Thursday, 21 March 2013

The Case Against Teesta Setalvad - Tavleen Singh

This is one in a series of blogs to put the facts in one place about various charges levelled against Teesta Setalvad -

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

4. Funding

The case of Kausar Bano

6. Memorial of Resistance 

7. Tavleen Singh

8. Rais Khan

The ‘communalism’ divide

Tavleen Singh 
Posted: Nov 21, 2004 at 0059 hrs IST

NOW that Hindu fundamentalism is on the verge of extinction, can we start discussing it and fundamentalism in general with a degree of detachment? Probably not but I am going to try. With Hindutva’s poster girl Uma Bharati in disgrace, our most important Shankaracharya in jail and the BJP in seemingly terminal decline it seems clear that Hindutva’s might was hugely exaggerated. 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? Strobe Talbott in his new book, Engaging India, describes a lunch with Jaswant Singh at which he points out to Berger the rumblings of radical Islam and how important India’s role could be in helping the West fight it and Berger replies that he is as worried about Hindu fundamentalism in India.

This was before 9/11 but for Berger to even consider the comparison is indicative of how good we Indians are at maligning our country. 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.

Indian journalists of ‘‘liberal’’ bent have been predicting the death of Indian secularism since the Babri Masjid was pulled down, so it is strange, is it not, that what appears to have died instead is Hindutva.

In the vanguard of those fighting Hindu fundamentalism was Teesta Setalvad’s magazine, Communalism Combat. It won awards, went from strength to strength, received laurel upon laurel until, recently, when Teesta’s protege Zaheera Sheikh condemned her for exploiting her for money.

When she made these charges I remembered other charges that had been made and contacted Teesta’s husband and partner, Javed Anand. He requested a list of questions which I sent and he answered, albeit in hurt tones that I should ask the same questions that had been raised by the ‘‘saffron brotherhood’’. In answer to a question, he said the magazine did not need to be registered as an NGO because it was not one. It was a private limited company, he said, that rendered accounts to the Income Tax Department. Fine. Though communalism is an odd subject to make a profit out of.

This is not about Communalism Combat or the fight between Zaheera and Teesta. 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 neighbours. Is it not time to ask where their funds come from?

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. Last week in Jammu, the Prime Minister offered them better accommodation than the hovels they have lived in for nearly 15 years, but is that all we can offer them?

There was a time when secularists argued that there was no point in worrying about ‘‘minority communalism’’ because it could not break up the country while Hindu fundamentalism could. With radical Islam transcending international borders this is no longer the case. Javed Anand, in his response to my questions, charged me with ‘‘unfairly tarnishing an entire community’’ when I wrote of the dangers of Islamic terrorism. But I would be telling less than the truth if I did not say that on my travels I see a dangerously radical mood among ordinary Muslims that manifests itself mainly as rage against the US. I do not know how this rage can be calmed but do know that it would be dangerous to ignore what is happening.

Calling Tavleen Singh’s bluff

Posted: Dec 02, 2004 at 0000 hrs IST

If a high-flying columnist such as Tavleen Singh were to limit herself to peddling prejudice, paranoia and sheer naivete as informed opinion, who are we to stand between her and her precious constituency? But when basic journalistic ethics are given the go-by even while a facade of objectivity and even-handedness is diligently maintained, when insinuation is paraded as argument, when facts are selectively handpicked to dress up fiction, Ms Singh’s bluff needs to be called.

In her recent column ‘The communalism divide’ (The Sunday Express, Nov 21), the prime target of Ms Singh’s wrath are ‘‘magazines and NGOs who have thrived on maligning India for being a country as fundamentalist as our Islamic neighbours’’. Ms Singh’s ‘‘anti-national’’ magazines and NGOs remain nameless and faceless, with the sole exception of Communalism Combat, the monthly magazine that we co-edit. But even here, instead of holding her ground as an honest critic, she stoops to the hit-and-run tactics of cowardly journalism.

Before writing her column, Ms Singh e-mailed us a list of ‘‘harsh questions’’. They added up to the charge that we are a shady, unregistered outfit (NGO), accountable to no one, funded by ‘‘Saudis of a dubious nature’’ for publishing a magazine that cries itself hoarse over Muslim victims of communal violence but keeps silent over the plight of Kashmiri Pandits and the victims of the anti-Sikh carnage in 1984.

We give a detailed reply to all the questions. We categorically state that the magazine or its editors do not have a single petro-dollar to hide, that Communalism Combat is not an NGO activity but is published by a registered, private limited company whose audited annual accounts are regularly filed with the Income Tax and other authorities. In addition, we attach a specially-prepared list of headlines of cover stories and special reports published by Communalism Combat since its launch in August 1993, so that Ms Singh could see for herself that the magazine has been as unsparing of Muslim communalism and extremism, lamented the fact that the victims of the anti-Sikh carnage of 1984 had been denied justice, frequently highlighted the plight of Kashmiri Pandits, and repeatedly castigated Bangladesh and Pakistan for the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities. (We would be happy to e-mail a copy of the list to all interested readers of The Indian Express). We also inform Ms Singh that she is welcome to access archives on our website,

It is obvious in retrospect that Ms Singh was merely interested in those bits of facts that suited her thesis, the rest she would twist or fabricate.

‘‘In the vanguard of those fighting Hindu fundamentalism was Teesta Setalvad’s magazine, Communalism Combat....’’ Excuse us. Ms Singh is entitled to her opinion of us and of our magazine, but what gives her the right to distort facts? Did she not owe it her own professional integrity to share with her readers the information (fact) that the editors she accuses of being concerned with fighting Hindu fundamentalism alone, among other things, co-hosted the visit of Taslima Nasreen to Mumbai in March 2000, kept her at their own home, arranged public meetings and interviews for her, in support of her right to be heard and in defiance of Muslim fanatics who had threatened to burn Taslima alive if she dared enter the metropolis?

CC was the perhaps the first publication in South Asia to feature the inhuman and oppressive politics of the Taliban in Afghanistan (‘Hell on Earth’, cover story, November 1998). It was up front, questioning the Islamisation of the movement in Kashmir (‘The Talibanisation of Kashmir’, cover story, November 1999). ‘Living with Terror, Minorities in Bangladesh’, our cover story for September 2004, is only the latest in half-a-dozen cover stories and special reports that we have featured in the last few years to highlight atrocities against Hindus and other minorities in neighbouring Bangladesh.

‘‘Teesta Setalvad’s magazine, Communalism Combat....’’ Elementary journalistic courtesy would have required her to point out the fact that CC is co-edited. But Teesta needed to be singled out so that she could be ‘‘exposed’’ immediately thereafter: ‘‘Teesta’s protege Zaheera Shaikh condemned her for exploiting her for money.’’

The choice of words (protege) is telling. Why was Zaheera’s allegation not part of the list of charges and queries against us for our version? Shouldn’t Ms Singh have informed her readers that within days of Zaheera’s allegation, it is not she but Teesta who has applied to the Supreme Court praying for a probe into the murky episode? Zaheera has rushed her complaints to the National Commission for Minorities and National Commission for Women but is fighting shy of going near the National Human Rights Commission, the only among the three commissions to be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court of India. Does this not arouse Ms Singh’s journalistic curiosity?

‘‘Communalism is an odd subject to make a profit out of’’. We gave Ms Singh a fair picture of how profitable communalism has been for us in the last 11 years. Why she has chosen to keep that a personal secret only she can answer. We started Sabrang Communications and Publishing Pvt Ltd in the hope of undertaking professional assignments that would generate revenue to sustain Communalism Combat, which we foresaw as not being viable on its own strength. What, prey, is so odd about that?

Having distorted facts and employed clever words to make insinuations against the only two persons and their magazine she names in her entire column, Ms Singh pretends her column is not actually about them! How ingenious! Her column, she says, is about ‘‘anti-national’’ magazines and NGOs ‘‘who have thrived on maligning India for being a country as fundamentalist as our Islamic neighbours’’. Having adopted a hit-and-run tactics vis-a-vis us, Ms Singh can proceed to hurl the most outrageous charges without any fear of contradiction for she smartly names no names.

We need only repeat the plaint of fellow journalists in recent years: ‘‘Please don’t shoot the messenger!’’ If with their ‘‘What face will I show to the world?’’ and ‘‘Gujarat is a blot on the nation!’’ even Vajpayee and Advani have been forced to acknowledge Narendra Modi’s malevolent role in maligning India, why is Ms Singh chasing imaginary ghosts?

The timing of her demand for an inquiry into NGOs and their source of funds is interesting, echoing as it does Modi’s demand immediately after Zaheera’s fresh turnaround under the protection of the Gujarat police. The Gujarat Chief Minister’s desperation is understandable. Be it the deposition of top IPS officials before the Nanavati Commission, or the evidence piling up before the courts, or the ongoing expose in the very paper that provides you with precious column space, things are getting hotter by the day for Modi. A desperate man will take desperate steps. What’s your problem, Ms Singh? Don’t be so naive as to write such a premature obit for Hindutva. And can’t you see that the best way to fight terrorism, Islamic or otherwise, is to fight against injustice. That is all that we are trying our best to do, through Communalism Combat and otherwise. Pick a forum of your choice for an honest debate but deviousness does not befit a journalist like you.

Are these all ‘anti-national’, Ms Singh?

A sample of Communalism Combat cover stories, special reports since August 1993:

• October 2004: Special Report: ‘Confronting honour killings’ (in Pakistan)

• September 2004: Cover Story: ‘Living with Terror: Minorities in Bangladesh’; Editorial: ‘The butchers next door’

• July 2004: Cover Story: ‘Talaq, talaq, talaq’; Also see, ‘Us’ or the ‘enemy’, an opinion piece by Javed Anand as part of the cover story

• July 2004: Special Report: ‘Religion-based reservation’

• June 2004: Special Report: ‘Kashmir: The politics of Fear’

• February-March 2004: ‘Minority women’s rights are human rights’

• January 2004: Special Report: ‘Pandits: When will they return?’

• December 2003: Special Report: ‘Doctoring young minds’ (Pakistan)

• October 2003: Special Report: ‘Bangladesh: Terror Raj for minorities’

• Aug-Sept 2003: 10 years of Communalism Combat. The full issue is a feedback from a wide cross-section of CC readers, doing a ‘social audit’ of the magazine. ‘‘It is to me, the secular Gita of our time’’ (Swami Agnivesh)

• May 2003: Special Report: ‘Kashmiri Pandits: On the firing line’

• February 2003: Cover Story: ‘The Road Not Taken: Secularism in India’ (Please see article by Arif Mohd Khan)

• February 2003: Forum: ‘Rethinking Islam’

• January 2003: Cover Story: ‘Violence in South Asia’

• July 2002: Special Report: ‘Targeted: Bangla Hindus’; ‘Gang rape in Pakistan’

• July 2002: Comment: ‘Male order’ (Blurb: ‘Liberal Muslims, men and women, must condemn the chauvinism of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board’)

• Jan-Feb 2002: Special Report: ‘Kashmir, the moral dimension’

• December 2001: Cover Story: ‘Bangla Hindus, Victims of Growing Muslim Extremism’

• November 2001: Special Report: ‘Hindu trauma’ (Bangladesh)

• November 2001: Debate: ‘To my Muslim friends’

• November 2001: ‘Politics behind the purdah’

• October 2001: Cover Story (following 9/11): ‘Islam: Moment of Truth’

• July 2001: Cover Story: ‘Winds of Change’ (Kashmir)

• May 2001: Cover story: ‘Thrice Oppressed’ (Blurb: ‘Dalit and Muslim women grapple with the triple burden of caste/community, class and gender’)

• March 2001: Cover story: ‘Should the Haj subsidy go?’ (Yes, in CC’s opinion); Special Report: ‘Barbarians in Bamiyan’

• October 2000: Special Report: ‘Nowhere people: Hindus ousted from Pakistan’

• September 2000: Special Report: ‘A forgotten people’

• August 2000: Cover Story: ‘ISI: The demon we feed’

• March 2000: Cover Story: ‘Taslima Nasreen in Mumbai’ (Because a Muslim fanatic outfit threatened to burn her alive if she dared enter Mumbai, Communalism Combat and Mahanagar joined hands to invite her to Mumbai)

• March 2000: Special Report: ‘Syedna’s stooges target Asghar Ali Engineer’

• November 1999: Cover Story: ‘The Talibanisation of Kashmir’

• October 1999: Special Report: ‘Short on arguments, Hindutva tries the foreign funds bogey against Combat, NGOs’

• July 1999: Cover story: ‘After Kargil, Kashmir’

• April 1999: Cover Story: ‘Denying a shared past’ (RSS and Tableeghi Jamaat two sides of the same coin)

• March 1999: Cover Story: ‘The enemy within’ (Blurb: ‘Muslim extremists unleash a reign of Taliban-style terror on co-religionists, women specially, in Left-controlled West Bengal and Kerala’)

• February 1999: Cover Story: ‘Allah’s army in Pakistan, Hindutva brigade in India, Buddhist Lions in Sri Lanka’

• February 1999: Special Report: ‘Right to be Rushdie’

• November 1998: Cover Story: ‘Islamic Afghanistan: Hell on Earth!’

• November 1998: Neighbours: ‘Whose right is it anyway?’ (Blurb: ‘Humanism must mean more than Islamic solidarity (OIC) through selective outrage’)

• October 1998: Special Report: ‘Mullahs bay for Taslima’s blood in Bangladesh’

• May 1998: Cover Story: ‘How green is my Valley?’ (Blurb: ‘The killing of innocent Hindus by Pakistan-trained mercenaries in J&K is one more bid to convert the Kashmiriyat issue into a Hindu-Muslim problem’)

• May 1998: Special Report: ‘Equal Before God’: Christian feminist theology denounces male domination as ‘sin’

• March 1998: Special Report: ‘Kashmiri Pandits: Tragedy of errors’

• September 1997: Cover Story: ‘What kind of a God will condemn a ‘heathen’ child to eternal Hell? (A hard-hitting essay by Swami Agnivesh)

• September 1997: Special Report: ‘Fatwas for all seasons’

• June 1997: Campaign: ‘Afghan women seek support’ (against jehadi tyrants)

• May 1997: Cover Story: ‘Shah Bano lives’(A seething indictment of the Muslim clergy and Muslim men and the role they played in the Shah Bano issue, a powerful story by Pakistani writer, writer Zahida Hena)

• May 1997: ‘The right to silence’ (A castigation of Muslim fundamentalists from Kolkata who flout the high court directions against noise pollution)

• May 1997: ‘Women beyond the veil’

• March 1997: ‘Justice for Muslim women: Bangladesh shows the way’

• March 1997: ‘The sack of Shantinagar’ (special report on the biggest attack on the Christian community in Pakistan in 50 years)

• February 1997: ‘In Allah’s Home at last’ (Muslim women gain the right to enter a mosque in Kerala)

• February 1997: ‘Blasphemy and Bangladesh: Fighting religious fundamentalism’

• February 1997: ‘Outlawed by Faith’ (On the persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan)

• January 1997: ‘Central government stalling reforms in their personal law demanded by Christians’

• January 1997: ‘Feminism and the Catholic church in the US’

• October 1996: ‘1984 anti-Sikh riots: Will cops go scot-free?’

• October 1996: ‘If Muslim societies are unable to do justice to women, they will be wiped out of history’ (Interview with Riffat Hassan)

• August 1996: ‘Mandirs are dark and narrow, masjids are open and airy: How history is taught in Pakistan’s schools’

• May 1996: ‘Muslim press and purdah’; ‘Blame male chauvinist Muslim societies, not Allah, for women’s oppression’

• April 1996: ‘Religious laws are not merely retrograde but can also be very divisive for women’ (By Salma Sobhan, Bangladesh activist)

• April 1996: ‘Shah Bano: Bangladesh shows the way’; ‘(Indian) Muslims demand end of triple talaq, restricted polygamy’

• March 1996: ‘Tablighi Jamaats are misleading Muslims’; ‘Dissent is the issue’ (in defence of Taslima Nasreen)

• May-June 1995: Cover Story: ‘Code and conduct: Muslim voices in favour of reforms in all personal laws in India’

• May-June 1995: Special Report: ‘Muslim mob attacks Ahmediyas’ (Malegaon)

• May-June 1995: Ethos: ‘A cheap passport to the Muslim heaven’

• April 1995: Interview: ‘Muslim campuses more intolerant’: Prof Mushir-ul-Hasan

• March 1995: Interview: ‘In Pakistan I can be convicted for adultery on the evidence of four Muslim males, but a Muslim cannot be convicted on the evidence of non-Muslims’: Former chief justice of Pakistan, Dorab Patel

• March 1995: ‘Rent-a-mullah service: Pakistan’s blasphemy law should go’

• February 1995: ‘Is this Ali Miyan’s Islam?’

• January 1995: ‘Moulding of a moulvi’s mind’

• Nov-Dec 1994: Special Report: ‘Forgotten victims of a communal vendetta’ (Blurb: ‘Apart from a few human rights organisations, no one wants to remember that ten years after the genocide of Sikhs in Delhi and elsewhere in the country, the guilty—Congress(I) leaders who master-minded the carnage and police officials who turned a blind eye—are yet to be punished’)

• October 1994: ‘On Taslima Nasreen’ (In defence of Taslima Nasreen), by C M Naim

• July 1994: Appeal: ‘I will not be silenced’; Taslima Nasreen

• June 1994: Cover Story: ‘Freedom to dissent’. (Blurb: ‘If democracy is to survive, the call to kill Rushdie or Taslima Nasreen must be unequivocally condemned’)

• April-May 1994: Campaign: ‘Join hands with Mushir-ul-Hassan’

• Campaign: ‘Support Iranian Women’

• April-May 1994: Forum: ‘Kashmir and the secular Jinnahs’

• March 1994: Cover Story: ‘Uniform Civil Code or Gender Justice?’

• March 1994: Media X-Ray: ‘Islam lovers’ and ‘Hindu fascists’ (On the Urdu press)

• March 1994: Media X-Ray: ‘Allah’s earthquakes’ (On a sickening editorial in the Urdu Times)

• November 1993: ‘Muslim foot-in-the-mouth disease’

• August 1993 (The first issue of CC): ‘Muslim women against the moulvis’

(CC has also published numerous reports, including cover stories, on Dalit oppression. Chandrabhan Prasad started his career as a columnist in Communalism Combat. As you can imagine, what he wrote for us was very critical of secularists in general and the Left in particular, even though we are both very proud of being part of the Left tradition)


I’m ready but will they talk to someone as ‘prejudiced’ as me?

Tavleen SinghPosted: Dec 05, 2004 at 0000 hrs IST

If you read this newspaper last Thursday you would have seen your humble columnist’s name splashed across this page in six columns. Used as I am to seeing it only in the minuscule type of bylines it made me feel like quite a star. What had I done to deserve such celebrity, I thought, bleary-eyed after yet another long night of festivity in this season of weddings? Had I won some award? No such luck. All I had done was get so badly under the skin of the editors of Communalism Combat that I had provoked a diatribe. So incensed were Javed Anand and Teesta Setalvad by the paragraph on them in this column two weeks ago that their rejoinder turned into a rant. ‘‘If a high-flying columnist such as Tavleen Singh were to limit herself to peddling prejudice, paranoia and sheer naivete as informed opinion, who are we to stand between her and her precious constituency? But when basic journalistic ethics are given the go-by even while a facade of objectivity is maintained, when insinuation is paraded as argument, when facts are selectively hand picked to dress up fiction, Ms Singh’s bluff needs to be called’’. Phew! What prose. Why bother writing with such passion against a pathetic, prejudiced, paranoid and naive creature like me?

For my part I believe in dispassionate debate. So I am going to answer the charges they make. They charge me with making ‘‘insinuations’’ about their funding, with singling them out as anti-national, with ‘‘cowardly’’ journalism, with accusing them of being concerned only with Muslim victims of communalism and with ‘‘echoing’’ Narendra Modi’s demand for an inquiry into NGO funding.

Let us start with ‘‘insinuations’’. There were no insinuations. I was clear that I found Teesta’s ‘‘high-flying’’ ways questionable. When Zaheera Sheikh charged that Teesta had exploited her for monetary gain I remembered that people often wondered about Communalism Combat’s funding and saw it as an NGO with an agenda. Inquiries with the Charity Commissioner of Maharashtra revealed that they were not listed as an NGO, so I rang Javed Anand and asked why not. He said it was because they were a private limited company. I asked him outright if he would like to answer the charge that Communalism Combat was funded with Saudi money. No insinuation there. The reason I asked was because an editor I know was once asked to edit a magazine on communalism and refused when it was revealed that money for the enterprise was coming from the Gulf.

As for my having called Communalism Combat ‘‘anti-national’’, I never have. I detest the expression. I believe, though, that it made too much out of Hindu fundamentalism and that is what I wrote. I believe also that people like Teesta and Javed get into dangerous territory when they equate Hindu fundamentalism with radical Islam. One of their own headlines speaks for itself ‘Denying a shared past’ (RSS and Tableeghi Jamaat two sides of the same coin). I believe they are as different as Hinduism and Islam.

Islam has a book written by God, it has a messenger of God to whom that book was revealed and who enjoins followers to go out and preach Allah’s word and convert the ‘‘unbelievers’’ gently if possible but violently if necessary. Hinduism, whose real name is Sanatan Dharam, does not believe it is the final word on anything or that it was blessed with the last Prophet. It believes everyone has the right to believe what they like and worship as they will.

Another problem I have with crusaders against ‘‘communalism’’ is that by banging on about secularism and communalism they distract attention from the real issue, which is the justice system. The only way to stop hate crimes is severe punishment for those who commit them. It is about justice never being done and not about that uniquely Indian, and much used, word, communalism.

Politicians have long used secularism and communalism to distract attention from their inability to solve our real problems. But it is much easier to stir up religious and ethnic passions than to provide a billion people with drinking water, electricity, jobs and housing. Isn’t that what Modi did in Gujarat? Which brings me to the last two charges Teesta and Javed levelled against me: that I was ‘‘echoing’’ Modi and that I was ‘‘insinuating’’ that they were only concerned with Muslim victims of ethnic violence.

The first I am not going to dignify with a response and as for the second I stand by my insinuation. Along with their tirade they published a sample of Communalism Combat stories to prove their fairness. On that basis I can bet that less than 10 per cent of their stories deal with violence against Hindus and Sikhs but I am ready to accept their offer of an ‘‘honest debate’’. What I don’t understand is why they would want to talk to someone who is prejudiced, paranoid and naive.

write to


In Defence of Communalism Combat

As a columnist Tavleen Singh is proving to be just the opposite of what she used to be as a journalist
Posted Saturday, Dec 11 00:00:00, 2004
N P Chekkutty

Tavleen Singh has been a journalist who commanded my respect from the days when she was reporting for the now defunct Sunday, edited by M J Akbar, and her reports from various parts of India, giving graphic details of the life in the Other India will always remain as some the best journalistic writings I have ever read in my life. Her writings carried a passion rarely seen in Indian journalism, a forthrightness of conviction and they were always well- researched as she used to travel far and wide in search of her stories.
Later on when she took to writing books, she seems to have started losing her balance as anyone going through the pages of her work, Kashmir: A Tragedy of Errors, would think she was not writing about Kashmir and its steep and sudden fall into a cauldron of violence, but about her own travels in the place and her contacts among the high and mighty in the Valley.

Now in some of her recent columns in Indian Express, Tavleen Singh seems to have completely abandoned her journalistic caution, her meticulous adherence to well-researched arguments, and her insistence on facts over fiction. As a reporter, this has been her main strength. But as a columnist, she is proving to be just the opposite of what she used to be as a journalist: She is opinionated, unfair and often wild off the mark in her assessments.

In two recent articles in Indian Express, she is making wild allegations and insinuations against a fellow journalist-tuned activist, Teesta Setalvad who runs the ten-year-old magazine Communalism Combat. Her allegations seem to be clearly motivated and it raises issues of contemporary journalism such as what is to be considered fair comment, and how far a column can make use of hearsay or just guesswork while commenting on public issues.

First let us just take up the issues that Tavleen Singh raises against Teesta Setalvad and Communalism Combat which she co-edits along with her husband Javed Anand, from Mumbai. In her piece "The Communalism Divide", published in Indian Express on November 21, Tavleen Singh makes the point that those magazines who thrived on painting India as a country of fanatics should now concentrate on exposing the communalism of the other kind. She insists that they do not attack Islamic fundamentalism, a much more serious threat than Hindu fundamentalism and alleges that this type of journalism was making a clean profit out of the business of communalism. She also goes onto say that it is time to ask where do they get their funds from.

Then when Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand reacted to her allegations (Indian Express, December 2) pointing out that her allegations were factually incorrect, she takes an injured tone even as she repeated the same allegations again without any effort to substantiate any one of them. She writes (IE December 5): "I stand by my insinuation. They [have] published a sample of Communalism Combat stories to prove their fairness, [but] I can bet that even 10 per cent of their stories do not deal with violence against Hindus and Sikhs"

She once again repeats her allegations that funds for such efforts as Communalism Combat, a campaign journal, were coming from nefarious foreign hands like the Saudis. The message: The journal is Saudi funded, they do not write anything against Muslims, their campaign on Best Bakery case and other human rights violations are insincere.

I have no idea whether any journalist writing against Hindu communalism is writing such stuff because he/she has accepted money from the ubiquitous Saudis who have so much of petro-dollars. It is possible there could be some people who take money from such sources, but then it must equally be true that there could be some others accepting money (or other considerations like a seat in Parliament, an ambassadorship or something else) from the Hindu fundamentalists or any others who have an agenda to sell. But I don't think it would be fair for any sensible journalist to say that Tavleen Singh or any other person who defends the Hindu rightwing is doing so not out of conviction but out of financial considerations. This is crap, to say the least.

Tavleen Singh attacks Communalism Combat as a journal which singles out the Hindu rightwing as the only threat to Indian secularism and ignores the much more serious threat posed by Islamic fundamentalism. I think this is a grossly inaccurate accusation, because as a reader of Communalism Combat who has followed the commendable work this little journal and its editors and writers had done for upholding secular ideals in the country in the past one decade, would agree that they are fair, and they are unsparing of all hues of communalism, whether Hindu, Muslim or any other. In fact, I remember that back in 1998, when I first came to know Teesta Setalvad, it was when she wanted me to write a report on the rising trend of Islamic fundamentalism in Kerala, in the backdrop of worldwide pan-Islamic upsurges and the jungle law rule of Taliban in Afghanistan, the hounding of Salman Rushdie by the Iranian mullahs and the attacks on Talima Nasreen in Bangladesh, etc.

The facts presented by Teesta Setalvad and Javed in their rejoinder completely refutes this charge of selective attack on Hindu communalism with a list of select articles on the threat posed by fundamentalists of other hues; Muslim, Christian or Sikh that appeared in the journal in the past few years. The fact of the matter is that Communalism Combat, right from the days of its inception in the immediate aftermath of the Mumbai riots in 1992-93 had made a serious effort to nail down communal forces of every kind and it was unsparing of all of them. But Tavleen Singh seems to find fault with them because they were successful not only as journalists unearthing facts often unreported by mainstream media and then relentlessly followed them up with an action plan, but also as human rights activists fighting such cases in the courts of law.

Tavleen too admits this, though indirectly. She says she is writing about these journalists-on-the-communalism-business, as she remembered allegations about them when Zahira Sheikh made her charges against Teesta Setalvad in the sensational Best Bakery case. I think this is the crux of the matter: Best Bakery case is a turning point in Indian journalistic and legal history as this journal and its editor fought so hard and long that she could convince the Supreme Court that the earlier criminal investigations and court proceedings in the State of Gujarat were not objective and fair, thus getting an order from the apex court transferring it to Mumbai for a retrial.

Anyone who has a sense of the real world, as Tavleen Singh ought to have, could see that those who are likely to be in dock if the case runs its full course would try to influence the proceedings and derail the whole process, as they had done successfully in the past. They must be at it again, because this trial is so crucial for the Hindu fundamentalist right in India. Communalism Combat did a splendid job fighting such forces and Tavleen Singh attacking them for what they did is a surprising development, given the fact that this kind of action is what we need in our profession today . I feel this is the time to rally round people like Teesta Setalvad and Communalism Combat,because there is a concerted move to derail the course of justice in Best Bakery case, buying up witnesses and influencing the course of law. I hope Tavleen Singh would remember her own past and would rally round the fighting journalists who espouse a cause and not run them down with silly allegations at a critical juncture as in the case of Gujarat riot trials.

However more recently, Tavleen Singh has been raising the issue of failure of criminal justice system. This piece was written before the Naroda Patiya judgement. One cannot  fail to notice the kid glove treatment that Modi gets from her. Here I feel the secular discourse has made a blunder by shifting attention from VHP, BD etc and concentrating on Modi alone.

A matter of justice
The Afternoon - Tavleen Singh
| Column | Apr 2012

For two days before the verdict of the Special Investigating Team (SIT) was due on the Gujarat riots, the possible exoneration of Narendra Modi seemed to be the only thing anyone wanted to speak to me about in Delhi. Television anchors got their aides to call and ask what time I would be available to make a comment, ‘secular’ friends expressed gloomy concern about possible exoneration of the man they have demonised for a decade and my more ‘communal’ friends said cheerfully that they believed that Modi would finally be able to step onto the national stage if he was given a ‘clean chit’ by the Supreme Court’s investigative team.

On the day that the verdict was announced, there was a sudden storm in Delhi. I was driving home when the afternoon sky darkened menacingly and dusty winds started blowing noisily to be followed by rain, thunder, lightning and finally hail. I said a prayer for farmers because nothing worse can happen than a hailstorm at this time of year and then found myself reading portents into the stormy weather. By now I knew that the SIT had announced that there was ‘no evidence’ linking Modi to the Gulberg Society massacre in which the Congress politician, Ehsan Jafri, was brutally murdered in a massacre that claimed the lives of nearly a hundred people. Were the gods displeased with the exoneration?

Communal riot competition

When I got home and turned on my television I came upon Teesta Setalvad quarrelling angrily with a BJP politician called Yatin Oza. At the end of the shouting match that ensued, Ms Setalvad said in one of her few calm moments that she considered the verdict ‘a setback’. Later that evening, on Barkha Dutt’s special show on the Gujarat verdict, I found myself arguing with both the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Ravi Shankar Prasad and the Congress Party’s Manish Tewari. I found the comments of both these gentlemen distasteful because they reduced the debate to a communal riot competition. Prasad brought up, as BJP politicians usually do, the massacres of the Sikhs in 1984 and Tewari responded that the Prime Minister had personally apologised whereas the Chief Minister of Gujarat has never expressed a word of remorse. Lord Meghnad Desai, who sat beside me in the NDTV studio, agreed that Mr. Modi needed to apologise, causing me to intervene and point out that an apology would make no difference to those who saw their loved ones die brutal, untimely deaths in barbaric violence.
In the futile attempts to vilify and exonerate Mr. Modi, what appears to have been lost is the main lesson of the Gujarat riots. This is that it should not have taken ten years for justice to be done. It is because our justice system works in such mysteriously slow ways that people continue to believe that they can get away with killing people simply because they belong to another religion. Having covered more incidents of communal violence than I can list in this column, I have found that the one reason that the violence happened at all was because the killer mobs knew that they would get away with their crimes.

They are right to believe this. Nobody of any consequence has been punished for the massacres of the Sikhs in 1984. The mobs that wandered about Delhi seeking out Sikhs to slaughter were led by Congress party leaders, who have not only remained unpunished but have, in many cases, been awarded with tickets to contest elections. What signal does this send out to those who want to participate in the next bout of barbaric bloodletting? The officials and policemen, who are usually complicit in the violence, have never been made to answer for gross dereliction of duty. So why should they not believe that their political masters expect them to allow killer mobs to do their evil deeds unhindered? If our justice system worked better, the sickening cycle of communal violence would have been halted long ago. It is my view that the violence we saw in Gujarat in 2002 was the last major Hindu-Muslim riot we will ever see, but this is not because the justice system has started working better but because private news channels make massacres virtually impossible. Even the most hardened hate-mongers and murderers hesitate to perform when there are television cameras trained on them.

Modi’s not the real problem

This does not absolve the criminal justice system of its responsibility to start functioning in a way that provides justice before it becomes so delayed as to be meaningless. No country that likes to boast about adherence to the rule of law can afford to allow murderers to remain unpunished for decades. Those who join the mobs when there is communal violence are murderers, but they are never called this because when the violence is over they go back to being faceless tailors, carpenters, butchers and political workers. Why is this allowed? Why do we continue to believe that putting Narendra Modi in jail will bring closure to Gujarat? Surely those who did the actual killings in Gulberg, Naroda Patiya and Ode need to be named and locked up for the rest of their miserable lives, but this is not what has happened so far.

Whenever I have gone back to Gujarat since 2002 I have made it a point to revisit villages like Ode where Muslims, including women and children, were locked into a building and burned alive. And, I have met people who participated in these ghastly crimes who have gone back to being ‘normal’ citizens. When I have asked them if they are ashamed of what they did, they usually answer proudly that they did what they did as an act of patriotism and valour. When the serpents who spread this kind of poison are identified and sent to jail for incitement to violence, we will see the end of communal tensions in India. But, for this to happen, we need a criminal justice system that does not take a decade to do justice.

Since 2002, Gujarat has changed, Mr. Modi has changed, the media has changed, politics has changed, but the criminal justice system continues to function much as it has always done. Slowly. The question we need to ask is why this is so? Why do eminent chief justices find it so hard to put their own house in order even as they lecture political leaders and officials to improve their methods of functioning? This is the question we must keep asking over and over again
Now Tavleen Singh correctly identifies the dangers of Islamism, like Madhu Trehan, she fails to appreciate the importance of what Arup Patnaik did in this piece-

Reaping the wages of pandering to Islamism for votes
By Tavleen Singh on August 25, 2012

Tags: islamism, Islam, Raj Thackeray, Fanaticism

When Barkha Dutt asked me to appear on her show last Tuesday the subject for discussion was meant to be the latest reports of the Comptroller & Auditor-General. I find the CAG’s method of auditing dubious and was eager to talk about this. But, by the time I flew from Mumbai to Delhi the subject had changed to Raj Thackeray’s protest against the police handling of the recent violence at a meeting organised by the Raza Academy. On my way to the airport in Mumbai I had seen small crowds of people walking down Marine Drive carrying Maharashtra Navnirman Sena flags but had not expected the thousands who rallied to Thackeray’s call. The MNS genre of bigoted, provincial politics does not appeal to me even slightly but as someone who lives in Mumbai I understood local anger about the way in which Muslim mobs were allowed not just to run riot in the city on August 11 but to even attack policemen.
Barkha invited the Police Commissioner of Mumbai Arup Patnaik (who has since been shunted out) to be part of her show along with Sanjay Nirupam of the Congress and a member of the MNS who frothed bile every time he opened his mouth. And, there was the human rights activist, Javed Anand, and distinguished Mumbai citizen, Alyque Padamsee.  Barkha began by giving the Police Commissioner a chance to explain why he had been so gentle with a mob of violent fanatics who snatched weapons out of the hands of policemen, attacked public property including a war memorial and allegedly molested policewomen. The Police Commissioner said his restraint came from a desire to avoid police firing in which hundreds could have been killed. He was applauded for this by the two Muslim gentlemen on the panel and Nirupam and savaged by the MNS representative and in the end the focus became policing methods and not minority fanaticism which, in my view, is a much more serious problem.
It has been fanned for decades by political parties hungry for Muslim votes and has now reached alarming levels.  In some parts of India we have homegrown Taliban style groups. Remember the Christian professor in Kerala whose hand was chopped off by Muslim vigilantes who took objection to a question paper set by him? Remember the Muslim women teachers who were banned from teaching in a Kolkata college because they refused to wear the burqa? Remember the Raza Academy’s own offer of a reward of Rs 1 lakh to anyone ready to throw a slipper at Salman Rushdie if he dared to appear at the Jaipur Literary Festival? Unfortunately for the slipper-throwers the organisers of the festival were too cowardly to stand by Rushdie or the writers who read from his work at the festival. So, Muslim fanaticism won that round.
As it seems to win every round because the police and our ‘secular’ political parties consider all exhibitions of Islamist fanaticism harmless, so even when the police came under personal attack in Mumbai on August 11 they responded gently. Would they have done the same if it was MNS men who seized semi-automatic weapons out of the hands of policemen and rampaged through city streets? Mumbai’s Police Commissioner has been applauded as a hero by Muslim groups but it is exactly this kind of double-standard in policing and politics that, in my view, has allowed the spread of Islamism’s bigoted ideology across India.
The Raza Academy is considered a ‘moderate’ Islamic group and yet it has no qualms about imposing literary censorship on writers like Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen forgetting that India is not an Islamic country. And, because our political leaders are usually too cowardly to stand by the principles on which India was founded the fanatics win. This is why we have seen the gentler, more refined Islam that was born out of India’s syncretic culture disappear under veils, beards and ugly religiosity. In the 20 years that I have been an itinerant citizen of Mumbai I have seen these changes happen before my eyes in Muslim quarters of the city in the form of an increased number of veiled women and bearded men. If you chat to them, as I do, you will find that nearly all of them believe that 9/11 was the work of Zionists and that 26/11 was the work of the RSS. They have a sense of grievance that is not based on reality.
On my travels in other parts of the country I see signs of this new fanaticism and religiosity everywhere. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, to use that old clich√©. In Kashmir it would have been almost impossible to see a veiled woman 30 years ago. Islamic rules there were so flexible that women prayed in mosques alongside men and Sufi shrines were places where even Hindus were allowed to worship.
In southern India where there never used to be visible signs of difference between the attire or the surnames of Hindus and Muslims there now are. I personally started noticing them about 20 years ago in Tamil Nadu where I met Muslim women in Coimbatore who had taken to wearing salwar-kameez and speaking Urdu. The same sort of thing is happening in Maharashtra and there are madarsas in villages now that teach Urdu.  In Rajasthan I have visited villages near Nagaur that look as if they belonged in Saudi Arabia. At a famous shrine near one of them I was astounded to see a board that spoke of how India was a land of darkness and superstition until Islam arrived. The shrine commemorated an Iraqi mullah who had come all the way from Baghdad to teach us barbarians about Allah’s message.
Raj Thackeray may be wrong to tap into Hindu anger for his own political aggrandisement but anyone who thinks that this anger does not exist needs to think again. So when the police allow Muslim mobs to go berserk in a city like Mumbai they end up pandering to a dangerous new kind of fanaticism that should never be pandered to. This is why in this writer’s book Arup Patnaik is not a hero. He should have been reprimanded for not anticipating the violence of August 11 instead of being applauded for stopping it before it spread through the city. Whatever may have happened in Assam and Burma the Raza Academy could have found a better way of protesting than gathering a mob. One mob nearly always leads to another.

For an alternate view on Arup Patnaik's role in controlling Mumbai violence of August 2013 see here

No comments:

Post a Comment