Monday, April 8, 2013

Textbook case of media pressure

This article appeared in The Hoot and can be read from here.

The flip-flops of Pakistan’s Punjab government on the revision of the Urdu textbook of class 10 brought contrary reactions from the Pakistan media: the Janggroup opposed the removal of ‘Islamic subjects’, the Dawn and the Express groups gently disapproved the restoration of old pro-Islamic chapters while The Nation traced the root of this controversy to business rivalry between two publishers.

In February this year, after the Punjab Textbook Board revised the textbook, Ansar Abbasi, the conservative investigative journalist of The News, which boasts of the largest circulation in Pakistan, gave a matter-of-fact looking, but patently inflammatory chapter-by-chapter account of what was dropped and what was added on March 24. Abbasi’s column in Urdu in the group publication Jang was more aggressive and Geo TV, a group site, reproduced it verbatim. Check out how Abbasi lists the items dropped and added:
  • The second chapter in the old edition on ideology of Pakistan endorsed that the country was created in the name of Islam, to make it an Islamic state. This has been replaced.
  • A short story ‘Fatima binte (daughter of) Abdullah’ has also disappeared. The story is about a young Muslim girl’s urge to help the Muslim mujahideen in jihad against un-Islamic forces. The girl was martyred.
  • A chapter ‘Nam Dev Mali’ was, instead, included. The writer of this short story described the death of the expert Hindu gardener as ‘having embraced Shahadat (martyrdom)’.
  • ‘Travelling is the key to success’ has also been removed. It covered adventures, jihad…
  • Poetry of an Indian poet Firaq Gorakhpuri has been included in the textbook and the poet is presented as a hero awarded by the Indian and Russian governments.
The Jang  onslaught was enough to panic the Punjab government.  Shabaz Shariff, the then Chief Minister of Punjab who Dawn credits as a proponent of the reformist changes in the textbook, agreed to restore the deleted chapters the very next day!

What was the response of the liberal media?

Dawn condemned the ‘craven electioneering politics’ behind the knee-jerk reaction of the government. Accepting the fact that ‘dominant religion and a jihadist ideology’ have seeped into the textbooks, it charged the ‘political elite’ as lacking the courage and commitment to go against right-wing sentiment. Pervez Hoodboy, the liberal nuclear physicist and columnist, castigated Abbasi in his column in The Express Tribune for stoking religious passions with his ‘Islam in danger’ argument. He read the impugned textbook and found Abbasi’s claims ‘a distortion of reality and wild exaggerations’. He also made another valid point: the book was meant for teaching Urdu; it should not be a supplementary text for teaching Islamic studies.

The Nation brought an altogether different perspective. It rubbished the allegation of ‘removal of Islamic chapters’ and pointed out that the contract, running into millions of rupees for publishing the textbooks, was given to a particular business house by the Punjab Textbook Board; the party that lost the contract chose to ‘cast any and every aspersion, with no sincere grievance behind the move except for financial benefit.’

Read further from The Hoot.....

Monday, April 1, 2013

Don't subvert the legal system

This article appeared in The Hoot and can be read here.

When you read that Bollywood celebrities have extended moral support to Sanjay Dutt in his hour of despair, you understand their camaraderie, dismiss it, if you are cynical as another celebrity endorsement and move on to the next headline.

When Markandey Katju appeals to the Governor of Maharashtra to exercise a power which he does not possess, you wonder: ‘If Katju had to write to someone who does not have the power to pardon, why did he choose Governor? Why not to the jail superintendent of Arthur Road or Pune prison that when Sanjay Dutt surrenders in the next four weeks as per the Supreme Court order, he should not lock him up?

When you learn the absurd reasons Katju advances for seeking pardon for Dutt, you realize that perhaps when he was busy mastering mathematics so that he could rap the Allahabad lecturer, he had forgotten law.

When Manish Tiwari and Ashwani Kumar support Katju’s appeal to Governor to grant pardon to Dutt, it is apparent that their political compulsions have blunted their legal intellect.

In other words you tend to dismiss the clamor of the aforesaid persons to secure clemency for Sanjay Dutt as biased or inconsequential.

But when news channels use this chorus for mercy to Dutt to seek similar benefit for another convict in the Bombay blast case or an eminent lawyer cherry picks a paragraph in the Supreme Court judgement convicting Sanjay Dutt and advances a myopic legal argument for the release of Sanjay Dutt, you realize that a dangerous precedent is being created furtively to disregard the judgement of the highest court of the country.

Read further from The Hoot....