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An Open letter sent to Seema Mustafa

An Open letter sent to Seema Mustafa

by Sivaram Srikandath

December 24, 2008

Ms. Mustafa:

At the outset, let me introduce myself. I am Sivaram Srikandath, a concerned Indian citizen. I belong to a family that has always cherished the best of secular ideals and I consider myself to be a rational, thinking Indian, brought up by my parents to value and respect the traditions of cultural and religious diversity. Among my closest friends are Christians and Muslims. My liberal outlook and a healthy respect and admiration for the virtues of diversity and multiculturalism were further reinforced by my decade long stay in the US, where I pursued a Doctoral Program in Mass Communication.

Enough about me. That little introduction was just to impress upon you that I am no rabid - what is the word you media professionals use - "Hindutva" spouting fanatic. I am sending this open letter to convey my responses to your article "Bills that Minorities Dread" published in the New Indian Express, December 23rd.

I have been reading your columns for a very long time, and also have admiration for the fearless stance adopted by you on many issues concerning social justice. But I am disappointed, that of late, you have turned into an apologist for minority interests. I must openly state that you have used your position as a well known journalist to make biased, one-sided representation of facts and make emotional capital of the minority issue. This is regrettable. I shall not talk about your earlier columns ( and of those, there are many to talk about.) Instead I shall confine my responses to your most recent column in the Indian Express.

In your column you have conveniently turned attention away from the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attack, and deftly focused your impressive talent for polemic upon the failure of our intelligence apparatus in anticipating these attacks, and on their incompetence in responding to the crisis. You have chosen to highlight the factionalism within RAW, and speak about the "corruption and politicization of the police force all over the state (which) is now legendary." All of the above, are true indeed. But you have very adroitly side-stepped from addressing the most fundamental issue - namely, the people behind the attack and how we need to deal with them. The citizens of this country need no further proof that Islamic fundamentalists were/are behind the attack. Let us state it quite openly. Pakistan sponsored Islamic fundamentalist terrorism is de-stabilizing this country. Any number of sanitized, pseudo-secular media columns cannot and will not, ever, detract from this truth.

Instead, you have chosen to play the emotional Antulay card by making sly insinuations that there is more than meets the eye in the killing of Hemant Karkare. And by conveniently editorializing that " it is no secret that Karkare was the target of a virulent hate campaign for uncovering the Hindutva complicity in several terror attacks in this country," you set up the stage for a tantalizing denouement. and One can understand (but never condone) that a self serving politician like Antulay would make such ridiculously bizarre charges. But then, the Congress party has made the politics of minority vote-bank appeasement its very raison d etre, and such mischievous drivel from one of their senior leaders is par for the course. But a trained and well respected journalist like you should not have stooped to such levels. Reading your column, I was reminded of what George Orwell wrote, "Political language..... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."

You have also argued that Indian laws are already quite stringent, and that what is required is a more coordinated approach. Your fear is that the two new "draconian legislations" being pushed through by the Government will further marginalize the minorities. Pray, how many hard core terrorists have been brought to justice in our country? Is there any country in the world that is as soft on terror as India is? The moment a terror attack takes place, and the perpetrators are apprehended, there is a virtual scramble amongst pseudo-secularists, public intellectuals and media mavens to get into the bandwagon of defending them, and criticizing the government. And now that Hindu "counter terrorism" has raised its unfortunate, but equally ugly head, the conspiracy theorists are having a field day. Hindutva has become the favorite whipping boy for the intellectual fashionistas on op-ed pages, and prime time TV. There is constant public discourse of the minorities being marginalized and their voices not being allowed to be heard etc. But, let me frankly ask you, is there any other country where minorities have just as equal rights as the majority community has, as in India. I think not.

And yet you argue that the government of a secular country like India has the added job of "ensuring that all sections of its citizens feel protected and secure." Precisely the point, Ms. Mustafa, I quite agree with you. But with one rider. The majority community also has an inalienable right to feel protected and secure in their homeland. We cannot lead our lives in constant fear of yet another Islamic / Hindu fundamentalist sponsored terror attack. And if stringent, or as you would have it put, draconian, legislation is needed to make life more safe for the citizens of our country, then I guess, such legislation needs to be passed. Of course, there will be some impact on civil liberties - on both the majority community as well as the minority communities. But that is the price we all have to pay for living in a world plagued and fuelled by terrorism.

The old adage of the greatest good for the greatest number is the very basis of social contract and the foundation of civil society. As a journalist, you should understand that, and herefore appreciate the context in which the current anti-terrorist legislation is being proposed. After all, context is important. Context defines decisions and gives meaning to facts. The great American journalist T.D.Allman, once defined genuinely objective journalism as that which not only gets the facts right, it gets the meaning right. Objective journalism is compelling not only today. It stands the test of time. It is validated not only by "reliable sources" but by the unfolding of history. It is reporting that which not only seems right the day it is published. It is journalism that ten, twenty, fifty years after the fact still holds up a true and intelligent mirror to events.

Can you honestly say that your column is holding up a true and intelligent mirror to events?

As a senior and well respected member of your profession, you should not allow your personal biases to influence objective journalism. There is a context for a situation; a meaning behind the facts. Instead of analyzing and understand the context and background of the proposed legislation, you have simply chosen to join the bandwagon of pseudo-intellectuals who have made a career of raising shrill protests about minority rights. I am sure that you are intelligent enough to understand that the greatest danger facing India today is not that it runs the risk of turning into a police state; but that it may cease to be a state at all because of fundamentalist supported terrorism. So, let us support our Government in enacting legislation that will help fight terrorism.

Tone down the shrill protests, please.

Sivaram Srikandath

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