The Bengaluru edition of The Times of India (April 15) carried as the second lead on the front page a remarkable scoop for which it deserves to be congratulated. The story reported former CBI Director RK Raghavan who heads the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed to inquire into the Godhra riots as saying that many incidents were cooked up and false witnesses were tutored to give evidence about imaginary events?altogether a shocking revelation. The SIT report was submitted to the Supreme Court before a bench comprising Justices Arijit Pasayat, P Sathasivam and Aftab Alam. Apparently 22 witnesses who had submitted identical affidavits before various courts relating to riot incidents were questioned by SIT which found that they had been tutored and their affidavits handed over to them by Teesta Setalvad. The ?witnesses? reportedly had not witnessed the riot incidents.
The Times of India further said: ?The SIT also found no truth in the following incidents widely circulated by NGOs: (a) A pregnant Muslim woman, Kausar Banu was gang-raped by a mob, who then with sharp weapons gouged out the foetus (b) dumping of bodies into a well at Narodya Patiya and ( C) police botching up investigation into the killings of British nationals who were on a visit to Gujarat and unfortunately got caught in the riots.?
Understandably, the NGO, Citizens for Justice and Peace, reacted to The Times of India report by questioning its authenticity in a sharp letter published the next day. The CJP maintained that the SIT report has never been made public and The Times of India was indulging in ?irresponsible reportage?. To that the paper'scorrespondent Dhananjay Mahapatra responded by saying that ?The TOI has access to the report? and to prove it he gave several quotations from it. RK Raghavan is no amateur. He is a former CBI Director and can be expected to be objective. He even maintained that the charge made against Gujarat police chief PC Pandey that he was helping the mob that was attacking the Gujarat Society buildings was false. At that point in time Pandey was apparently helping hospitalisation of riot victims and making arrangements for bandobust. Teesta Setalvad is well-known for her views on communal matters. It is shocking to be told that she added ?morbidity to the ghastly incidents of post-Godhra riots by cooking up macabre tales of wanton killings?.
What sort of punishment can the law mete out to her if the SIT found no truth in the widely propagated story about a pregnant Muslim woman being gang-raped and her womb gouged, would it be fair to let Teesta Setalvad go free? Does one realise what kind of damage she has done to Hindu-Muslim relations, let alone the Government of Gujarat? Considering that the SIT report has already been leaked it is only fair that the public demands its release so that its findings become known in their entirety. The credibility of many NGOs is at stake.
Any individual or non-government organisation indulging in spreading lies must be brought to book and severely punished. But the larger question remains: How come that the media did not make its own inquiries when it heard that a pregnant Muslim woman was gang-raped or that senior police officer was himself encouraging a riotous mob? Was hatred of Narendra Modi so strong that lies passed on by an NGO were taken to be truth? What have we come to? There is that question of a pregnant Muslim woman'swomb being gouged after she was supposedly raped by a mob. The SIT report says the story has no truth. But a documentary showing the scene has been in circulation for some time and nobody has challenged it. Two questions arise: one is of journalistic ethics. What short of ethics did the cameraman display in watching a crime being committed without coming to the rescue of the woman? The crime was not an ordinary one. A woman'sstomach was being gouged. Shouldn'tthe cameraman on the scene have dropped his camera and thrashed the rapists? In the second place, if the story is incorrect, shouldn'tthose who have been shoring the documentary be charged with faking and punished for indulging in a false propaganda? Either the NGOs are right or SIT is. And the media which first published unfounded stories must do some introspection. Any information passed on by NGOs needs to be double-checked before it is published. In fact, clear rules must be laid down on how to cover communal riots.
Some TV channels have shown grave irresponsibility in the past, especially in covering the Godhra riots. Incidentally, Dionne Bunsha of Frontline magazine recently bagged two of several awards presented by the Ramnath Goenka Foundation for Excellence in Journalism. Of the two awards one was for her non-fiction book on the Gujarat riots. No matter how objective one is, there is always the possibility of a reporter being taken for a ride or his own predilections getting the better of him. The Indian Express investigations editor Ritu Sarin was given the Journalist of the Year Award in the print media in 2006-2007. Sarin got her award for a story on how forged official signatures were used for purchase of sensitive security equipment like satellites phones and for a series of poignant stories on India's missing children against the background of the Nithari tragedy.
Journalism is not politics-centric, as many tend to believe. Journalism, if any thing, is life-centered reporting on the varied and fascinating twists an turns in our daily existence. Among the awardees was Reiji Joseph, bureau chief of Deepika, Kottayam, who detailed the ostracism and inhuman exploitation of the Chagliyar community of Govindapuram village in Palakkad, Kerala. Whoever had heard of such a community? Did it matter how they were exploited? Yes, it does. And that is what journalism is all about. Ramnath Goenka should be very pleased that a foundation has been set in his name to reward journalists who have made it their concern to establish justice in the land. In his time, he was a person to reckon with. Politicians tried to cultivate him but he kept them in their place. Like his contemporary, S Sadanand, he was ever a fighter and to the end he remained one. His successors are keeping up the rich tradition that he established, for which, praise be. One looks forward to read the book Express has released aptly titled: The Prize Stories: Best in the Indian News Business 2006-2007. How much one wishes other leading newspapers would follow the rich example set by The Indian Express to honour its founder.