Saturday, October 29, 2016

Calling a stenographer’s bluff

I wrote the following piece in response to Aleem Faizee’s mischievous piece .

Calling a stenographer’s bluff

A reporter should make sure that he speaks to experts on their respective subjects. For example, in the report architect Arif Shah is talking about religious nature of the mosque. It is like interviewing a criminal lawyer on the perils of colon cancer!

By Mubasshir Mushtaq

October 29, 2016

At a time, when Indian Muslims belonging to different sects are answering the call of ‘sectarian unity’, a self-proclaimed “Malegaonian” activist-cum-stenographer is busy thrusting his religious worldview upon the community through “reporting”.

Theological differences have existed among Muslims for centuries and will continue to emerge till Doomsday. That is one area we all shall leave to theologians and scholars of Islamic jurisprudence. Anybody who thinks that Muslims across the world should (or would) follow one particular strand of religious interpretation (which he or she thinks is the only “righteous” path) is living in fool’s paradise. It is akin to the daydreaming of Hindutva’s homogenisation project.

Having said that, let me dissect the news report journalistically and not religiously.

An ideal news report carefully follows what we call in journalism as “principles of reporting”. Some of the key principles are accuracy, fairness, verification, attribution, fact-checking, background detail, no colour (free from bias), speaking to all sides (parties involved) etc.

The report in question violates most of these cherished principles.

Strictly speaking, a news report is sacred. In reporting, the opinion of a reporter should not creep into the news report. A reporter should keep his ideology (right or wrong) in his buttoned shirt pocket. He should not pollute the report by inserting his views (right or wrong). A reporter can express his views (however venomous) only in an opinion piece.

The report’s headline (intro and starting paragraphs) clearly sets the tone of the reporting - that Masjid Haji Abdur Rauf ( not “Abdul Rauf”) is an architectural masterpiece but yet it lacks the element of completeness because of no “provision” for “women worshippers”.

From an objective journalistic point of “gender-equity”, it is a fair demand but it suddenly takes a sectarian plunge in the form of opinion.

The reporter should know that there is indeed a provision for women’s gathering on the mezzanine floor!
A careful reading of the report reveals that the reporter has inserted one’s personal beliefs into the report. Notice the adjectives and nouns like “embarrassing”, “humiliating”, “despair”, “disbelief”- an interpretation or inference drawn by the reporter and not quoted the by the nameless woman being interviewed.

A reporter should also reproduce names of his subjects as they desire even with incorrect spellings. To do the same, a reporter should perform some background check. The report terms my family as “Ghastelwala” - a suffix we dropped way back in 1995!

A reporter should pay attention to the details. My father’s reproduced quote to Maulana Arshad Madani is incorrect; a result of lazy journalism. I have the audio recording of Maulana’s bayan to substantiate it as evidence.

A reporter should also know that he cannot quote his own son in his reporting! There is an apparent conflict of interest. To the best of my knowledge, Ather Shazan is the son of Aleem Faizee. Shall I coin a new term: genealogical journalism?

The son’s quote is full of factual and architectural errors.

The red bricks used in the mosque are not known as “facade bricks” as the architect son claims! No such terminology exists in the architecture! They are popularly known as “exposed brick work” or “cladding”. These bricks are not “solid” as the expert son claims. They are made from imported clay! And the claim that they are “maintenance-free” is not true.

In a story, a reporter should directly speak to the subjects of the story. In this case, the reporter didn’t speak to the mosque’s working committee or the trustees! A news report will remain incomplete unless the subjects involved in it are appropriately represented.

A news report should also seek permission and give due credit to every single image used in the story. One of the pictures used in the story is clicked by a friend and copyrighted in my name. It is a good example of pictorial theft. This action alone is enough in journalism to discredit a news report or the reporter.

The reporter should also make sure that he speaks to experts on their respective subjects. For example, in the report architect Arif Shah is talking about religious nature of the mosque. It is like interviewing a criminal lawyer on the perils of colon cancer!

The news report also enters into the dangerous territory of pitting one mosque against the other. For example: “However, Masjid Aisha, Mansoora still outshines over 300 mosques of Malegaon.”

Again, a highly opinionated sentence which in simple words says: Mine is better than yours!

I have grown up admiring the architectural beauty of Masjid Aisha and continue to do so.

I shall end this rejoinder on a note from where I began by merely reproducing a line from the article:

“Interestingly, Masjid Haji Abdul Rauf is inaugurated at a time when India is debating extensively over rights of Muslim women and gender equality.”

Juxtapose this sentence to PM Narendra Modi's latest statement on the plight of Muslim women in India.

It says it all.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

India's top court puts on hold release of former PM's killers

File photo of India's Supreme Court (Pic: Supreme Court website)
In a setback for Tamil Nadu (TN) state government, India’s Supreme Court refused the release of the assassins of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on Thursday by submitting a review petition by the federal government challenging the state government’s decision.
The top court asked the TN state government to maintain the sentence of the three convicts, after the Supreme Court changed it into life imprisonment on Tuesday citing an inordinate delay of 11-years as the reason.
The apex court issued a notice to the TN government on the federal government’s petition that the state government is not allowed to remit the sentences of the former prime minister’s killers.
The Supreme Court also said that there is an elaborate procedure for remission of such life sentences, which the TN government appears not to have followed.
“The remission of a life sentence which is awarded on commuting death penalty is not automatic,” the Supreme Court said.
On Wednesday, Tamil Nadu state government decided to release seven convicts of Rajiv Gandhi assassination case after due consultation with the federal government.
Tamil Nadu's Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa, told the state assembly: "If we don’t get their [federal government's] response in three days, we will release all convicts in accordance with the rights granted under Indian Constitution."
Earlier on Thursday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that Tamil Nadu government’s decision to release the killers of Gandhi is 'not legally tenable and should not be proceeded with.'
"The assassination of Shri Rajiv Gandhi was an attack on the soul of India. The release of the killers of a former prime minister of India and our great leader, as well as several other innocent Indians, would be contrary to all principles of justice," Singh said in a statement.
"No government or party should be soft in our fight against terrorism," he said.
Gandhi was assassinated in May 1991, during an election campaign, by members of Sri Lankan rebel group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE).

An anti-terror court sentenced the killers to death penalty in January 1998 and India’s top court upheld the sentence in May 1999.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

India set to release former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's killers

Four convicts of Rajiv Gandhi assassination case (Pic: NDTV)
NEW DELHI (AA) – A day after India’s Supreme Court commuted the death penalty of three men convicted of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, the Tamil Nadu state government Wednesday decided to release them and four other convicts, pending consultation with the federal government.
Tamil Nadu's Chief Minister, J Jayalalithaa, told the state assembly: “If we don’t get their [federal government's] response in three days, we will release all convicts in accordance with the rights granted under Indian Constitution.”
Jayalalithaa's politicially controversial decision is likely to be well-recieved in the southern state, which has a largely pro-Sri Lankan Tamil sentiment.
According to the Indian Constitution, a state government has the right to release convicts after considering their “good behavior” on the completion of 14 years in jail.  
The release of the convicted men has been supported by all parties including members of the Congress party Gandhi belonged to. 
Senior Congress leader and federal Finance Minister P Chidambaram, who is from Tamil Nadu, told a private news channel on Wednesday morning that he is “not unhappy” about the state government’s decision.
“Our grief at Rajiv Gandhi's loss is irreparable but the court made it possible. I do not see this as cynical politics,” Chidambaram said.
India's Supreme Court commuted the sentence of the four convicted killers of Gandhi, ruling that the 11-year delay in their mercy pleas was "unreasonable".
Gandhi was assassinated in May 1991, during an election campaign, by members of Sri Lankan rebel group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE).

An anti-terror court sentenced the killers to death penalty in January 1998 and India’s top court upheld the sentence in May 1999.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

India’s top court commutes death penalty of former PM’s killers

File photo of former PM Rajiv Gandhi
NEW DELHI (AA) - India’s Supreme Court (SC) Tuesday commuted the death penalty of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s killers to life imprisonment, citing an 11-year delay in deciding their mercy pleas.
A SC-bench headed by India's Chief Justice P Sathasivam rejected the federal government’s argument against the three convicts – Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan – that there was no “unreasonable delay” in deciding their mercy pleas.
The top court also dismissed the government’s submission that the three convicts were "enjoying life" in prison, as opposed to their lawyer's claim that they were experiencing "torture and mental anguish."
The court bench decided that there has been an inordinate delay by the government and President of India to decide the convict’s mercy pleas.
“We implore government to render advice in reasonable time to the President for taking a decision on mercy pleas,” the top court remarked.
The bench also observed that government should consider the new criteria of inordinate delay in commuting death penalty to life term.
“We are confident that mercy plea can be decided at much faster speed than what is being done now,” the court said.
Rajiv Gandhi, the former prime minister of India, was assassinated in May 1991 during an election campaign by Sri Lankan rebel group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE).
An anti-terror court sentenced the killers to death penalty in January 1998 and India’s top court upheld the sentence in May 1999.
The convicts appealed to the President of India in the form of a mercy plea - which was rejected by the President 11 years later. In 2011, Madras High Court stayed the hanging.

In May 2012, SC took up the case of death penalty.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

India’s federal cabinet decides to delay elections in Delhi

File photo of Arvind Kejriwal, AAP chief and former CM of Delhi (Pic: PTI)
NEW DELHI (AA) - India's federal cabinet decided that the Delhi Assembly should be brought under the President's rule instead of being dissolved, after its Chief Minister resigned on Friday. 
If ratified by parliament, the decision recommended byDelhi's Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung will delay the possibility of fresh elections in the Delhi Assembly.
Jung's report to the government claimed that no political party is in a strong enough position to form an alternative government in the Delhi Assembly. 
Former Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who resigned in protest against the stalling of his Aam Aadmi Party's (AAP) anti-graft bill in parliament, had asked Jung to dissolve the assembly. 
“AAP also wants this [dissolution of the assembly] and even the BJP has favoured re-election today. I don’t know on what basis Najeeb Jung has taken this decision,” Kejriwal told news channels.
Kejriwal accused the AAP's coalition partner Congress and opposition party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of blocking his party's bill after he made a police complaint against India's richest businessman about gas prices. 
AAP made a spectacular debut in recent Delhielections by winning 28 of 70 seats in December 2013 and forming a coalition government with the support of eight Congress lawmakers.

AAP emerged from a country-wide campaign for strong anti-corruption legislation against elected representatives and public officials.
Anadolu Agency, February 16, 2014

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Pepper spray causes chaos in Indian Parliament in row over formation of new state

File photo of Indian Parliament (Pic: IANS)
NEW DELHI (AA) – Indian Parliament erupted in chaos Thursday morning as Lagadapati Rajagopal, a Congress politician, fired pepper spray during a protest against a new bill for the formation of Telangana state, to be carved out of southern Indian state Andhra Pradesh.
Panic broke out in Lok Sabha, the lower house of the parliament, on live television as lawmakers were seen coughing, sneezing and holding scarves to their faces while the protesting politicians broke glass, damaged a computer and snatched Speaker’s microphone.
Modugula Venugopala Reddy, who represents the Andhra Pradesh-based Telugu Desam Party opposed to the division of the state, allegedly hurled a knife which resulted in a glass table smashing, though he said he used a microphone, not a knife. 
At least three ministers were rushed to hospital after they complained that their eyes were burning; a fourth was admitted to hospital for severe chest pain, Indian media reported.
Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar consulted different political parties as to what action should be taken against the offending ministers.
V. Narayansamy, a minister of state in the prime minister’s office told reporters that 17 ministers have been suspended for disrupting the house for five consecutive sittings or until February 21, when the last session of parliament ends before India goes to national election in May 2014.  
Kamal Nath, Parliamentary Affairs Minister, said: “The incident is a blot on Indian democracy”.
Outside the parliament, unruly pro and anti-Telangana protesters clashed as police officers tried to control the crowd.
Gas masks were brought to the lower house of the parliament when it was reconvened after the violence. After listing the offending ministers, Kumar adjourned the house.

Telengana became one of three regions within Andhra Pradesh when it merged from Hyderabad state in 1969 but residents have long demanded for it to become its own state.
Anadolu Agency, February 13, 2014

Book withdrawal in India criticised for limiting freedom of expression

Cover of the book withdrawn by Penguin India
NEW DELHI (AA) – Publishing house Penguin India's decision to withdraw a book considered offensive to some Hindus was criticised by Indian campaigners on Thusday.
University of Chicago Professor Wendy Doniger's book, The Hindus: An Alternative History, was withdrawn as part of a court-backed legal settlement between Penguin India and right-wing Hindu group Shiksha Bachao Andolan (Save Education Organization). 
Ram Puniyani, from the All India Secular Forum, an NGO which promotes inter-communal harmony, criticized the decision for impacting freedoms in India. 
 “The pulping of the book Hinduism by Doniger as a part of the out-of-court settlement once again shows the shrinking liberal space in the face of rising communal politics,” Puniyani told AA.
The book, published in 2009, prompted legal action from the right-wing group in 2010. They claimed the book “insulted” the Hindu religion and “promoted enmity” between groups.
Puniyani said that the right-wing organization led by Dinanath Batra supports Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), who gave birth to India’s main ppposition party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“Their objection to the book shows that their claim that Hinduism is most tolerant is for saying’s sake. The RSS vision of Hinduism is very narrow and Brahmanical,” Puniyani said. “Doniger’s work is a well-researched scholarly work.” 
Puniyani said this was not the first example of communal forces succeeding in getting books banned. “This episode also reminds us of book bans of Taslima Nasreen, Salman Rushdie and hounding of M.F. Hussain,” he said.
“If the publishers of the stature of Penguin can be made to buckle to ferocity of this politics with religious identity, one should know that matters can go to any extent to wipe out our plural and diverse heritage,” he said.
Arundhati Roy, a Booker-prize winner writer whose books are published by Penguin, wrote an open letter to the publishing house on Thursday, demanding to know why Penguin withdrew the book.
“Tell us, please, what is it that scared you so? Have you forgotten who you are?” Roy wrote.
“You have published some of the greatest writers in history. You have stood by them as publishers should, you have fought for free speech against the most violent and terrifying odds. And now, even though there was no fatwa, no ban, not even a court order, you have not only caved in, you have humiliated yourself abjectly before a fly-by-night outfit by signing settlement,” Roy wrote.
A collection of 27 writers and academic signed a press statement also describing the move as “pulping intellectual freedom”. 
Rakesh Sharma, an independent documentary film-maker told AA that the “settlement” could set a precedent for the future.

“In Mumbai, a play was withdrawn last week upon Hindutva brigade objections. Today, the target is a book. Our films, especially political documentaries, have always been on the radar. ‘Objectionable’ paintings, exhibitions and installations have been routinely vandalized in the last decade,” said Sharma.
Anadolu Agency, February 13, 2014

U.S. ends boycott of leader of right-wing Indian party

Modi greets American Ambassador Nancy Powell (Pic: PTI)
NEW DELHI (AA) - The nine-year boycott of right-wing Indian politician Narenda Modi by the U.S. ended on Thursday, when the U.S. Ambassador to India met him at his home in Gujarat. 
Ambassador Nancy Powell's meeting with Modi was the first since the U.S. refused him a visa in 2005, under a law which denies any foreign government official who was responsible for or “directly carried out, at any time, particularly severe violations of religious freedom”.
Powell shook hands with the Chief Minister of Gujarat, who has been accused of complicity in massacres that killed up to 2,000 people, most of them Muslims, in Gujarat in 2002. 
The US Consulate in Mumbai released a press statement immediately after the meeting which said the meeting was part of the US mission’s “outreach to senior leaders of India’s major political parties in advance of the upcoming national elections.”
India goes to national elections in May 2014 where the Modi-led BJP is likely to emerge the single largest party, according to opinion polls.
The statement also said that the United States “looks forward to working closely with the government that the Indian people choose in the upcoming elections.”
“Ambassador Powell will meet with representatives from non-governmental organizations and U.S. and Indian businesses. Her discussions focus on the importance of the U.S.-India relationship, regional security issues, human rights, and American trade and investment in India,” the statement said.
Mustafa Khan, a retired professor and political analyst who has written extensively on Modi, told Anadolu Agency that the meeting marked a change in the Modi's relationship with the U.S.
“The meeting is a kind of thaw in the US -Modi relationship but we should not read it as an end to the resolution of all the crimesModi has allegedly committed,” Khan told AA. “There is no signal to Modi to come ashore.”
“The meeting was a move to know the national mood of the nation before a general election,” he said.
Khan alleged that Modi is tainted by the violence that occured only a year after he started governing Gujarat and said the US State Department is aware of the serious charges against his administration in other serious offences like fake encounters.
“Modi’s popularity is not equal to a resolution of the crimes against humanity,” Khan said.
Film-maker Rakesh Sharma, whose documentary ‘Final Solution’ on Gujarat 2002 riots won international awards said: “I don’t think we should read too much into the meeting as it is very much part of the diplomatic charter to reach and interact with political leaders across the spectrum.”
Sharma pointed out that US State Department was quick to clarify on Modi’s visa issue.
“There has been no change in our long-standing visa policy,” Jen Psaki, State Department said at a news briefing in Washington this week. “When individuals apply for a visa, their applications are reviewed in accordance with US law and policy. This is not a reflection of any change.”
Last month, a minor court cleared Modi of responsibility for the 2002 riots. Maya Kodnani, one of his close aides and a former state minister, was found guilty of murder for her role in the communal riot.
“I don’t think the matter of Modi’s innocence is far from resolved as it will be challenged in high court and Supreme Court,” said Sharma. 
Zafar Sareshwala, a close aide to Modi, told Anadolu Agency that Modi met the US Ambassador on his own terms.

“There have been attempts in the recent past to meet Modi in New Delhi by the US officials. Modi refused saying that they have to come to Gujarat to meet him,” Sareshwala told AA. “It is slap on the Congress party and a bunch of NRI [Non-resident Indian] armchair activists who always employ the visa-denial episode to further their interest.”

Monday, February 10, 2014

India: 24 dead in boating accident

Picture for representation purpose only (Pic: AA)
NEW DELHI (AA) - At least 24 people have died after a boat carrying 114 people capsized on Sunday due to overcrowding in the Hirakud Dam Reservoir in India (HDR).
Thirteen more bodies were recovered on Monday from the Sambalpur district in the Southern Indian state of Odisha, Indian media reported.
The boat was carrying passengers back from a day trip at the Hirakud Reservoir when it started to flood.
Local authorities rescued at least 80 people on Sunday evening. However, the death toll is likely to keep rising as authorities have reported seven passengers still missing.
According to P K Mohapatra, a Special Relief Commissioner, 13 bodies were found on Monday morning as scuba divers continue to carry out full searches in the region.
“The number of missing people might vary with additional information being received from local people,” Mohapatra told Press Trust of India.
Odisha state government has said it will provide $2,500 in compensation for the victim’s family members.

This is the second time this has occurred in India in the last two weeks. On January 26, an overcrowded boat capsized in India’s Andaman Island in Bay of Bengal killing 21 people.