Tehelka’s Populist Turn? Bobby Kunhu and Sudeep KS

Guest post by SUDEEP KS and BOBBY KUNHU

The magazine joins the Great Kerala Terrorist Hunt. This was sent as a rebuttal to Tehelka, but has not been published.

Kerala’s Radical Turn – cries the cover of the last issue of Tehelka (dated 9th October, 2010). The cover story by V K Shashikumar, that plays the familiar tunes of Islamophobia, hints at Tehelka‘s Populist Turn. It will be interesting to see where Tehelka goes from here, and what happens to its current reader base that distinguished the magazine from the likes of The Indian Express and The Times of India and India Today.

In the article, Here Come the Pious, Shashikumar lists some facts and his personal fears, on the eve of the Allahabad High Court judgment on the Babri Masjid land dispute. What is missing in the entire article is reason. The byline says that “A new Islamist body, the Popular Front of India, is causing alarm with its religious overdrive in the south.” After one goes through the article, however, what one gets is a glorified picture of the outfit. Whether the author likes it or not.

The piece opens with the Rayana episode, where a young engineering graduate got threats for wearing jeans in the Kasargod district of Kerala:

They said they were from the Popular Front of India. Initially it was teasing and harassment. But harassment is worse than a threat to life. The comments and staring each time I ventured out, as if I was a criminal, was intolerable. They wrote to me saying they want me to wear purdah. They said what I did was blasphemy. But I don’t think it is a problem of Islam. This is an issue of the right over one’s body. It is sad that everybody is making it out as a religious problem, even those who support me,” says Rayana.

And without any guilt whatsoever, the author does the same: makes it out as a religious problem.

Many Muslim women in Kerala wear jeans and other modern outfits. So if one Rayana is getting targetted for what she wears, we as a mature society should extend our support to her and find out why she gets targetted.  Sadly, all that the author sees is “Them” — the imaginative enemy. It seems the author has not even bothered to cross verify with women’s groups and feminist activists who have been involved in extending support to Rayana – nor has he done any homework or checked with other journalists in Kerala.

The article says:

They hated her jeans. They called her at odd times, men she didn’t know, and told her what they would do with her if she didn’t dump the jeans and put on purdah. Each time Rayana stepped out, they stared and said horrible things.. Then, four months later, she wrote to the Women’s Commission asking that she be allowed to wear what she likes. The state posted constables to protect Rayana so she could sport denim. Now, they stalked her. One day Rayana was returning after meeting her lawyer in Ernakulam, a town near the middle of Kerala. The constable got off midway. A group tried to block the car Rayana was in. She drove off. They chased the car and attacked her with stones. She had to drive to a town nearby, where the locals lent a touch of security. All this, because they didn’t like what she wore.

Who are “They”? Has the author cared to find out before flaring up this fear for “Them”? Are we forgetting the fact that in Kerala most women face these stares and hear horrible things if she chooses to wear what she likes or chooses to live the life she wants?

The article then cuts to:

The Popular Front of India (PFI), with its headquarters in Kozhikode, Kerala, is throwing up a curious test for India’s secularism.” Why? Here’s the answer: “In classified central government reports, the PFI is accused of introducing an extremist pan-Islamist movement to India. In submissions to the High Court, the Kerala police claim it is linked to the Al Qaeda. Achuthanandan suggested the PFI has a 20-year plan to Islamicise Kerala. And then, Keralites were jolted out of their secular somnambulism on the first Sunday of July when a bunch of PFI cadres chopped the right palm of a college teacher, TJ Joseph, for setting a question paper that allegedly insulted Prophet Mohammad.

The accusations of the central government reports and the apparent police claims of Al Qaueda links have not been proved, and the CM’s statement was arguably the most irresponsible statement a chief minister could come up with. So the author finds himself in need of some supportive data.

“Evidences” follow — in the form of opinions from some of the author’s caste Hindu and caste Christian friends who feel threatened that their supremacy is getting questioned. To quote the author himself; “Hindus and Christians are beginning to feel uncomfortable with this brand of assertive, militant religion-centred politics.” As if Muslims are not part of the Kerala society. Sample this: “They are the Indian Taliban, but they cannot overcome the syncretic culture of Kerala,” says Raveendran, a building contractor in Thrissur. According to him, the PFI is a temporary fad funded by petrodollars from Saudi Arabia. Mathew Nethumpara, a lawyer in Ernakulam, says he is not surprised because “intolerance has been brewing for several years”.

That these comments override Kerala’s Director General of Police Jacob Punnose who says “I realise the danger but I don’t want to exaggerate it” tells us where the author’s fears are founded.

Moreover, in an SMS message to the authors of this piece – B Unnikrishnan, the filmmaker and critic quoted by the author asserts that he has been either misunderstood or misconstrued.

Now comes some “historic” revelations. “Confidential missives of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs and the Kerala Police accessed by TEHELKA suggest the PFI is the fastest-growing cadre-based Muslim organisation in India.” Enough reason for fear. Though one wonders what these confidential missives are. What adds to the fear is PFI’s Kozhikode Declaration (2009) that the article quotes:

“..The Muslims are the victims of the war on terror. The Indian government supports the WOT and makes available the county’s machinery for implementing the plan hatched by the US-Israel axis. It’s in the wake of this alliance that we witness the increase in bomb blasts in the country.

The Muslims, on the other hand, have been pushed down by inferiority complex created by peculiar historic developments. They are under the wrong impression that any political move of their own is wrong. While the national secular parties are anxious to use the Muslim votes, they have been reluctant to take them in as equal partners. They have failed to secure the rights of the Muslims as citizens and refused to give even legal protection to them during communal riots which are a byword for collective anti-Muslim attacks. When the administration joined hands with anti-Muslim forces it created fear in Muslim minds. There is strong suspicion that plans are being hatched and implemented deliberately to break the Muslims economically and socially.

The denial of basic needs and willful negligence of their just demands have imposed social slavery. No political party can shrug off responsibility for creating this situation. So it is imperative that Muslim organisations come to the forefront for the advancement of the community and to create awareness about their rights.”

Blasphemy! Are we supposed to speak this out? Will it not get the Muslims to think on these lines, and question the targetting of Muslims? Will they not react to the picking up of Muslim men in connection with any blast that happens anywhere in the world? Will they forget the Mecca Masjid blast where hundreds of Muslim youth were picked up and harassed? Yes, there is reason to fear. More so when PFI’s Kerala head says his organisation is expanding because there is a feeling among Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis that they have been cheated.

Then another friend of Shashikumar shares his concerns : “In the past few years I have seen more women, and more educated women, for instance my neighbour who has a Phd, take to the hijab.” Too sad. It is evident that here we are not talking about women who are forced to wear hijab. As the author quotes: “It is fashionable to wear hijab,” says Salima, a student of BSc, Applied Statistics, in Kozhikode’s Ferook College. This fear for any religious symbols that do not belong to one’s own religion needs treatment.

Another reason for fear is “their” faith in letters. “We see the media as a vehicle for political empowerment,” the article quotes NP Chekkutty, Executive Editor of Thejas. Then we see a letter classified as secret issued by the union home ministry on 25 November 2009 that states: “Thejas is part of a pan-Islamic publication network catering to the communal agenda of certain organisations. The publication invariably takes anti-establishment views on issues like plight of Muslims, Kashmir, and India’s relations with the US and Israel. Occasionally, it describes the government’s counter-militancy effort as state-sponsored terrorism, thereby endorsing the stance of militant elements. More importantly, contemporary developments and issues are invariably projected with a communal slant.” Incidentally, this particular letter has been a subject of speculation and debate in the Kerala media circles and its existence has been denied by the Government, and it is rather interesting that Shashikumar is blissfully ignorant of this fact.

Hasn’t Tehelka taken anti-establishment views and spoken up on instances where there was denial of justice? Isn’t the government’s counter-militancy and counter-Maoist efforts widely criticized by many people publicly? And what is a “communal slant”? As far as the Malayalam newspapers go, Thejas is one of the very few newspapers where one hardly gets to see reports attempting to malign any particular community. This is in a time when Mathrubhumi and Kerala Kaumudi and the likes have been rolling out Islamophobia in the form of headlines, reports and even cartoons day by day. Isn’t that communal?

As if to add insult to injury – another piece by Rajesh Ahuja screaming that Gulf Malayalis are falling prey to LeT compliments Shashikumar’s thesis. We are left clueless as to the relevance of this story that has been much written about by veterans like Praveen Swami in today’s context except to buttress Shashikumar’s fears of Muslims getting richer and funding their own publications. We really do not know and do not want to comment on the guilt or non-guilt of Nawaz or others mentioned in the story – but to calumny a whole community because of a few alleged miscreants is unfortunate – given that the Gulf boom has been in many ways responsible for the upward social mobility of the Muslim community in Kerala.

One has to keep in mind that Kerala has one of the most vibrant, diverse and political Muslim communities in India – one of the very few places in India where the community has a strong political presence. If anything, these kind of baseless reportage fuels insecurity amongst the community that they are being targeted and Shahsikumar, himself claims that is one of the tools that PFI is using in its mobilization!!

With all this and more, both the articles look like a fine example of the proverbial “seeing yellow”, going by the facts we are presented with. These facts are supposed to substantiate the fears expressed by the authors, but it instead tells us there is something terribly wrong with the way that people like Shashikumar and Rajesh Ahuja (and the Tehelka editors) think.

Both the articles say they are based on inputs from Shahina K K in Thiruvananthapuram. Shahina is someone we all know as a journalist of reason. We wonder if Shahina also shares Shashikumar and Rajesh Ahuja’s extrapolations and exaggerations.

(Cross-posted at Countermedia.)

41 thoughts on “Tehelka’s Populist Turn? Bobby Kunhu and Sudeep KS”

  1. The problem with activists and left-liberals is that they have presumed that Tehelka has, or ever had, a politics. They only have a vague school-teacher-ish sense of right and wrong (one of their super senior editors was once a school teacher). They like to play good cop-bad cop, and any story that’s sensationalist enough for them to feel self-righteous about is par for the course. Tehelka the paper’s first cover story some years ago was also by the same reporter, VK Sashikumar, which warned us that George Bush was going to turn Indians into Christians en masse. We’re yet to see that happen, Bush has come and gone. Another sting on some small time Hindutva goons, and you’ll be all praise for Tehelka again, and its editors will start filling two pages vacuously ‘decoding’ the ‘meaning’ of Hindutva in ‘our times’, pompously putting their names on the cover, unable to hid the self-congratulation, describing their own story as the ‘untold story of the year’ or the ‘biggest story of the year’. Give me a break!

    1. Valid criticism, but I would not discount serious investigative and well-researched (non-sting) journalistic pieces by people like Ajit Sahi – which might not have found space anywhere else

  2. So the same Tehelka which gives space to Ajit Sahi’s expose of the SIMI fictions carries this story – and internally, Tehelka’s hallowed, hollowed editors must already be using your piece to pat VK Shashikumar and say, look, how we are assailed by both left and right. Proof of our objectivity and balance. Tehelka needs this badly – they don’t want to be screwed over next time BJP comes to power. They’ve been working on this strategy for some time now.

    they who claim victimhood from BJP also pander to Arun Jaitley, take him on those shady art deals-cum-conferences to London and make him write. They also keep in good humour other RSS-BJP types such as Sudheendra Kulkarni and their favourite is Swapan Dasgupta, whose hollow eloquence matches Tehelka’s – except one claims to be right and the other left. In sum, all that one is saying is that Tehelka is not a trusted ally of anything, and their claims of having a politics just because they do non-commercial journalism should be taken with a pinch of salt. They don’t know what politics is – anything that makes them look like they’re the ones saving this country from going into a deep abyss, is good politics for them. It’s all about personalities, people, fame etc.

  3. Well, the claim that this writing had inputs from Shahina must be pure fake, going by what she has been writing on islam-baiting in Kerala recently. I tend to agree with areader: this magazine doesn’t have a position, otherwise how do they perform this about-turn so quickly? I suppose they calculated that the alleged assault on women in jeans will rouse the hearts of urban liberals-at-their-convenience! Well, that story is turning murky enough, and I am surprised that these reporters never got an inkling about the way it has been turning? i don’t know how these reporters are, but they are probably a couple of urban brats who’d smell sriramasene or its variants when they see people valuing and claiming a religious identity for themselves.

  4. The school teacher’s hand was cut off in Kerala due to “non-religious” reasons? Have you ehard PFI tapes that are played and the material they have on sale in stalls in the meetings they have?
    People have an abstract notion sitting far away from where it is all happening and when there is reportage, albeit with some sensationalism, one reacts, as if someone is destroying there sleep. Reflects poorly on even-handed objectivity.

  5. Dear Devika,
    As you may know,shared byline is a common practice in news papers and magazines. It does not mean that the two reporters have equal stake in the story.In this case my input is very limited.The story opens with a quote by Rayana Khasi,the girl who faces threat from those who claim PFI .Her quote in the story that “They said they were from the Popular Front of India. Initially it was teasing and harassment. But harassment is worse than a threat to life. The comments and staring each time I ventured out, as if I was a criminal, was intolerable. They wrote to me saying they want me to wear purdah. They said what I did was blasphemy. But I don’t think it is a problem of Islam. This is an issue of the right over one’s body. It is sad that everybody is making it out as a religious problem, even those who support me,”

    This is the only input that I contributed to the story.The rest of the story is conceived and written by Shashikumar.

  6. “As far as the Malayalam newspapers go, Thejas is one of the very few newspapers where one hardly gets to see reports attempting to malign any particular community.”

    Tejas is the newspaper that took action against a journalist for supporting the cause of Dalits in the case when Dalit Human Rights Activists(DHRM) in kerala were tortured portrayng them as “terrorists”.. so just because one of the authors of this post has an editorial stake in this newspaper owned by a muslim grp. should not let them make such blatant lies.. is there any difference btn tehelka and tejas? and why should one be blind to what shahina has reported about rayana? what is tejas’s stand on rayana? why dont they take up the issue of the harassment of a muslim woman? Why cant they? WHY? WHY?

    1. @ Haris – I have an op-ed column in tejas, which does not mean that I have either an editorial stake or can talk on behalf of that newspaper. Please read Shahina’s response carefully – Shahina (nor Tehelka) has done a story on Rayana – she has just forwarded a quote from Rayana. And not just Rayana – every woman/person should have the right to choose and wear their attire of choice. And you should ask that question to Tejas if you feel that they have not taken a proactive position on that. But w.r.t DHRM, I think you are being unfair – because, I have myself written about the unfair persecution in my column and really do not know of the incident you are referring to

  7. Rayana’s quote itself tells about the harassment she meted out from the outfit claiming to be PFI. If this harassment has nothing to do with any muslim orgasation or PFI, why cant muslims of kerala take it up and fight for Rayana’s right to wear anything she likes? why cant you stand by her or at least write in your column or in kafila supporting her cause? instead you all are helping those criminals with your writings who continue to harass her in the name of islam– suppressing/silencing/ignoring her resistance.. by why cant Edward Said’s ghosts help the cause of Rayana, a muslim woman?? WHY?

  8. Dear Haris,

    It was me who wrote that part about Thejas, and I am surprised to know about the action taken by Thejas for supporting the cause of Dalits in the “Dalt terrorism” episode. Could you give more details? (As Bobby has clarified, he does not have an editorial stake in the newspaper. He has written about the Dalt hunt in one of his colums).

    Thejas had published the Rayana story and then the statement in support of Rayana (by C S Chandrika and others) came as a two-column news. (Yes I do have many problems with the way Thejas reports certain things but I still find it much better than Mathrubhumi and Kalakaumudi when it is about the “communal”ity of the reportage).

    @areader, I know Tehelka would be happy to be “in news”. But I think Ajit Sahi’s editorial team did have a politics of trying to speak for those who do not get much voice in the mainstream media.

  9. PFI and DHRM is cadre based organisation who are fighting for dignity for their community.All communist including the Achtanand are hindu first then communist next.DHRM has lebeled as terorist organisation because they said their people not to drink alcohol not to worships hindu gods and godeses infact DHRM is spreading the Dr Ambedkar message.PFI is a cadre based organisation who is fighting for dignity.Congress has used dalits and muslim votes for 60 years and made them slaves for hindus.for tehelka information about 2.2 million Indians in middle east about 90% are hindus who are funding RSS<VHP<Bajrang dal.congress has always used hindu millitancy by back doors for eg in 1947 they had kept rama statue in side the mosque, they had demolished the babri mosque with help of hindu Rao.every communities have rights to defend their propertoes and abru from RSS<VHP and other hindu terrorist organisation.Mr Kanshi Ram had lebbeled as CIA agent.13% of muslims and 20% of dalits should join togeter to defeat the hindus in India.time is not faraway when hindu led governmet at centre will stop giving them adds to weaken the theja.I think theja should talk to editor of dalit voice who is running his magzine without any governmet adds.time has come all minorities including dalits should form the organisation to defeat the hindus in India and their terrorist organisation and they should be careful with communist CM like achutanandan who is ezheva means hindu..

    1. I can only laugh at the foolishnes of muslim dalit friendship. The dalits have always had reformers from the Hindu community and not from foreign religions like islam and christianity. The support given by a brahmin minister in tiruvathamcore for Ayyankali is an example. A dalit was hanged in Kannur for talking to a muslim girl. The PFI finds every oppurtunity to divide hindus among caste lines to achieve their deadly end of an islamic rule in India. They are funded by saudi and supported by pakistan. The will have no love lost to a dalit once they decimate the so called upper caste hindus. Beware DHRM!

      1. Dear Sankaran,you hindus should save your ass from PFI ,if PFI is being funded by saudi means who are funding RSS<BAJRANG DAL<VHP.dalits are being librated by muslims ruler and example is Great nawaji Aurang jeb.dalits are not ready to fight with their muslims blood brothers.time has come DHRM and other dalit organisation should join together with PFI to fight the hindus and their hindu led government.2.5 million hindus are having fun in middle east dear sankaran ,you please ask your hindu brothers to leave the middle east .PFI is a cadre based organisation and doing great job in Kerala,165 milllion dalits support the PFI who is getting ready to give two fingers to RSS in kerala.

  10. @kumar
    why not include poor VS in the fight against hindus? after all, if you are aware it was some ezhavas only who started the anti-caste movmnt in kerala. muslim politics in kerala is as harmful as that of cpim’s as far as dalits are concerned.
    @sudeep
    that s good. as an outsider, i was not aware of it. again it is good to know that rayana got some support in her home turf. and about thejas’ anti-dalit stand. this is a news i got recently from some of our friends. i will share if i get more information about it.
    and is there any thing new in that. madhyamam, another muslim newspaper also consider dalits and adivasis as untouchables to be saved n sympathised only.

    1. @about thejas’ anti-dalit stand. this is a news i got recently from some of our friends. i will share if i get more information about it.

      I happen to be executive editor of Thejas, from its inception five years back. This allegation is news to me and I would be glad to know when and how we did take an anti-dalit line in our editorial policy or in our staff management. We are one of the very news organizations in Malayalam which has a number of dalits in its staff, and it has been our consistent policy right from the beginning.

  11. Dear Hariss,you might be aware about ezhvas who never supported the dalits in Kerala.Muslims communities are blood brothers of dalits even they had supported dalits in past.Dr Ambedkar had won the parliment seats with help of muslim league from west Bengal.every communities have rights to open their school and medias to tell their brothers and sisters about atrocities on their brothers and sisters.Theja news papers is being run by PFI with government advertisement in worth of 80 lakhs so you can imagine how they will take the stand against the hindus and especially Ezhavas CM.in my openion PFI should form the political organisation to defeat the hindus and their hindu led government in India so 165 million dalits will be librated from the hinduism ghettos.RSS and VHP and bajrang dals are using dalits and tribals as foot soldiers and now time has come use these foot soldiers as real soldiers to defend their properties and abrus fron sangh parivar.

  12. How can u say so kumarpushp? If not ezhavas who supported Dalits? muslims are treating dalits just like any hindu. dalits should also fight against these ffundamentlist muslims. and ambedkar had clealrywritten about the atroicities he had experienced from the hands of caste muslims. ezhavas and dalits should unite.

    1. Mr Kumar ,Could you tell me who is mR Achutanandan ,CM of kerala.Does he helped DHRM or dalits at large in Kerala ,he and his cabinet lebeled DHRM as a terrorist organisation.Hindus have 2.5 million temples,1.5 million schools and 75000 hospital then you can imagine who are helping whom.when hindus gathered every month for so called their festivals means ,minoties get upsets including dalits.All minorities including dalits have rights to defend their properties and their abrus from hindu aggression in India.Ezhavas will never unite with dalits which we have seen in UP and other part of India.In Taminaidu ,DMK chief belongs to barber communities and you can see the wall of sepration in Tamilnaidu.130 million muslims and 165 million dalits should unite to defeat the barbaric people in India.can you tell me one incidence where dalits were helped by ezhavas.for your iformation ,Dr Ambedkar never against the muslims even during the Poona pacts muslims had dropped the Mr Gandhi points that Muslims should not support the dalits seprate elctorate rights.Great Kaide Ajam had told the MR Gandhi that how you think that muslims will oppose the dalit rights.time has come tejha and dalit voice should join together to show the world about the hindu aggression against the dalits and muslims in India.

    1. Thanks for this piece – though I have my disagreements with Unny’s perspective – this is a good example in contrast with Shashikumar’s piece on what journalism is…..

  13. To those Tehelka readers who have pinned hopes on Ajit Sahi’s straightspeak:
    He quit the magazine couple of months ago. I haven’t seen his byline anywhere recently.

  14. Dear Fasil, I know Ajit Sahi has left Tehelka. What I meant was that I do not agree that Tehelka editorial team never had any politics (other than creating controversy and being in the news).

    Chekkutty, thanks for clarifying. I was really suprised, knowing the pro-Dalit stand the newspaper has been taking.

    Bobby, thanks for link to that Gulf Malayalee article. It was touching. (Here Come the Bias”, by Abis Bishara, Riyadh).

  15. Respected Authors and Readers

    Kindly write a critique of this DEBATE:

    http://intelligencesquaredus.org/index.php/past-debates/islam/

    Very interesting!

    “”Is the rise of terrorism and violence justifiably traced to the teachings of Islam, or is this call to war a twisted interpretation of the true Muslim faith? Most of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims are moderates who see Islamic terrorism as a violation of their sacred texts. Is it wrong to let a radical minority represent authentic Islam? Has fear blinded us to its lessons of tolerance and peace?””

  16. Is the author suggesting that it was right of those people to chop off the professor’s hand for using a common muslim name in a innocuous sense in a question paper? No right thinking person can take offense from it.

    1. Both the authors do not suggest anything like that – on the contrary are extremely critical of the violent act. But what is more violent is the branding fury that has been unleashed using this violence as a pretext against whole communities. For instance, the relevance of the hand cutting to this discussion…..

    1. Maybe Kafila can take some lessons from Tehelka..About where do you land up if you have no politics and only school-teacher concerns about ‘good behaviour’ of others!

      1. @ “not an apologist”: The media does need some lessons on good behavior. I think there is politics in how you present a story. There was a story in Kalakaumudi by Muhammad Fakruddin Ali on how some of PFI’s recent acts have affected the Muslims badly in Kerala. That is very different from a couple of Hindus and Christians saying “these Muslims are becoming very dangerous”.

        Shashikumar’s reply suggests that the “school teachers’ concerns” are being taken seriously. Hoping to see his article on the murder that he mentioned.

      2. The point that I was trying to make, however, was none of what you have clung to. I am only amused about how Kafila contributors and readers are completely shocked by a story run by Tehelka on PFI. This points towards something serious about the new so-called ‘radical’ strand in Indian politics.

        First, it is very easy to fool a ‘radical’ about ‘radicalism’. Tehelka did this to Kafila. Anybody and anything can be radical by covering certain stories and putting it in a particular language. Long political associations and mass engagement, diversity of influences and a historical view are completely passe.

        Second, since the concern is merely to ‘resist’ and report, on and off, some stories of human rights abuse and about the struggle of ‘poor people’, it is essentially apolitical, like the across the board support for Naxals, including Tehelka and Kafila.

        Third, in this scenario, it is very easy to just write in support of Naxals without any normative judgment, with the usual nomenclature. A historical-theoretical analysis is mundane and useless as is the case with Tehelka and Kafila.

  17. what a hypocracy?

    media(thejas) of on organisation(popular front) which work for establishing islamic rule in india by all means including violence is described as good!!

    mathrubhumi and thehalka which criticize both majority and minority communalism are described as communal!!

  18. I appreciate the efforts of Sudeep KS and Bobby Kunhu to punch holes in my article ‘Kerala’s Radical Turn’ in Tehelka (issue dated 9th October). For those who kept themselves busy making scurrilous comments, I would encourage them to click on this link: http://ibnlive.in.com/news/the-radical-and-dark-side-of-bajrang-dal/75665-3.html
    This is what my expose on CNN IBN in 2008 revealed. “A network of radical and militant Hindu groups has burst into the national scene. They are allegedly making bombs and setting them off, sparking communal violence and terrorising minority communities. They are arrogantly open about their attacks and motives, acting almost without fear of punishment. CNN-IBN explores this new and dangerous network of saffron terror.”
    This was the first detailed expose on Hindutva Terror/Saffron Terror/Bhagwa Terror. This was a report put together with as much honesty and integrity as my report on ‘Kerala’s Radical Turn’. I broke this story and shared a pile of documents with various activists and writers who subsequently wrote on this issue. It is unfortunate that in India it is becoming impossible to talk and write about Hindu, Muslim and Christian fundamentalism without attracting quick-fix labels. When I exposed fundamentalism being exported by what I described as trans-national missionary organisations, I was labelled pro-RSS. When I exposed Sanatan Sanstha and its associated organisations including HJS and others, I was called names and threatened by Sangh organisations. And now when a field report details PFI and its fundamentalist position on various issues, some people find it objectionable. Without sounding presumptuous I am happy to note that the report in Tehelka has generated a debate and discussion.
    Sudeep and Kunhu are, of course, silent on the murder of Vineesh, a Dalit youth, a casual labourer. Police claim that he was murdered in a “Taliban-style execution by Islamic fundamentalists.” Though this murder happened on 17th April, the alleged involvement of PFI cadres was revealed nearly two weeks after my report was published. When Vineesh’s body was founding hanging from a tree, there was 22 injury marks, his veins had been punctured across his hands and legs and he was drained of his blood. Let me use the cliché—the law will take its own course and finally the courts will judge whether PFI is behind this murder. But my job as a journalist is to give agency to a major development, record it with all honesty and take responsibility for it by making it public for debate and discussion.
    The views of the PFI have been comprehensively and accurately represented in the story. It is not TEHELKA, but the PFI, which says it supports the Taliban in Afghanistan and the “freedom fighters” in Iraq. India’s official position is that Taliban supports terrorism and that Taliban/Al Qaeda-affiliated groups such as the LET are responsible for terrorism in the country. TEHELKA has not judged the PFI’sworld view, but merely reported within contextual frameworks. The report has provided more space to PFI and its political, social and economic agendas. Many students have revealed the pressure on them to abide by the dress code strictures issued by PFI activists. That all of them wanted to remain anonymous shows the extent of the fear that PFI cadres have been able to instil. Civil society voices are also presented in the story, not as a fait accompli, but merely as a sampling of people’s voices in Kerala. The contrarian views of the state and Union government, challenging the PFI’s contention, that it is merely a political and social organisation giving voice to Muslims, have been incorporated in the report. TEHELKA spoke to academics and opinion makers. Some agreed to be quoted, several didn’t. TEHELKA also interviewed senior police officers — DGP Jacob Punnose, ADGP (Intelligence) Siby Mathew and ADGP (Crime) Vinson Paul — who have first-hand access to investigation dossiers on the PFI. TEHELKA’s history is replete with instances of reportage on Hindutva radicalisation and terror, including the seminal exposé on the Gujarat riots. In this case, we have sounded a warning on the trend of Muslim fundamentalism in the manner the magazine is known for — free, fair, fearless.

  19. When SIMI was ready to give two finger to hindus and their terrorist outfits then SIMMI was banned and now PFI who is gettind ready to punch the hindus and their hindu led toilet papers now they are called terrorist organisation.When DHRM was getting ready to give two fingers to hindu terrorist organisation they were lebelled as terrorist organisation by same hindu marxist.there is no place for dalits and muslims in India but in 21 st century dalits and muslims are not ready to take any more shits from the Hindu out fits in India.what a shame for hindu and their hindu led government in India but hindus must understand that India was ruled by foreign forces not because of dalits and muslims but because of their hindu atrocities.

  20. Dear Shashikumar,

    Since you do not seem to have understood what we were trying to say, let me try to explain in other words. We are not talking “for PFI” or against PFI, as we hardly know what PFI is. From whatever material was presented in your story, it actually sounded as one of these or both: (i) A reflection of the general Islamophobia in the media (this is because it just shared the fear of some “radical turn” in Kerala society, that Raveendran thinks PFI is a threat, this lawyer says they are funded by so and so, more and more Muslim girls are wearing hijab and it has become a fashion statement..) (ii) A campaign for PFI (because as you said, you have accurately captured everything that they claim that they are, and there is no material backing the fears that you share. It appears that these fears are but natural, of Muslims becoming rich, and Muslims becoming a powerful force in some way).

    Now, coming back to your reply: you say “Sudeep and Kunhu are, of course, silent on the murder of Vineesh, a Dalit youth, a casual labourer.” Sorry to say this, but your article was also silent of this murder. Probably because “the alleged involvement of PFI cadres was revealed nearly two weeks after” your report was published (which means one week after our response). And this event has gone underreported in the Malayalam media, as the victim happens to be a dalit and a casual labourer, and there is not enough people in the media’s power corridors to back such a case. Why do you not do a story on this murder? We offer all our support. You also say “Many students have revealed the pressure on them to abide by the dress code strictures issued by PFI activists” but this was also missing in your article.

    Then you go on to give details of the police files you have refered, as a proof of Tehelka‘s “free, fair, fearless” journalism. Since when has Tehelka started relying solely on the police version, without doing any research of theirs? (Here I remember Tehelka’s stories on SIMI, DHRM, Maoists etc including one in the latest issue, when almost all other media labeled them terrorists, reporting police stories as news).

    [on behalf of Bobby also]

  21. Dear VK Shashikumar,

    In your response you claim credit as the first one to ‘expose’ Hindutva terrorism. However, let me point out to you that here at Kafila, Subhash Gatade did so more than a year before your story, and many times in between. See this post by him dated November 2006: http://kafila.org/2006/12/08/malegaon-bomb-blasts-need-for-a-fresh-probe/
    This one in December 2006: http://kafila.org/2006/11/18/whatever-happened-to-the-fake-beard/
    And Kafila’s archives on Hindutva terrorism: http://kafila.org/?s=hindutva+terrorism&x=0&y=0
    best,
    shivam

  22. Those who are bothered about growing Islamophobia can request organizations like PFI to come out with a statement that they respect individuals choices in matters like dress and there is no question of compulsion in the name of faith in this.Let PFI declare that it has no problem in Tasleema living in India or Rushdie visiting India.
    What prevents PFI and other muslim organizations from telling the world that they have no problem if muslim women choose not to wear hijab and they respect the choice of individuals. If there organizations are for liberal values and human rights let them declare so.
    When Tehelka exposes Modi it is fine, if it defends SIMI that is great journalism but if it writes something critical about PFI then it is accused of populism Are there no limits to such silly arguments which one sees again and again in Kafila. Communalism Combat is also critical of conservative islamic fundamentalism. I am sure that sooner or later there will be a post in Kafila accusing it of catering to increasing islamophobic tendencies.
    PFI states
    “The denial of basic needs and willful negligence of their just demands have imposed social slavery. No political party can shrug off responsibility for creating this situation. So it is imperative that Muslim organisations come to the forefront for the advancement of the community and to create awareness about their rights.”
    Is the term social slavery a correct description of muslims condition in India.The govts are spending hundreds of crores for their welfare and in Kerala they get reservation (12%?).
    PFI is twisting facts and is fermenting trobule by such statements. Muslims may be facing some problems but to call that social slavery is just mischief.
    PFI states
    “The Muslims are the victims of the war on terror. The Indian government supports the WOT and makes available the county’s machinery for implementing the plan hatched by the US-Israel axis. It’s in the wake of this alliance that we witness the increase in bomb blasts in the country”

    How true is this. Is the Indian govt. machinery acting as per the plan hatched by US-Israel axis.
    Has PFI provided any evidence to this.
    PFI can spread lies and get away with that but Tehelka should not write anything that is critical of PFI. Thats what Sudeep and Bobby expect.

    1. My problem is mostly refusal of Tehelka to publish either Bobby or EMAbdurahman.If it is sure of the facts it could have called their bluff.

      Saleem KT Dehradun

  23. Dear curious cat,

    You say “PFI can spread lies and get away with that but Tehelka should not write anything that is critical of PFI. Thats what Sudeep and Bobby expect.”

    Boss I am not a follower of PFI, but I have been reading Tehelka for some time. If PFI spreads lies (I really do not know what PFI is, other than what Shashikumar’s article said), it sure affects their credibility. If Tehelka chooses to publish empty articles such as this, it affects their reputation.

  24. Why was Sudeep and Bobby’s response not published in Tehelka in the first place? Perhaps because it was not worthy of publication – you know, it wasn’t making any worthwhile points. But if that was the case why did VK Shashikumar feel the need to respond to them here? Shashikumar’s response, which ‘appreciates’ the efforts of Bobby and Sudeep clearly shows the piece had some merit in it. Tehelka could have published it along with Shashikumar’s clarification. Tehelka did not do so, only can only conclude, because it wanted brush this dissenting piece under the carpet. In which case, is Tehelka really “free, fair and fearless,” as they self-congratulatingly describe themselves?

    Secondly, in Shashikumar’s response, why is Tehelka always in CAPITALS? If TEHELKA is aan abbreviation, can he tell us what it is an abbreviation of?

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