Disinformation and Journalistic Ethics: A Letter from Harsh Mander

We are publishing below a communication received from Harsh Mander, a former member of the National Advisory Council, regarding misrepresentation of his position and his politics by no less a person than the editor-in-chief of the Indian Express. The misrepresentation could easily have been corrected, had the mistake been really a mistake but by not publishing the letter or even an editorial correction, newspaper and the editor seem to be acknowledging that the error was in fact, intended. In the language of the Cold War, acts such as these were called ‘disinformation’. 
Response to Mr Shekhar Gupta’s article ‘The Bleeding Heartless’ in the Indian Express, June 1 2013

In response to an article by Mr Shekhar Gupta ‘The Bleeding Heartless’ in the Indian Express, June 1 2013, I sent the letter reproduced below on 3 June 2013, which has not yet been carried by Indian Express. I try not to respond polemically to articles which disagree with my views on public policy or other issues, as these differences are perfectly legitimate in a democracy. And who is to be sure that I am right, and my critics are wrong? But this was different, because it utterly falsely described my ideological position on Maoism as sympathetic, whereas I have always been passionately and publicly opposed to all forms of violence, including Maoist violence. Moreover it linked this to my membership in the NAC, and through that by implication to the many pro-poor agendas I sought to bring into and support within the NAC in the two years that I was a member. Finally Indian Express did not check with me the full facts reported in the opinion piece. I therefore felt I should respond formally to the report. But since this response has not been carried, and on the other hand it is being publicly referred to by others as well, I felt it would be best to place this reply in the public domain. – Harsh Mander


Dear Shekhar,


This relates to your article ‘The Bleeding Heartless’ in the Indian Express, June 1 2013.

In the article, you have mentioned that Padma, the wife of a leading Maoist Ramakrishna, managed an orphanage run by the NGO Aman Vedika with which I am associated. The facts of the matter are as follows. In several cities, my colleagues and I are helping run 45 residential homes for the education and care of around 4000 homeless street girls and boys. There are about 20 such homes for street boys and girls in Hyderabad. For running these homes, as house mothers and home managers, it is our policy to give preference to single women, women survivors of domestic violence, and homeless and destitute women, so that the children’s home also provides them a place of safety and healing. Under the name of Sirisha, a woman came to my colleagues in Hyderabad in the year 2008 saying she was estranged from her husband and only son and was in severe depression , and that she be given the chance to live among the children so that it would help her to heal. She requested initially for the chance to live in the home and volunteer her services. In time, when a position in the same home fell vacant, she was appointed as one of the home managers, because she performed her duties of child care well. No one had the faintest idea about her true identity. After more than 2 years with us, she applied for 10 days’ long leave for the first time. A few days later, we heard from the newspapers that she was Padma, second wife of a Maoist leader, and she was arrested by the police in Odisha.

On the larger question of ‘Maoist sympathies’, I have absolutely none. I have consistently written and spoken about my unambiguous and resolute opposition to all forms of violence, including Maoist violence. I have strongly and consistently disagreed with those, among them my liberal friends, who in any way romanticise or even indirectly rationalise their resort to violence, and those who suggest that their violence is justified because of the structural violence of poverty, exploitation and state violence. I feel that there is no such thing as altruistic violence. Violence, even when deployed in the name of the oppressed, ultimately brutalises all, and the oppressed suffer the most. The only legitimate instruments to fight injustice, in my opinion, are non-violence and democracy.

I would be happy to contribute a longer article to your esteemed newspaper to clarify the facts and my position on Maoist violence. Alternately, I would be grateful if you would kindly at least publish my clarification.

With warm regards,

Harsh Mander

Aman Biradari and Centre for Equity Studies,

15 thoughts on “Disinformation and Journalistic Ethics: A Letter from Harsh Mander”

  1. There is a deliberate attempt to stifle the liberal voice in India and foist a fascist one. I am sad the Indian Express is doing it because it stood aginst the might of Indira Gandhi during the Emergency. But so many in the media are doing this now. It has become a trend ! We need a new media regulator.


  2. It is refreshing to see kafila taking on the tyranny of a unethical media. Concerned citizens need to voice their disgust against this sort of unprofessional behaviour. Sometimes I wonder how many in our media are in the payrolls of APCO Worldwide in the furtherance of their client’s interests.


  3. linking Harsh Mander to Maoism is nothing but a deceit by all standards, those of us who know him and his activities for over two decades feel morally duty-bound to contradict this claim
    he has worked among the poor and downtrodden and strive to ensure livelihood options and dignity for the same without ever being partisan

    but such fabricated stories are nothing new to him as i remember one such incident when Harsh Mander tried to introduce paddle rickshaw in place of hand pulled carts in Mussoorie, he was labeled as a man who preaches Gandhian ideals but practices capital intensive techniques

    needless to say, labeling people as Maoist was not in fashion those days

    carry on Harsh Mander!


  4. Although I support Harsh Mandar in general, it is difficult to understand his almost violent essentialization about violence . We have the example of Fidel Castros led insurrection in Cuba where although there was an armed struggle, it cannot be classified as violence qua violence if by the term “violence” we mean the violation of human dignity …i.e..if by violence we are to understand it to mean rape, pillage, torture of prisoners etc.


  5. Narendra Modi is attacking the democratic elements of Indian society relying on dis-information supplied by the Indian Express. In such a scenario it is logical that Harsh Mander’s communication to the editor needs to be published urgently


  6. I don’t know Harsh Mandar to pass judgement on him. But he has a right to reply. This is the wonderful thing about freedom of speech. Now that his reply is also on the record, neither party can claim to be defamed or unjustly treated.

    But Mr Mandar asserting on the back of this that non-violence is the “only weapon” is short-changing the likes of Bhagat Singh, Subhash Bose (with whatever failings) and countless others. In fact the lakhs of Sepoys whose stunning performance in WW-II perhaps awed the British. What else would persuade the British to gradually cede control of India to suitably groomed Brown Sahebs ? How long would Mahatma Gandhi’s slow-boil non-violent posturing have to be maintained, until it precipitated a transition ? Until infinity, I guess. So what percentage of India’s freedom was earned through real non-violence ? Official propaganda is very one sided in praising only the high priests and giving Gandhi the bulk of the credit. It does disservice to those who did the grunt work, got their hands dirty, The rest was done by the British themselves, taking stock of the situation and doing a cost/benefit analysis and finding it too costly to hang on to status quo. If non-violence or saintly inaction did it, I say — my foot!


  7. I endorse Harsh`s views………reply should have been immediate………Non Violence is the only answer to every injustice or any sort of violent act …………………….


  8. Harsh Mander may now be pleased that his letter to the editor of IE has been published but his timid reaction without qualifications to the charges of Maoism and violence raised against him cannot be defended. .
    The basic issues behind the Maoist movement in India and the government failure to address them for long have been brought out admirably in the Planing Commission report on “Development Challenges in Extremist Affected Areas” (2006) written by 18 subject matter specialists. While the GOI has not mentioned this report in its statements on Maoist violence, it has not hesitated to repeatedly echo the IB observation that Maoism represents the greatest internal security threat to India! Even if Harsh does not subscribe to the Maoist ideology or its commitment to violence, it speaks poorly of him as a NGO person that he fails to refer to the valid developmetal issues raised by the Maoists!
    Dr. KS Subramanian IPS Retd. .


  9. I fully support the views of Harsh. It is deplorable that the Indian Express chose to delay publishing of the letter clarifying the factual position. Journalists are now nothing more then buisnessmen who care for their interest regardless of peoples suffering.The mainstream media is worst then the politicians who atleast are answerable to people at large after five years.


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