The discrepancy between past and present.
In the general voting pattern the secular vote has been higher than before, not just nationally but also state-wise. That's a very broad statement. Even exit polls can't link which specific issues contributed to that. Whether there was a Kargil wave, whether the ads had an impact.
However, at election time when there is heightened political consciousness, when people are looking for news, trying to evaluate, at that time to come out with a campaign against the Sangh Parivar made an impact. This is evident from their own reactions to the ads. They were dead scared. They complained to the Election Commission that we are spreading falsehood and misleading people so action should be taken against us under a variety of clauses and sub-clauses. The Election Commission ignored them. They appealed to the media not to carry the ad linking the RSS to Gandhiji's assassination. That didn't work either. They must have felt threatened or they wouldn't be reacting like this.
Does Communalism Combat see itself as a political unit?
What's the purpose of any publication? The media doesn't function in a vacuum. It has a political role. Communalism itself is a political issue. We're talking about communalism in its ultimate analysis meaning fascism, implying changing of the Indian democratic order. We've been making political statements over the past six years. We're a niche publication, clearly ideologically oriented against any kind of communalism -- minority as well as majority.
As we see it, the threat to Indian democracy is from the Sangh Parivar, not from minority communalism. Jawaharlal Nehru identified it years ago when he said if fascism comes to India it will be in the garb of the Hindu rashtra. The soft saffron of the Congress, the inability of the Left to look at communalism as clearly as it should, have contributed to the BJP and Sangh Parivar managing to dominate more political and social space. By not acting decisively during riots the Congress has allowed much secular space to get captured by the Parivar.
The ad campaign is reported to have cost approximately 1.5 crores. Who funded it?
The Congress, CPI, CPM and about ten prominent individuals.
Don't you think accepting money from political parties compromises your independence?
We're quite certain it will not. And we're not just saying this in conversation but in the next issue of Communalism Combat we're openly telling our readers what we've done and why. Not just that the campaign happened but the whole process. Our rationale for linking with the Congress/CPI/CPM to politicallty isolate the BJP. It's a waste of time to speculate on whether we've compromised ideals by associating with the Congress. Only our future issues will prove whether we're becoming soft on the Congress or whether we remain as independent as we've always been.
With the Congress in power in Maharashtra do you anticipate interference in the near future?
We engaged in a one-time interaction. There's no continuing association. We're an independent outfit that offered a media service at the time of elections. They can't dictate editorial policy and never will.
One of the first things we'll be doing in the next few weeks is demanding action on the Srikrishna Commission report. It was one of the election promises, but no one's mentioning it now. It has to come on to the activists' agenda. Now that the Shiv Sena is out of power is the Congress going to take action against the Sena and BJP leaders and police officers indicted in the report?
Some organisations which endorsed one of the ads are reported to have received notices from the government. What does the notice say?
The notice asks why action should not be taken under the Foreign Contributions Regulations Act (FCRA) against NGOs receiving foreign funding for attempting to intervene in the political process.
The ad revealing the Sangh Parivar's attitude towards women, that they don't respect women, carried direct quotations from BJP and RSS leaders and was endorsed by 13 women's organisations. So they're trying to get at these organisations. But NGOs that have nothing to do with the ad have also received notices. Groups involved in secular action.
Instead of stating whether they stand by the quotation, regret it or deny it, the BJP has resorted to intimidatory tactics. Typical fascist mentality. They can't counter the content of any of the ads which are based on factual information and history. Some carry statements by their own leaders directly countering the BJP's current ideology. The ad on Kashmir shows how Premnath Dogra who later became president of the All India Jan Sangh, prior to 1948 had opposed Kashmir joining India on the grounds that Hindu Kashmir should not join secular India.
Do you see this as the beginning of a crackdown on NGOs opposed to Hindutva ideology?
Yes. It's the beginning of a larger crackdown on secular NGOs, a sign of things to come. It's a parallel of what's happening in Pakistan. There also the government is saying all money should come to the government which will then decide where the money will go.
The good thing is that all the organisations are veering to the position that this has to be fought unitedly. We are making it quite clear that we're all in it together and we refuse to get intimidated.
Till this notice happened there was fear. Under the previous home ministry over 100 permissions under FCRA to Christian organisations were been cancelled in the last 13 months. The United Christian Forum and others have been collecting data. We heard that in Tamil Nadu some FCRA registration numbers cancelled from Christian NGOs have been allotted to VHP organisations.
Why should they do that when they could allot a new number?
Maybe to establish that the organisation has been around for a long time. Earlier there was a fear that only Christian organisations were being targetted. People were afraid to make it public fearing a witchhunt. Now it's become obvious that anyone involved in secular action is going to get targetted. So the move is to formulate a joint strategy.
Someone has to call the `foreign bogie' bluff. Who is the biggest beneficiary of foreign funding? Time and again people say it's the VHP, directly and indirectly. Part of the struggle is going to be to collate all this information and get out of the fear. Let's demand a white paper on this. Let them make a public statement on who gets how much from where.
How is Communalism Combat responding to this?
There's no notice to Communalism Combat. We're a private limited company so do not fall under the purview of FCRA. But we're coordinating action between the groups. We're in the process of drafting a memorandum which will be sent to the President, the prime minister, all members of parliament, the home ministry and of course released to the press. This is part of mobilising public opinion, informing people that we're taking collective action. Meanwhile, the groups are also replying to the notices individually. But we're exchanging drafts, exchanging responses, conducting signature drives.
Does Communalism Combat receive foreign funding?
Our funds come from corporate advertising and subscriptions. Under FCRA no newspaper or publication can receive foreign donations. But that doesn't mean we can't receive subscriptions from abroad. A subscription is a commercial transaction not a donation. We don't receive foreign donations.
What constructive role do you visualise for yourselves in the future?
Many groups doing very good work have little opportunity to make a wider impact. In the last few years a lot of people -- historians, economists, urban development planners -- have been feeling a need to initiate systematic interaction with different political patterns. Maybe groups of people interacting with groups of politicians across party lines. Regularly and systematically on different issues. Politicians who are secular, have a commitment to people's programmes, education, economic development. Our specialisation will be communalism. Other groups will come in with their areas of specialisation. This is just one of the ideas we're working on.
Meher Pestonji is a Mumbai based journalist and writer.
Javed Anand interviewed by Jyoti Punwani --
Q When Teesta and you started Communalism Combat, both of you already had jobs. Why did you decide to leave them to start a magazine which might not have survived?
A Because we felt that at Business India and Sunday Observer, we could only be doing full-time journalism, and not be fully involved with what was burning us up. Though we were writing about those issues in our papers, we felt we needed to start a magazine devoted to that, which of course wouldn't have the kind of reach our papers did, but which would look at the same issue in a different way. We felt starting such a magazine would also give us time to do other things, like advocacy, going to court?
Q But you could do those things even as full-time journalists.
A Not everything was within our capacity. I remember in 1988, when Bal Thackeray had called a press conference where he had issued Sikhs an ultimatum and threatened them with an economic boycott, we had collected 300 signatures of journalists asking the government to take legal action against him. Thackeray had then dared the CM to act. Soon after, I had to interview S B Chavan, who was then the CM, and I asked him what happened to the action he had promised. He replied that he had been advised it would be counter-productive.
We were active in various ways- I remember we had started this group called Sabrang, and brought out stickers with the slogan `Prem se kaho hum insaan hain'', which we went around sticking in local train compartments. But it takes a lot of juice to be doing a full-time job and being involved in other causes. I'd rather not be doing this round the clock!
Q Didn't the financial hurdles deter you?
A Oh yes. I was then earning around 13 -14,000 and Teesta around 8 - 9000. When we started CC, we could afford to pay ourselves just Rs 3000 each. We could survive on that because we didn't have to pay house rent or the monthly outgoings of a flat in a co-operative society, and we didn't have the kind of needs others did. Our daughter Tamara was by then 3.
Friends pitched in and stood by us all through that first year. But it was difficult. We did assignments here and there, but we finally got stranded and could not bring out any issue between June 95 and February 96. I had almost given up and told Teesta that we should be looking for full-time jobs. Our second child had by then been born.
But then we decided to raise funds, had a show of ``Tumhari Amrita', and people chipped in again. Some ads came in?We are extremely grateful to Air Freight which has stood by us all these 10 years. The other regular advertiser right now is the MP government. Previously we used to get a regular ad from the Tatas, but that stopped after the BJP government came to power. But there may be no direct connection.
Q What about foreign funds?
A As a newspaper, we are prohibited from accepting donations from abroad. When the allegation was made against us because of our ad campaign against the BJP during the last general elections, we dared those making it to investigate us. Many women's organizations were co-signatories to one of the ads, and some of them received foreign funding.
Q There were allegations that the Congress sponsored those ads.
A We couldn't have run those ads without sponsors! The Congress was one of the sponsors, and we feel no shame about associating with the Congress. We'd do it again. The BJP and the Sangh Parivar are the biggest danger for the country, and we don't mind taking the help of parties like the Congress to fight them. Not that the Congress is an angel. We've never given them a character certificate. We speak about the 84 riots and Teesta in The Big Fight recently spoke about the Congress inMaharashtra not implementing the Srikrishna Commission Report.
Q You carry a lot of articles by politicians.
A We do feel it critical that we engage with the political class. If we didn't engage with them, if we kept our moral uprightness, we wouldn't reach anywhere. We know we are not dealing with angels. We ask them questions which need to be asked. Fascism can only be fought politically.
Q How do you resolve the age-old debate between objective and activist journalism?
A There can be nothing like taking an objective stand between secularism and fascism. That's bull-shit. We are publicly and unashamedly against fascism. Otherwise we maintain high professional standards in CC. For instance, if before an election we are making an assessment of the winning chances of any party, we look at it purely from journalistic point of view.
Q Doesn't your stand prevent you access as journalists to those you oppose? Don't you feel the need to let them speak sometimes?
A Frankly it's not our concern to establish our ``credibility'' as journalists to fascists. When we feel the need, we approach them. We have sent faxes to L K Advani and had he replied, we would have published his replies. But we don`t want to appear objective just to get Bal Thackeray to talk to us. We write with full responsibility. We've written on Muslim communalism as strongly. We don't feel our writing would be incomplete without a sound-byte from the Jamaat-e-Islami or the Muslim Personal Law Board.
Q What about your limited reach? Aren't you talking to the already converted?
A This remains a question 10 years after we started. But I'm more confident answering it now. If we were just sermonizing, it would be a valid concern. But this magazine is shown around everywhere, held up during Lok Sabha debates, mainly because of the information it carries. There's not too much editorial writing. Investigative journalism is our forte. Our special issue on Gujarat was translated in 6 languages, and we keep being informed that our issues have been translated by some group or the other.
We have no illusions - if we were working in mainstream publications, we would be read by lakhs, but then we would be part of a package deal along with fashion, politics? Also, being in CC has allowed us to bring both the Gujarat report as well as act to hold Narendra Modi to account. We don't feel the constraints we would as full-time journalists.
|Saffron vendettaShort on arguments, the BJP tries the ‘foreign funds’ bogey to frighten Combat, other NGOs|
On the eve of the recently concluded Lok Sabha polls, Sabrang Communications & Publishing Pvt. Ltd. ap-
proached several secular parties and offered its communication skills and expertise to educate the electorate on the dangers that the sangh parivar and its political wing, the BJP, poses to India’s constitutional commitment to a secular-democratic polity.
It proposed to undertake three specific activities:
a) Production of factsheets and backgrounders providing information and analysis on issues that would/should feature in the election campaign;
b) A daily media monitor of the current election campaign with suggestions on what secular parties could do; and,
c) Conceptualising and releasing public–interest advertisements in the mainline newspapers across the country (in different languages) to educate voters on the dangers of the ideology of the sangh parivar and the resultant politics of its political wing, the BJP.
The offer was well–received by more than one political party.
We produced 18 factsheets/backgrounders. Apart from making these available to political parties, these were also e–mailed to secular groups and individuals all over the country and also to NRIs committed to communal amity. (See box for some of the responses to these alerts).
We also produced a daily report based on our media monitoring of nearly 30 prominent newspapers published from different parts of the country in English, Hindi, Urdu and Marathi.
But what proved to be the most visible part of our campaign and triggered the Union Home Ministry’s vendetta against civil society organisations on behalf of the BJP were the 18 advertisements released by Combat through mass circulation newspapers. Across the country in a dozen languages – English, Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Gujarati, Mara-thi, Telugu, Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam, Oriya, Bengali.
Relying entirely on the words and deeds of many of the leading lights of the saffron brigade, these advertisements unmas-ked the real character of the sangh parivar and its constituents. (Reproduced in the following pages is a selection from the 18 advertisements that were released).
What impact did these messages as ads have? None! That may well be the skeptic’s reply, considering that the BJP–led National Democratic Alliance is back in power at the Centre. But it is obvious from the responses of the RSS and the BJP that our messages have ‘stung the Parivar hard’.
The responses, in stages, have ranged from appeals to the media not to publish the mischievous and defamatory ads, to complaints to the Chief Election Commission by the BJP and the RSS, to bogus charges of misuse of foreign funds, to intimidatory show cause notices by the Union Home Ministry on behalf of the BJP, to abusive phone calls and letters to the editors of Combat and which are too filthy to be reproduced here.
The first Combat ad appeared in newspapers on August 27, 1999. The swift reaction from the sangh parivar came in the form of a press statement from none less than H.V. Seshadri, RSS general secretary on August 31, the very day our ad was published which read:
“Vajpayee says, ‘The Sangh is my soul’. His soul speaks: ‘Godse was motivated by the idea of Akhand Bharat. His intention was good.’ (Rajendra Singh, RSS sarsanghchalak)”.
Seshadri’s statement said the RSS chief’s quote in the Combat ad was “totally misleading and mischievous”. The statement also claimed the RSS had never supported the act of Godse and was the first to condemn the assassination through a written statement within hours of the ghastly incident. The statement also said the RSS is seeking “legal advice to take action against such scurrilous writings” and appealed to the media not to publish such ads because, “in the name of Communalism Combat (they) only spread hatred and communalism in the society”.
The same day (August 31, 1999), K. Jana Krishnamurthi, BJP vice-president, released to the press copies of his letter to the Chief Election Commissioner, M.S. Gill, complaining against Combat ads. Among other things the letter asked: “Is it not incumbent on CEC to take suo motto notice of such violation of Code of Conduct and flouting of election law and also take suo motto action against persons concerned?” The RSS, too, complained separately to the CEC. But the CEC, obviously, thought otherwise.
The September 12, 1999 issue of the RSS mouthpiece, Organiser reported: “RSS has called upon Election Commission to take action against the Communalism Combat for causing disharmony and feeling of enmity and hatred by publishing false and defamatory statements against the RSS and its allies… The RSS has told the Commission that Communalism Combat has committed ‘Corrupt Practices’ under the Representation of People’s Act, 1951.
“In a statement, the Sangh stated: The persons responsible for the publication of an advertisement have also committed the offence of causing disharmony and feeling of enmity, punishable under section 153-B IPC, 1860 along with election offences of committing the offence of ‘undue influence’ at an election punishable under section 171–C of Indian Penal Code, 1860; and offence of giving false statement in relation to the personal character and conduct of the candidate punishable under section 171–G of IPC”.
“The RSS further called upon Election Commission to prohibit the Communalism Combat from publishing the false and defamatory statements”.
But greater honour was bestowed on us by the RSS mouthpiece, Panchjanya (Hindi), which devoted two full of its pages September 12 issue to run down our campaign. Panchjanaya did not even attempt to factually challenge any of the well-substantiated charges made by Communalism Combat through its ads. This is not surprising as neither the BJP nor the sangh parivar had any answer to offer. Instead, the saffron mouthpiece launched a personal attack against the magazine and its editors, claimed the magazine was financed by shady interests. Also targeted in the same article was the former naval chief, Admiral Bhagwat, who was dismissed by the BJP government. Panchjanya claimed Admiral Bhagwat was on the board of directors of Sabrang Communications. While it would be a matter of privilege for us to have him on our board of directors, the fact is that Admiral Bhagwat is not on the board of directors of the company. But, then, who ever said the RSS school of falsification has ever had any respect for facts?
The sangh parivar had no reply they could give to the ads. Nor did their devious methods to stop further ads from appearing produce results. So, it resorted to the tactic of using the Union home ministry – headed by L.K. Advani, the BJP leader most remembered for his bloody Rath Yatra of 1991 – to harass and intimidate several NGOs who chose to endorse an ad released by Communalism Combat that exposed the anti-woman attitudes of many of the sangh parivar’s leadership.
Throughout the election campaign, the BJP and many other opposition parties had made the Italian origin of Congress president Sonia Gandhi a big issue. During electioneering, the BJP and the sangh parivar, both at the macro and micro levels, used derogatory and sexist imagery to get at their main opponent, Sonia Gandhi.
At an election rally in Maharashtra on August 25, the then Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting (now Union Minister for Parliamentary Affairs), Pramod Mahajan, said, “If we are so keen on having a foreigner as the PM, why not have Tony Blair or Bill Clinton or Monica Lewinsky.” The same day, some newspapers carried field reports of local BJP and RSS leaders on the campaign trail in Gujarat labelling Mrs. Gandhi as ‘kaalmukhi’(a woman who brings ill–luck to her husband and marital home).
Mahajan’s statement equating Sonia Gandhi to Monica Lewinsky and other anti-women allusions outraged a lot of women’s organisations. Prominent women from Delhi issued a joint statement condemning the Union minister’s highly objectionable reference.
In this context, Sabrang Communications released a backgrounder on August 26, detailing numerous anti-women remarks of various leaders from the Sangh Parivar over the last several years. This was followed, on September 1, 1999, by an advertisement under the heading, ‘They Don’t Respect Women’. Over 13 NGOs, most of them well–known women’s organisations from Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad, endorsed the ad carried by Combat.
It is this ad that the BJP latched on to and set the Home Ministry into motion. On September 25, the BJP’s general secretary, M. Venkaiah Naidu, issued a press statement in Delhi alleging that certain NGOs are conducting “malicious propaganda against BJP…with the support of funds being pumped in by foreign countries. It means that foreign money is being used to oppose a nationalist party (BJP) which stands for the interest of the country….This amounts to interference in the electoral process of this country by foreign money power. This constitutes a threat to Indian sovereignty”.
The statement concluded: “The BJP demands that the government of India inquire into the funding of these organisations and prosecute them for violation of the FCRA (Foreign Contributions Regulation Act), if foreign funds are directly or indirectly used by them and announce the amount received by these organisations and the source of funding”.
Naidu’s statement was issued on the evening of September 25 (Saturday) and published by newspapers on September 26 (Sunday). And in what must surely be a record in terms of the speed with which government acts, the Foreigners’ Division of the Union Home Ministry responded to the BJP’s demand in less than 24 hours – the show cause notice issued to several of the women’s groups who were signatories to the ad is dated September 27, 1999!
Among those who received the show cause notice were Kali for Women (Delhi), Asmita (Hyderabad), Women’s Centre(Mumbai). Incidentally, other Delhi based groups like VANI and the Indian Social Institute, who were not signatories to the advertisement in question were also served show cause notices. Their crime, apparently, lies in having endorsed a pamphlet, People’s Agenda for the General Elections 1999, which was critical of the BJP–led coalition’s record in government and support for a secular democratic agenda. The organisations targeted by the home ministry are well–known for their commendable work, over the last two decades and more, in the field of social action and related research.
Every ad in the newspapers released by Combat had clearly stated that the space had been sponsored. Combat categorically affirmed that not a paise of foreign fund was involved in any of the ads. It also charged that the BJP had resorted to this bogey simply because it was in no position to respond to any of the ads. It challenged the BJP and the sangh parivar to a national debate on the contents of the ad. Not surprisingly, the challenge has gone unanswered.
Meanwhile, the home ministry’s action has prompted a chain of protests not only by groups who have FCRA permission to receive foreign funds but also by many other groups, associations, organisations and individuals who have never received any foreign funds.
The show cause notices are being seen as part of the attempt by the BJP to stifle democratic debate and dissent. Combat is investigating what appears to be a concerted bid to cancel the FCRA registration numbers of secular groups or minority–run organisations and to promote pro–Hindutva bodies instead.
The FCRA (1976), a draconian law introduced by Mrs. Indira Gandhi during her Emergency regime, is one of the weapons being used by the intolerant BJP against non-compliant, independent groups. Interestingly, the just dethroned Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, had been using near-identical measures against NGOs in Pakistan. (See accompanying article by R.M. Pal).
‘The ads have stung the Parivar hard’
Reproduced below are some of the positive responses to the Combat ads from a wide cross section of people — from grassroots–level activists to bureaucrats, from liberals to Gandhians to communists, from secular–minded persons in the mass media to individuals from women’s organisations:
A field report from Phulpur (U.P.) published by The Times of India, Delhi edition on September 25 read: "The folks at Communalism Combat can take satisfaction from the fact that at least one of their anti–BJP advertisements is having an impact on voters…A group of villagers in Karaudi outside Phulpur – the constituency Nehru won two times – gathered around Lal Yadav as he read the text of one such advertisement in Dainik Jagran (Dainik Jagran, a pro–BJP, pro–Hindutva daily is among the largest selling newspapers in U.P. and is published simultaneously from nearly a dozen cities — editors). George Fernandes’ August 1998 statement apprehending trouble in Kargil was printed in bold and his offer of ‘safe passage’ ridiculed. ‘And see’, said Yadav, pointing to the sponsor’s name. This is not some political party saying these things. Yeh to nirdali log hain (They are independent)’. "While the BJP may cry foul – the party alleges that the campaign is being covertly funded by the Congress – the ads have tapped into a vast bed of cynicism and anger over the way the Vajpayee government has handled and projected Kargil".
Activists from Ahmedabad and Lucknow informed us that they had reproduced some of our advertisements as leaflets and distributed it among people in their localities. Navchetna, a youth group based in the capital converted many of the ads into leaflets and even did a mailing to conscientise persons on the actions and thoughts of the Hindu right.
The publisher of Meerut ka Samachar (Hindi), published from Meerut in U.P., telephoned us after the first three ads had been released to say that he found them so effective and potent that he had decided to publish them in his own paper free of cost.
Praful Bidwai, a syndicated columnist, wrote the following in his column in the fortnightly magazine, Frontline (October 8, 1999): "(S)ocial activists, as distinct from political leaders, have voiced such fears and concerns and often warned the larger public of the Hindutva menace and associated politics. The latest example of such a civil society or non–governmental initiative is the public education campaign launched by Communalism Combat, a Mumbai–based magazine, in the form of a series of 10 newspaper advertisements. These make a scathing critique of the BJP’s claim to being ‘normal’, tolerant or democratic. The campaign systematically demolishes a number of myths about Vajpayee, the RSS and the BJP. It cites unimpeachable facts — mostly their own quotes — to back its contentions. It ruthlessly exposes the BJP to be a party of bigots, male supremacists, rabid casteists… The BJP emerges as a party that is so cynical in pursuing power that it can communalise the armed forces.
"The Combat campaign has been effective at least partly because it fights the BJP on the favourable terrain of the mainstream national media, with its predilection (for the most part) for soft Hindutva, and its fear of attacking the BJP… Few would deny that the campaign has bite…The Combat advertisements have stung the Parivar hard".
‘Bad people, Good people’
(Reproduced below is the editorial published on September 30, 1999 by Jansatta, the Hindi daily published by the Indian Express group of newspapers, under the headline, Bure Manush Bhale Manush ).
The BJP spokesman and general secretary, Venkaiah Naidu says that certain organisations which have associated themselves with one of the anti–BJP ads inserted in the newspapers by the movement, Communalism Combat, are recipients of foreign funds. A list of such organisations has also been provided by Venkaiah Naidu. Included in the list is the name of Manushi, which does not accept any donation even from an Indian source, leave alone foreign ones. Naturally, Manushi, has condemned the BJP statement. The organisation maintains that it has never received any donation from abroad, nor has it applied for permission to receive foreign funds. Not just that, Manushi has also supported the ad of Communalism Combat which exposes the anti–women attitude of the BJP. Manushi (a publication which describes itself as ‘A journal about Women and Society’) is not connected with Communalism Combat. The other organisations named by Naidu have so far not given their reactions to his statement but after Manushi’s response, the BJP’s charges lack credibility.
Though it appears to be a simple matter, this episode has serious implications. It reveals how BJP responds to its opponents with baseless allegations. The manner in which different political parties have been flinging mud at each other — in this the BJP is undoubtedly ahead of the others — have muted voices such as that ofCommunalism Combat. Despite this, the BJP general secretary is scared of this voice and is trying to make it appear as a conspiracy supported by foreign funds. Interestingly, in this attempt, even an organisation whose credentials are beyond question and which has never accepted foreign funds is being implicated. In saying this we by no means imply that others who do receive funds from abroad are all part of some conspiracy. There are many organisations in the country that receive foreign money but they are no part of any conspiracy. In fact, more than anyone, the government itself is dependent on foreign loans and grants.
It is not as if Venkaiah Naidu is not aware of all this. He is not unknowingly making references to foreign funding. In fact, it is a false propaganda being dished out in reaction to an ad. No doubt, the ads of Communalism Combat have political implications. At one level, they appear to be opposing the BJP and in the process helping the Congress. But the BJP is doing nothing to challenge the contents of these ads. Instead, it tries to make the motivations of such groups suspect and to encircle their very existence with a question mark. The simple implication of this is that any one who opposes the BJP is evil, a foreign agent and anti–national. This is but an elaboration of that concept of nationalism that the BJP has for long been trying to don and which it tries to use as a shield against every attack on itself. Those who questioned the BJP–led government’s role in Kargil are dubbed anti–national; others who try to put the BJP in the dock on other issues, too, are being charged with receiving foreign funds!
Responses to Sabrang’s election alerts‘Bharatmata must be saved from the sanghis’
In the six weeks that the Sabrang team was monitoring the media at election time, 18 alerts were sent out to secular political parties, individuals and organisations on our extensive mailing list and the media. These included: an alert on Dalit and gender issues, a factsheet on the government’s lapses on Kargil, performances of saffron government’s in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan. And, critically, the issue of life and security of all sections including minorities — a basic democratic right that was violated twice over in Orissa with a Muslim trader and a Christian priest being killed for their faith in the midst of campaigneering, allegedly by Dara Singh, the man behind the gruesome Staines’ murders.
One particular alert that highlighted the remarks of Sardar Patel, India’s first home minister, on the celebratory attitude of the cadres of the RSS in the days immediately following Gandhiji’s assassination was widely circulated among young NRIs abroad.
Another that highlighted the issue of crimes and violence against women under BJP rule in the backdrop of the Hindu Right’s attitude to women generated an interesting exchange among our readers. We thought the issues that it raised should be shared and discussed. With this in mind, we are sharing some reactions to Sabrang’s election-time alerts with you.
Thank you very much for your
Sabrang Alert mail it should really be called India Alert mail!
In my own little way I have been trying to oppose the evil designs of the Killer Sanghis. Especially now when they are shamelessly seeking approval from the descendents of the very man they killed 51 years ago, the Mahatma. And I refer to the shameless opportunism of my aunts Sumitra Kulkarni and her sister Usha Gokani new converts to the Sangh Parivar. I think you should expose them too.
I have been following your campaign against the Sanghis in the papers. I think the time has come when all of us who feel similarly about our beloved motherland came together to fight the Sanghis and the Neosanghis like George Fernandes and Sumitra Kulkarni.
Please feel free to delegate work to me and consider me as a comrade in arms in the crusade to save over beloved Bharatmata from herKapoots, the Sanghis.
Tushar A. Gandhitushargandhi@vsnl.com
So what if we can’t keep them out this time?
Just to tell you that you have done a remarkable task. We have been reading and using the Alerts — just being able to access the facts is critically important — and for me as an educator, whether or not we are able to keep them out of power this time around — it is this kind of educational activity which we must intensify and broaden if we are truly to build up an aware and a discriminating democracy in which people will seriously think through these issues and see through these lies before casting their vote.
This is surely the kind of work that has to go on silently, continuously, relentlessly, and commitedly — in every school, community — and not only in time for an election. This is just the beginning of an ongoing battle — and this is the battle which fascism wages without qualms for control of the uncritical mind and more so to keep the minds uncritical. Our task — a harder one no doubt — is to truly keep struggling to open up the minds in a very different sense — and build a critical mass of critically able minds!
Lalitha and (admiral) RamdasAlibag
The problem lies in the diaspora
I am glad someone is taking a stand against communalism. I wish you all the best. Would be glad to do what I can from here. The real problem is here and in the Diaspora. The RSS has gone out into the world to enrol Indians and get their money for their work in India. I would say more than 60 per cent of the Hindus in the United States and about 80 per cent in the rest of the world outside India are supporters of the RSS and the Hindu Right. They give them millions of dollars. It is more difficult to deal with these people than those in India.
Confusion in secular camp is the real worry
Please allow me to convey my deep appreciation for the manner in which you carried out on such an effective campaign against communal forces during the elections, even bringing out an excellent fact–sheet on Kargil.
I am, however, more worried about the prevalent confusion in the secular camp. The rise of the BJP is in no mean measure due to this reason. I wonder what we can do about that.
Not through e-mail alone
Many thanks for sending Sabrang
Alert. We find it extremely informative and useful. Please consider sending the hard copy (once in a fortnight or monthly) for a wider network.
Vigil India Movement, Bangalore
This is no time for a snooze
Excellent Alerts. Great job.Keep up the pressure. We can ill–afford to slacken or snooze. The one on Dara and secularists’ insouciance was very timely and trenchant. Yes, where is the outrage? Why aren’t all of them on the streets, in demos, incessant marches and morchas?
Sabrang Alert is a great idea and is providing very useful compendia of facts to confront the Hindutvavaadis in America. Keep up the good work!
New York, USA
Thank you for the great work on these election alerts! They are very informative and very compelling.
I am delighted to have made it to your list. The "Alerts" are fulfilling their metaphorical worth in these very real times of ours. I am here in Washington DC and would like to avail all support to you and our cause. Peace.
Rohit Tripathi YOUNG INDIA
We welcome Sabrang Alert. It is timely and much needed. Today I also saw your ad in the National Press. Good. Keep it up. We are with you. Let me know if we can do any thing more. Thanks and with regards,
Don’t politicise the gender debate
Rohit and others, I would like to respond to some of the things said in this report (Sabrang Alert on ‘women and the Sangh’; see below). I am inclined to construe this report as an attempt to politicise the otherwise larger issue of womens’ rights in India. While the Shekhawat government may have been downright criminal in it’s handling of the issues listed below, there have been governments of all political parties that have done the same or worse over the past 50 years. It is thus unfair to solely accuse the BJP when all parties are as guilty. I am not defending the BJP, or absolving it of the many other crimes it is commiting against women — take the covert and overt support to Sati for one — I am going to address these accusation one by one.
FACT SHEET ON RAJASTHAN
Women under saffron: Bhairon Singh Shekhawat’s rule from 1990 — November 1998:
lGang rape and torture of Dhapu Bai of Utharna, in Tonk district by nine men.
l 15th June 1996, Dhapu Bai gang raped again. Her husband and son beaten up with iron rods.
l 4th Sept 1997: Naina Jogani, a devout Jain raped by a Jain monk in Bhinmal, Jalore.
l 5th Sept 1997: a young girl gang raped by 8 men in the J C Bose hostel of University of Rajasthan, Jaipur.
l Manorama Singh of the BJP said the victim of the University hostel rape case was responsible for her situation, "or why did she not speak out earlier while wallowing in filth for seven years"
Comment: This is the general attitude that even women in India hold towards rape victims. Unfortunately, it does not remain a BJP preserve.
l Chief Minister Bhairon Singh Shekawat’s reply to the above incidents when womens’ groups took repeated protests to him: "Why this unnecessary hue and cry over one or two rape cases?"
Comment: Abominable as it may sound there are tens of thousands of rapes in India each year. Rajasthan is known as one of the worst states in terms of the status of women. I suspect a Chief Minister from any other party could have said the same thing.
lDeputy Chief Minister Hari Shankar Bhabra’s response on the floor of the Rajasthan state assembly: "Striya charitram purushasya bhagyam, Davo na janati kutaha-manushyam? (The character of a woman and the destiny of man are such that even Gods cannot say anything about it, why talk of human?)
Comment: Again a response that could have come from a minister from any other party too. However, the BJP does have this delightful habit of quoting the scriptures — or texts that purpote to the the same!
l After the anti–Bhanwari Devi rally held on Januaray 18, 1996 when asked how he ( Bahiron singh Shekawat) could have allowed the use of abusive language (‘randi’/ prostitute, kalankini/bad omen) against Bhanwari Devi by the speakers, Mr. Shekawat replied that this was a democracy and he could not stop people from expressing their feelings.
Comment: I must confess that I am inclined to agree with the Chief Minister on this one. He cannot and should not stop them but if the law of the land has been broken in terms of defamation or slander or public obscenity then action should be taken.
l BJP legislators, and BJP mahila morcha called Bhanwari Devi a liar and actively organised the anti-Bhanwari Devi rally.
Comment: Well that changes things a bit as he is responsible for what his party does. What does distinguish the BJP from other parties is that they do not show any qualms about publicly demeaning women and their rights. I think it is an important difference.
l The Congress, several social and women’s organisations formed the ‘Mahila Atyachar Virodhi Jan Andolan’ and took up 12 other cases of rape and molestation where there was gross neglect on the part of the investigating agency. The BJP Mahila Morcha was silent on this issue.
Comment: Politics again. While condemning the BJP Mahila Morcha, I daresay that the Congress Mahila Morcha would have been silent if it were a Congress ruled state. Once again the fight for womens’ rights has to be fought at a plane higher than mere politics.
l April 1997, the son of the transport minister Rohitas Sharma threw acid on the face of a school going girl. Despite large scale protests and due to CM’s patronage no arrests made thus far.
l Demand for ‘State Women’s Commission’ and a ‘State Human Rights Commission’ disregarded by state’s BJP government. However, the ‘State Commission for Service of Cows’ was set up.
Comment: I would like to repeat again that I am not supporting any of the actions of the BJP government listed above. Their attitudes towards women are perhaps worse than in other political parties. But remember that Rajasthan as a state has an awful track record.
Please let us not confine the fight for womens rights within the parameters of anti–communalism or politics.
Make no excuses
Dear Anurag (garo),please let us
not confine the fight for womens’ rights within the parameters of anti–communalism or politics. The point of that message was the overt nature of discrimination and insensitivity the sangh parivar (RSS et al) have put on public display. Their top leaders actively supporting SATI and DOWRY is no small matter. An isolated individual uttering nonsense like this is one thing. But when key figures in top positions of a nation–wide organizations say and do things like that then something is terribly wrong.
The Congress(I) may or may not have done that. But they didn’t! Not to support the Congress but that is a weak argument if one says that had the African–Americans been given a chance they would have enslaved the whites. So therefore, slavery is not that bad. We have to quit making excuses for our inactivity even if we wear a garb of fairness.
Indeed, women in India have suffered for millennia now but there has been progress. Such organizations want to nullify that. Yeah, sure over my dead body! The same message goes out to the Taliban and all those who have subjugated the weak forever now.
I am not quitting and will be here till they get me. Peace.