Slander against Aparajita Raja: read JNU Students’ Union’s open letter

JNUSU’s Open Letter to the chief editor regarding the news item in Mangalam Daily on 20-02-2016 titled ‘Daughter of D. Raja has close relations with IS supporters’ (“ഡി. രാജയുടെമകള്ക്ക് ഐ.എസ് അനുയായികളുമായി ഉറ്റബന്ധം”)

Respected Chief Editor,

A news item published in Mangalam dated 20/02/2016 titled as “ഡി. രാജയുടെമകള്ക്ക് ഐ.എസ് അനുയായികളുമായി ഉറ്റബന്ധം” is highly condemnable as it amounts to defamation and media trial against two JNU students, Aparajitha Raja and Umar Khalid. As the elected body representing JNU Students, JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU) condemns such sensationalist reportage, something that Mangalam is not known for. Such reportage falls in the area of what is known as “yellow journalism”, examples of which we have seen in the coverage of the recent turn of events at JNU by some big media houses. Such sensationalist reportage has not gone unopposed, as you may know. One of the primetime anchors of a Hindi news channel ran a one-hour blank primetime show, in protest against such reportage that renders young lives vulnerable and puts the safety of innocent students in extreme jeopardy. I say “innocent” because every citizen of India must be treated as innocent until proven guilty, not the other way round. The job of newspapers is to report both sides, not to select one and aggressively push it.

You must clarify on what basis the author of the said article reports that “anti-national elements” have infiltrated the JNU campus. Based on what research and fact-finding did the reporter write that Umar Khalid is a ‘’terrorist’’ who has been in touch with various anti-national and illegal organizations? Holding someone guilty by association or criminalising ideas and ideologies, rather than particular acts of crime, goes against the principles of natural justice. Unless crime is proven in a court of law, the JNUSU will not tolerate branding, maligning and framing of any JNU student. It is pertinent to mention that the singling out of Umar Khalid falls into the area of Islamophobic witch-hunt wherein a person is held guilty simply because of their surname! Your newspaper is not the only one following this agenda, but we are writing to you for various reasons. First of all, Mangalam is known to maintain some neutrality while reporting events. Secondly, a large part of your readership belongs to the minority community and if you too allow this Islamophobic frenzy to take over, where would people turn to for accurate reportage? Would it not make insecure the minorities who are already being targeted on the basis of their identity? We have seen cases like Akshardham temple attack where innocent Muslims were held for decades on false charges and then acquitted. Dr. Manisha Sethi’s report, “Framed, Damned and Acquitted” points out how citizens from the minority community have been framed and later acquitted on false terror charges. However, in the intervening period, the media trials lead to their lives and careers being destroyed and their families stigmatised.

We hope that you will avoid such reportage in future.

The second important point that we would like to make is that the unwarranted linking of a young girl from our University, Ms. Aparajitha Raja to terrorist organizations is shocking, shameful and cheap- to say the very least. We wonder if the editorial team has thought through the repercussions of defaming a woman activist in this manner. In our country, the space for women is already shrunken. In the political sphere, women are virtually absent. We want to ask you, what exactly do such news reports contribute in the betterment of the society? Her photo was printed without her consent, her name and parentage publicized throughout the article and her whereabouts discussed, at a time when the witch-hunting of activists in JNU campus has already created an atmosphere of fear. Do you think that this is good journalism? Just because her family is affiliated with the CPI, do you think that a reporter or a newspaper should be allowed to settle political scores through her? Taking cheap potshots and making unfounded allegations at the daughter of a CPI leader in order to malign the party is a below-the-belt attack of a magnitude that has left us astounded. More so, because it came, not from any obscure publication, but from a well-respected, well-circulated media house having a considerable repute.

We are witnessing the activities of some of the media houses together with the state nexus trying to suppress the voices of dissent and protests that are coming from various campuses including JNU. But we expect Mangalam to correct its course and take the necessary actions against those who are responsible for this kind of irresponsible journalistic practice.

Shehla Rashid Shora
Vice President, JNUSU
[email protected]