New Internationalist

Playing fair

Truth can be hard to reach. Photo: radworld, reproduced under a CC license.

A recent letter to the editor in The Hindu newspaper complained that ‘Modi-baiting’ has become the favourite pastime of the media. The writer said words to the effect that you can condemn Narendra Modi for the 2002 Gujarat genocide, but don’t misquote him or demonize his strengths. I support that fully.

I find my liberal, leftist, activist friends are liable to suppress the truth or give it that tiny twist necessary to distort it enough to suit their mission. All in the name of a good cause. This is the same as right wing think tanks, ready to distort facts to spread hate about minorities throughout India.

I once wrote an article about Dalit kids being forced by principals and teachers to sweep their classrooms and clean toilets in Gujarat. I reiterated that although I uncovered this story in Gujarat, the situation is worse in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa or Rajasthan. A sub-editor removed the last sentence, turning my article into an anti-Modi tirade, which was not my intention at all. What’s more, that kind of unintelligent, unfair writing takes away credibility from newspapers, magazines and the journalists involved.

Take another example: I am sympathetic to the cause of both Israelis and Palestinians. That sounds like a diplomat, sitting on the fence. I’m not. It’s a terrible, complicated problem. There are no easy, simplistic solutions. But pretending that atrocities don’t happen on both sides does not help.

I was horrified by the mowing down of Rachel Corrie. And I don’t support Brooklyn Jews squatting on Palestinian land. But I see that Israel is surrounded by hate-groups who want to wipe it off the face of the earth, and so Israelis have to be ready to defend themselves.

I think the verdict of the Israeli Supreme Court to evict illegal settlers from the West Bank should be hailed as a ‘Daniel come to judgment’ moment. It should be celebrated globally, the way secular India celebrated the Gujarat verdict indicting the perpetrators of genocide after a long ten-year legal battle. But there’s relatively little press coverage on this exceedingly important Israeli judgment – I wonder why.

I’ve written reams about the Gujarat genocide against Muslims but I am equally aghast at the recent butchering of Muslims in Assam by Bodo tribals. I will desist from holding forth on Assam without going there to investigate the carnage.

Secular Indians dismiss rightwing proponents of Hindutva, the ideology of Hindu nationalism, for their habit of seeing the Pakistani hand everywhere. For their part, the Bodos in Assam claim their land is being taken over by illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. I sympathize with these immigrants. Much of Bangladesh is predicted to go under water because of global warming. Where else will the people come except India?

Viable solutions must be found. But a section of political parties have looked the other way, pretending the problem of illegal Bangladeshis doesn’t exist. On the one hand, we have a venomous, hate-spewing politician, Raj Thackeray of Mumbai, threatening wars against illegal Bangladeshis as well as all north Indian migrant workers. On the other, we have vested interests who will welcome in illegal immigrants, no matter how volatile the situation is, because they are a potential vote bank.

We see an identical situation in the US in the way Democrats and Republicans play the immigration card. It’s the vote bank which decides many crucial policies.

I grew up in Marxist Calcutta, now Kolkata. My teachers infused a critical element into everything we read, born of Marxian analysis. Even now, in Kolkata or Kerala where Marxism is strongest, ordinary people are aware of their rights, better informed and more political than anywhere else in India. Yet when I write, I cannot ignore the dismal performance of the West Bengal Marxist government who enjoyed over 30 years of uninterrupted misrule in West Bengal. Nor can I wave the flag for the Chinese occupation of Tibet as many Marxist friends do. Or glorify the feudal fiefdom that was Tibet before the Chinese, as supporters of Free Tibet insist on doing. It’s hard to be fair and unbiased.

As these examples show, we need journalists and a media which is unbiased, rational and incorruptible. We need thinkers, intellectuals and policy makers who will work for the common good using truth, justice and commonsense to bring about a world with a modicum of decency, fairness, justice. Sounds like heaven on earth. Which brings us back to Lennon - Imagine.

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  1. #1 Maggie 07 Sep 12

    Mari -- for once I don't like this one (very rare!). There isn't much coverage of the Israeli Supreme Court decision because no-one will do anything to put it into effect. If you haven't been to Palestine, then treat that subject the same as Assam -- stay away. Seeing both sides of that particular coin is like seeing both sides of apartheid in South Africa -- only difference being that Israeli imposition of apartheid and squeezing Palestinians into 'homelands' between their ever-encroaching settlements is even worse. At least black South Africans had the means to live. And they and their livestock weren't treated to long-distance target practice and ongoing crop/house destruction on a daily basis. All best, keep them coming, Maggie

  2. #2 mari 07 Sep 12

    Maggie, I read that the settlers were evicted by the government because of the Israeli SC ban. And Netanhyu said they had to abide by the court order. I think positive stories should be reported.
    Just as I abhor Modi's anti Muslim pogrom, but would not misreport the fact that his govt is (according to corporate folks) easier to deal with as he wants to attract investment into Gujarat. So ostensibly less corrupt.
    Email me so I can debate this further! Not sure which Maggie this is but thanks for reading n commenting on this.

  3. #3 mari 07 Sep 12

    Additionally, I was at the Racism Conference in Durban 2001,I think. And the only people who were picked on, heckled, bullied, shouted down were an orthodox Jewish group. Watching the hecklers made me think of Nazis. And since I hate bullies, I went up and said Shalom, to express my solidarity(against the bullying) Ironically, these orthodox folk dont even support Zionism. So the bullies were ignorant to boot.


  4. #4 cedric prakash 07 Sep 12

    Thanks Marie
    Great piece!
    Check my facebook page...Your pic is there now twice!

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

  5. #5 ta 09 Sep 12

    The isreal judgement is a good first step. But I don't know whether I support the idea that the media should cover it much more than it has. It seems almost like a token gesture, a pr stunt, probably hoping to attract exActly the sort of international mass coverage you are advocating.
    I would However be in favour of coverage that recognizes this as a good first step in the direction, while highlighting the long distance still to be covered.

  6. #6 rd 09 Sep 12

    This raises an interesting question on the role of the media. Are we to be unbiased reporters of events and allow public opinion to form itself, or do we actively shape opinions to influence events for what we perceive to be the greater good, playing a more a activist role?

  7. #7 Peter Berger 09 Sep 12

    To quote John Lennon again, ’What if they gave a war and nobody came.’ Much of what happens around the world is opportunism at its worst, with politicians of every hue choosing their side and changing their tune to get the most support for themselves until they are voted in, then they conveniently forget the promises they made.The mess we see around the world is because we have forgotten the idealism of the sixties when the younger generation of that era protested, marched, waved banners and brought about change. Unfortunately many of us of that generation are now ’establishment’ and do not want to rock the boat or our secure niche. Thank God for people like Mariwho still carry their banner and cry 'Excelsior'still.

  8. #8 chandrika sen sharma 09 Sep 12

    Bravo Mari! Impartial, fair and honest, isn't that what we expect from all journalists? Unfortunately, not too many adhere to this exalted ideal making us wary of what we read.

  9. #9 Ricky Lingwood 10 Sep 12

    Good one Mari, heading in the right direction.

    The truth gets swept under the 'catergorisation' carpet. Labels simplify and then distort. There are issues that need to be reported, exposed and acted on. Where the color of one's skin, the history of one's prayer, the ism of one's philosophy or the softness of one's cradle
    should not hide the fact that one is a lying thieving predator. Only Truth can sustain the greater good no matter what the spin doctors advise.



  10. #10 Josantony Joseph 10 Sep 12

    Aristotle said that virtue is in the mean. What he did not say was that the 'mean' is not politically rousing, or not likely to get many followers. And so while what Mari is asking for is the right thing, the fact is that newspapers won't sell, and politicians won't win elections,unless they abjure the 'mean' and move to the extremes. That is the sad thing about free speech and democracy,- both values I hold in high esteem - but unfortunately they can be easily misused in a world where numbers count. And the so the extremes continue to survive, if they can get enough followers. And yet history shows that eventually the 'mean' does take centre stage even if it is soon upstaged by the next extremist.

  11. #11 mari 10 Sep 12

    That sounds really erudite Josantony. But more importantly its a very insightful, deep comments.
    Thanks for that

  12. #12 Gayathri Devadasan 11 Sep 12


    am not able to access the newint website.

    I have changed my elective subject from education to human rights. It has been a very good change . I would really like to share your articles with the class. Our teacher has studied terrorism in Kashmir and she asks us to bring the Hindu and EPW to class. It is all very interesting. We also have a Human Rights group online and I wondered if I could share your articles with them.


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About the author

Mari Marcel Thekaekara a New Internationalist contributor

Mari is a writer based in Gudalur, in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. She writes on human rights issues with a focus on dalits, adivasis, women, children, the environment, and poverty. Mari's book Endless Filth, published in 1999, on balmikis, is to be followed by a second book on campaigns within India to abolish manual scavenging work. She co-founded Accord in 1985 to work with Adivasi people. Mari has been a contributor to New Internationalist since 1991.

About the blog I travel around India a lot, covering dalit and adivasi issues. I often find myself really moved by stories that never make it to the mainstream media. My son Tarsh suggested I start blogging. And the New Internationalist collective are the nicest bunch of editors I’ve worked with. So here goes.

Read more by Mari Marcel Thekaekara

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