The Ghulam Nabi Fai controversy died an early death in the print media, leaving a crucial question unanswered – should journalists accept the hospitality of obviously partisan groups?
It would have been difficult to guess that the Kashmir American Council (KAC) headed by the Kashmir-born Fai was funded by the ISI. What was not difficult to realise however, was the KAC’s stand on Kashmir. Constantly harping on India’s atrocities in Kashmir is perfectly alright. But when in mail after mail (this columnist is on the KAC’s mailing list) deploring the human rights situation in Kashmir, there is not a mention of the Kashmiri Pandits’ exodus, you know this Council is not secular.
Non-secular, and clearly aligned towards Pakistan. That comes out clearly through the list of speakers at the KAC’s annual meets. From India, were well-known secularists, whose stand on Kashmir had always been clear, Kashmiri Hindus such as Ved Bhasin and Jitendra Bakshi, both critical of the Indian state, and separatists such as Mirwaiz Farooq and Yasin Malik. From Pakistan, too, one would have expected a similar panel of secularists, human rights activists and political workers outside the mainstream.
On the contrary. The Pakistanis were all mainstream politicians and establishment figures, including the Pakistani Ambassador to the US and the Prime Minister of PoK. Incidentally, KAC referred to PoK as Azad Kashmir, the term used for it by Pakistan. Perhaps the only well-known non-Establishment Pakistani figure was Maleeha Lodhi. Though she was for six years Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US under two different Presidents, she continues to be famous as a journalist. Sherry Rehman, well-known journalist, feminist and a supporter of minority rights, was also listed as a guest speaker, but at that time she was a Member of the National Assembly.
On Kashmir, as Sajjad Lone said in one of Arnab Goswami’s McCarthy-ish debates on Times Now, there are three viewpoints – Indian, Pakistani and Kashmiri (though again, there is not just one Kashmiri viewpoint). If an organisation dedicated to fighting for the rights of Kashmiris chooses to invite Indian speakers who are all opposed to the official Indian stand on Kashmir and supportive of Kashmiris’ rights, and for the same meet invites Pakistani speakers who represent the official Pakistani stand, isn’t it obvious that the organisation supports the latter? How honest is the organisation’s stated commitment to the Kashmiri right of self-determination?
The second question is that of accepting hospitality. Journalists are often invited to speak by various organisations which have a known agenda. Most accept, if they agree with that agenda. Sometimes, such meets involve arranging for the journalist’s transport to the venue, plus a lunch. In KAC’s case, the invitation involved an all-expenses paid trip to the US. Any journalist would think twice before accepting such an invitation. Where are the funds coming from is the first question we ask. Even if they come from donors, as KAC has maintained, isn’t it obvious that the donors must be endorsing the Pakistani stand on Kashmir?
This isn’t a question of patriotism or regarding Pakistan as our enemy. Any journalist invited to speak at an international seminar wouldn’t be so immature as to equate a country with its government alone, or think that the official voice is the only voice of a country. But if you are committed to seeing a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute, and to seeing that Kashmiris enjoy the freedoms we do, surely you know that the Pakistani state has much to answer for in Kashmir. It has exported terrorists who’ve made life hell there for ordinary Kashmiris, and who’ve tried to destroy the Islam indigenous to Kashmir, which lived peacefully with the Hinduism practised by a minority of its residents. Any Indian intellectual who opposes the Indian occupation of Kashmir knows that Pakistan has as little right over Kashmir as we do, and that human rights forKashmiris does not mean a Pakistani takeover. It’s also clear that the Kashmiri Pandits’ right to return to their homeland, difficult enough to achieve under Indian rule, will become impossible under an Islamic government. Surely no just solution can be found to the Kashmir problem without factoring in the Pandits’ return?
A journalist could attend and speak his/her mind at such a conference. But to accept an all expenses paid trip to the US from a host who’s obviously on the Pakistani side of the Kashmir issue? Would these journalists have done that had the conference been hosted by an organisation supportive of the Indian State’s stand on Kashmir?
Would these journalists have been invited to such a meet?
So why were they invited by KAC, which obviously wants Kashmir to be taken over by Pakistan, rather than exercise the right to exist independent of both India and Pakistan? Why were intellectuals who have always opposed the Indian State’s brutalities in Kashmir, and who would like Kashmiris to exercise their choice (even if the majority do vote to become part of Pakistan), invited by a Kashmiri who supports Pakistan? The answer is obvious – the participation of such names lends credibility to an obviously partisan body.
Many of us who write against the State’s treatment of minorities are invited to meetings hosted by minority organisations. We generally accept. But would we accept such invitations form Hindu organisations? The answer is not that we wouldn’t ever be called by such organisations. Shouldn’t there be some yardstick by which we decide whether or not to speak from platforms provided by people who know you are on their side? Is it okay for journalists to totally align themselves with one side? What if that organisation does not believe in coexistence with other faiths? Surely we should check out the agenda of such organisations? The same goes for conferences hosted by secularists which condemn Hindutva roundly, have no place for any criticism of either minority communalism or terrorist acts committed by Muslims.
These are tricky questions. There are times when a certain minority is at the receiving end of the State – for eg, Sikhs in the 80s; Muslims in the late 80s, 90s, in fact right up to 2004, when the NDA was voted out; Christians in the late 90s and as long as the NDA was in power. In 2008, Christians in two states (Orissa and Karnataka), and Kashmiris in the Valley were under siege when the Amarnath Yatra agitators in Jammu imposed an economic blockade on them, and the police cracked down on protests against this blockade. (Not a great score card for Indian secularism over the last three decades!)
During the 80s, the Congress government as well as Hindutva organisations, orchestrated an anti-Sikh mood in the country. The NDA, in all its years in power from 1999 to 2004, made it clear that Muslims and Christians were second class citizens. In such situations, accepting invitations for meetings organised by Sikhs, Muslims or Christians becomes imperative to show that not everyone shares the communal attitude of the government, to prevent a total alienation of the community and to convey its voice through the press.
However, should journalists have accepted invitations from organisations that even covertly, supported Khalistan? Or, an organisation such as SIMI, which regarded non-Muslims as idol-worshippers with whom Muslims couldn’t live in peace? (This columnist pleads guilty of having done so, at her own expense, to speak on `Beauty Contests and Women', much before SIMI turned towards jehad. Nevertheless, this was a wrong decision, for it was obvious even then that SIMI was a communal organisation.) We barely hesitate before deciding to accept an invitation from a Christian body, for many of us have been educated in Church-run institutions, and are totally comfortable with nuns and priests. But, would we speak in front of a missionary group which runs down other religions? Would we take the trouble to find out that it does?
These difficult questions go to the heart of our credibility as journalists, in the same way as accepting Ghulam Nabi Fai’s hospitality does.