Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Press self-censorship on Mount Road

The following was posted yesterday as a comment on my blog "Aunts, Uncles and Tibet". Since I find it very important and most people won't find it there, am reproducing it verbatim here. The author of the post is my friend and colleague Rahul Basu, and the letter reproduced at the end is signed by three other friends/colleagues, all of whom I greatly respect for their sanity on political issues.

Well, Sunil, since the Tibet issue has been exercising your mind lately, rest assured some of us in conservative Chennai are with you on this. As much as the Tibet issue, its the attitude of the Mahavishnu of Mount Road (aka The Hindu) towards the Tibet issue that has many of us seeing red (no pun intended).

A perfectly reasonable letter to the Hindu by Ramachandra Guha, Shashi Tharoor, Mukul Kesavan et al. on Tibet

evoked a storm of protest from Jayaraman and numerous others all saying the same thing in almost the same words! It almost sounded as if it was solicited by the Hindu, considering there were almost no letters supporting the Guha letter!

The other interesting fact is that the Reader's Editor of this newspaper seems to be on the side of the angels.

Notice that I have been singled out as one of the disruptive elements (dating from the Nandigram letter) though I suspect his sympathies lie more in our direction.

And finally, today Rajesh Gopakumar, Gautam Menon, Rukmini Dey and I sent off a letter to the Hindu -- but don't hold your breath to see it in print.

I am attaching it below in case someone is dying to read it - and since it has approximately zero probability of appearing in print!

(And here is the good news - we now have the TOI in Chennai so I can catch up on Aishwarya Rai's Karva Chauth and Britney Spears' latest marriage (or lack of it) and not bother with those pesky monks in Lhasa).


The recent exchange of letters on the Hindu's Tibet policy seem to focus on the issue of definitions of Tibet and TAR. Regardless of the merits of this argument, it essentially clouds what is really the main issue behind the protests and demonstrations. And that is China's abysmal human rights record in dealing with dissident activity - a subject the Hindu has seen fit to pass over lightly.

China has over the years, arrested dissidents, spread lies about the Dalai Lama, suppressed cultural and religious freedom for the Tibetans (even today it is illegal in China to possess a picture of the Dalai Lama), to say nothing of not choosing to exert its influence with the Sudanese government to stem the civil war in Darfur. Despite the promises made by China to the International Olympic Committee, freedom of assembly and freedom of expression remain distant dreams for all Chinese. Just recently, the Chinese Government arrested Hu Jia, one of China's most prominent human rights activist and sentenced him to three and a half years in prison for criticising the Communist party in his writings (it would be amusing, if it were not so tragic, to think that a law of this kind in India would involve the imprisonment of the editors and owners of virtually all newspapers, magazines and television news channels, political bloggers, to say nothing of most of the letters writers to these newspapers).

The Dalai Lama has, on more than one occasion, condemned the violence by pro-Tibet demonstrators, has expressed his support for the Olympics in China and for a long time now (since 1987), given up demands of independence for Tibet, in exchange for genuine autonomy and the promise to preserve the cultural and religious ethos of Tibet.

Decades of attempting to snuff out all forms of protest, whether
peaceful or otherwise merely results in a sudden explosion of violence, as has been witnessed recently, accompanied by even harsher crackdown by the Government - witness Tiananmen Square and now the Chinese reaction to Tibetan protests all over the world. A Government with the brutal suppression of Tiananmen Square on its record can scarcely object when protests turn desperately violent. Democratic India's ability to absorb a 'million mutinies now' releases the pressure valve that prevents such activity from spinning out of control.

The Hindu would do well to flesh out different viewpoints in this debate and encourage debate and discussion between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese Government, exactly what it has always advocated between the Indian Government, Kashmiri separatists and Pakistani leaders, rather than take a purely partisan one sided view of the issue by aligning itself unquestioningly on the side of the Chinese Government. Surely it cannot be the Hindu's case that it is alright for the Indian Government to talk to the likes of Syed Ali Shah Geelani but not so for the Chinese Government to talk to His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Yours sincerely

Rahul Basu (Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai)
Gautam Menon (Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai)
Rajesh Gopakumar (Harish-Chandra Research Institute, Allahabad)
Rukmini Dey (Harish Chandra Research Institute, Allahabad)

April 15, 2008 6:15 PM

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