Hafta letters: Communalising the US protests, Covid testing in Telangana, opening places of worship
NL Dhulai

Hafta letters: Communalising the US protests, Covid testing in Telangana, opening places of worship

NL subscribers get back with bouquets and brickbats!

By NL Team

Published on :

Places of worship of all religions are the oldest business enterprises in the world. Places of worship are the biggest and the oldest jobs programmes in the world.

The Karnataka Muzrai (temple administration department) lost about Rs 600 crore in the last two months. Mehraj is probably trying to pitch that upper-caste Hindus controlling temples is why the government wants to open temples. In an alternative universe, Anand Ranganathan is trying to shout what kind of secularism is this, that only temples are under government control.

Back to facts: The Muzrai department pays the salaries of priests, temple caretakers, cleaners, cooks, etc. The indirect jobs created from temples are lodges, taxis, restaurants, shops, etc. The farmers who cultivate flowers are majorly impacted due to the lockdown. With temples closed, marriages and events postponed, the economic pain has impacted each and every one in the economy. I do not have an opinion on this.

However, for a country like ours, where people live from meal to meal, a lockdown of the economy will create a scar deeper than what Covid-19 ever will.

Covid-19 will not impact people's life so much. But the fear of Covid-19 spread by the media will end up destroying the economy. Remember the story of the pizza delivery boy testing positive in Delhi? There was no follow-up story on whether anyone contracted Covid due to delivery. Guess what...this impacted the food delivery business.

We are all dominoes in the economy and the pieces have started falling. When one's turn will come is anybody's guess. I hope the vaccine comes, not in the hope we have immunity, but at least it will stop people from being stupid with respect to Covid. But unfortunately, no vaccine will ever be created for stupidity.

Lastly, just want to mention Mehraj have a nationalist moment in last week's Hafta: "Manisha, I did not see a temple in your house." Why? Because her thoughts or the way she perceives prayer is not good enough? Did Mehraj need evidence? This was like a Sambit Patra moment. Do you love Mother India? Vande Matharam bolo...Maine kabhi tumko bharath mata ki jai bolte hue nahi dekha....

However, Mehraj, please don't take the comment seriously. Though I might not agree with all your views, your worldview of humanity, social justice and equality is something which is solely missing in today's society. We need the moral compass you have to make this world a better place.

Signing off,

Peace.

Asli Batman

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Dear NL team

Statutory warning: This letter has been rewritten thrice, because previous versions sounded too angry.

Mostly, I was irritated by your response to Gaurav Lele's letter, which I read with agreement. While Gaurav can defend himself, let me critique your reply:

Abhinandan: They have more money than us. And then a rant about how awful Anand R was/is.

Mehraj: Not having an ideology is also an ideology (as if this is somehow profound).

What was missing was any acknowledgement that your subscribers expect better from you, and you're not quite living up to our expectations. We don't expect you to spend a ton of money, but we do expect that you spend our money well.

The impression I'm getting is a certain intellectual laziness in your reportage and editorial. Please contrast your Central Vista article with your initial NL Sena projects on communism in Kerala, or the Cauvery Chronicles. Those were stories I was proud to contribute to, because they were well-researched, extensive, and beautifully produced. In the Central Vista project instead, all of your tables are seemingly made by Camscanner. The story itself presents one side, and I see no effort to push back on the opinions expressed by the people interviewed. It is as if an editorial decision was made that this is a Bad Thing, and that was it.

To be honest, I renew my subscription every year, and think I will continue to do so. Because I have drunk the Kool-Aid of your model, for your Delhi riots coverage, and because I believe you do listen to feedback and try to correct. That is why I am disappointed by the finger-pointy response to Gaurav's letter.

Please prove this letter wrong.

Vijay Krishnan

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Hi Hafta team,

I have been a subscriber for a while, a regular Hafta listener, and an occasional contributor to NL.

Mehraj is my favourite and I completely agree with his stance on caste being the biggest underlying issue in India that contributes to all other issues. He always makes so much sense, which is why I was particularly surprised by his fleeting comment on condoms being handed out to migrants returning to Bihar.

As a public health professional who has worked for several years in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights, I can say that men having access to and using condoms is a good thing. First of all, let's do away with the shame and stigma connected to sex. Secondly, let's be honest about two things: (1) There is a good chance that people who have been away from home have had sexual relations with others. (2) There is a good chance that people who have been away from their partners for months are keen on having sex with them once they are back home.

In both scenarios, condoms are essential to ensure safety from sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancies, both of which disproportionately impact women and is also the cause of families not being able to pull themselves out of poverty (here is what Unicef says).

Condoms are one of the few user-directed contraceptives, which means the people using it can decide when and how to use it, empowering them to make decisions about their own sexual preferences and behaviours. Using condoms is always a good thing. And this can only happen if those who can't afford them have free access to condoms.

This is not to take away from the horrendous reality of forced sterilisations in India, especially targeting Muslims. Again, most of those being sterilised are women, which has more side effects than male sterilisation. I am not even getting into the discussion on consent and safety.

On this, Mehraj's comments were misplaced — free condom distribution is not about controlling minority's procreation but empowering them to have safe sex, when they want to.

Also a quick side note on Anand Vardhan's comment on not taking on family. That is not because "that is the kind of person he is". That is just him preserving his male Hindu (I presume upper-caste) privilege. When the system has its knee down on your neck and you can't breathe, you will have to take on the system, as well as your community, family, and friends (and gods). Ask the women who have to fight their families for economic freedom (to address his point about livelihoods). Those who are impacted by an oppressive system don't have a choice but to take on their families. Everything else is privilege.

Do continue the great work NL is doing. All the best.

Remya Sasindran

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Worldwide, all governments are trying to do more testing and tracing to control virus in the hotspot areas. In India, the testing is low from day one. Only some states like Delhi, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan have done some reasonable testing.

But recently, I have seen some information about the Telangana government which is absolutely shocking. They have 3,600 cases around now. And do you know how much they tested? Approximately only 40,000 from March, ie 121 tests per million, which is worst in India. And their TPR (number of positives identified in testing) is 23.66 percent. Even with this absurd low testing rate, Telangana is adding 100-200 cases daily.

And to be fair, the high court has reacted two times and ordered that testing be increased. But the Telangana government said: "We are following ICMR guidelines and we are tracing primary contact cases and only symptomatic cases." Even the high court warned the state health secretary that if they found numbers being hidden, then they will treat it as contempt of court.

With all this mess going around, I have three questions.

1. Question to the BJP and its supporters: You guys will question Maharashtra and Delhi which are doing reasonably good, but why are you guys becoming blind to Telangana? Why is not one of you raising your voice on the low testing in Telangana?

2. Question to the Congress and its supporters: When such a big crisis is going on regarding testing, as the main Opposition in Telangana, don't you have any responsibility to question the government? If you guys sleep throughout this term and fight at election time, that is not going to help you. Question the government when necessary.

3 Question to the media, including Godi Media: You are giving airtime to unnecessary topics, but don't you have time to debate these important topics? Why don't even channels like NDTV debate on important topics? Why do you guys always neglect important South issues?

And for anchors like Arnab Goswami: You guys have special interest in cornering parties other than the BJP. Then why don't you at least counter them on important issues unlike useless topics like "China Congress "? Have you guys lost the ability to discuss important topics?

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Hey Team Hafta!

This comes to you in two parts (If you are in hurry, Part 2 is the main):

Part 1: Quest for a good Hindi daily

I wanted to write to you about Hindi newspapers. I’m from Kanpur so there’s no Indian Express or the Hindu available as physical papers, and my father only reads Hindi, so I took it upon myself to find a good Hindi paper.

We’ve been subscribing to Dainik Jagran since forever and that’s the only paper we get here. Sometimes I pick up Dainik Jagran and it seems to be the Organizer. They are biased with their journalism. When they put up an argument between the BJP andCongress, they don’t even present the arguments of both sides. During the first lockdown, there was an edition which devoted some four different stories on the same day to the RSS and their work during the lockdown. So, I tried to search for a better Hindi daily and I found “Aj” (Aaj) newspaper.

It’s pretty cheap quality in terms of production but the news is on point. They put all the sides and I’ve personally not seen them biased against one party in their news. So if you readers want to support good Hindi journalism, subscribe to Aj newspaper. It’s cheaper but the news is worth the paper it’s printed on. It’s also a way for me to push my BJP-loving father to read less biased newspaper. (We get both Jagan and Aj).

Part 2: Muslims and American protests

While I praised Aj newspaper in my first part, I want to mention how one of their editorials communalised the George Floyd protests in the US. One of the editorials, written by Vishnu Gupta (who seems to be part of some Hindu Sena organisation), pretty much blamed the entire protests and riots happening in the States on Muslim extremism.

You can read that particular editorial here.

It shows you how the Hindu right-wing in India is blaming Muslims for the riots happening in America. And for a lot of Hindi readers, who might never see CNN or American media live, they might stay put with this belief that the riots are being caused by Muslims. I do believe newspapers should be open to voices from the Right to the Left ,but that doesn’t mean they should give a platform to such baseless accusations which are not true.

That’s it from my side. Keep the good work up!

Hardeep Asrani

***

Dear Hafta team, Manisha and Abhinandan,

Firstly thanks for all the great content. When I grow up, I'd like to be like Manisha for the incisive wit she displays when hosting Newsance. You're one of my heroes! And great job being the sidekick, Abhinandan.

I have a suggestion for NL at large. I don't know if there's another fully reader-funded news group that exists in India, but if there aren't very many, this responsibility kinda falls on you. It'll really help if you're able to lay out a map of the news world for us subscribers:

1. The political biases/tilts of various newsrooms and anchors. And probably an explainer on why people like Rahul Kanwal swing so wildly from being liberal favourites to being absolute bigots who have programme titles such as "Madrasa Hotspots".

2. Monkey-balancing by the big boys and girls. For example, I'd have really hoped for you to call out Shekhar Gupta's rather nationalistic stance on India's press freedom and democracy index rankings. It almost felt like he stepped aside all the issues with our system and focused only on our place in the rankings, which is an excellent way to deflect attention. In more recent times he praised the dismantling of labour laws by the Yogi Adityanath government. These are strange views from an otherwise respected editor and I wonder, if NL won't call it out, who will?

3. Funding sources of various media houses and even your own ownership and funding structure as a contrast.

4. Take some time to explain why you don't favour revenue sources like Adwords or YouTube monetisation.

I also think you should experiment with paid events on Zoom. I'd be happy to pay to see events like The Media Rumble online and in fact, the digital medium may make it more accessible for people like me. There are now great platforms like hopin.to that create the feel of a real-life event in a remote setting.

Thanks again for enriching my life with all the insights. I'm a bit insecure about my finances at this point, but I'm pretty certain I'll also contribute to an NL Sena project soon. One way or another, I'll always be a subscriber.

Cheers and all the best,

Sumeet Moghe

***

Dear Hafta team

Covid and our Covid response are having a devastating impact on the poor in India. This has the potential to negatively change the view that many Indians have of our government and perhaps some social institutions. In fact, that seems inevitable, to some degree.

Based on what they say and do not say, I fear that the government and the Godi Media are doing their best to maintain Indian Muslims as a scapegoat for the aftermath. I think they're doing this as a preventive measure, to minimise the number of people who blame them for the devastation, or at least to spread the focus of the anger.

Do you believe this is a rational fear, or am I being neurotic?

If it's a rational fear, how likely is this scapegoating to be successful? And how likely is it to be physical?

I am a relatively new subscriber who lives in Sydney.

I truly appreciate Newslaundry, all you guys are stars, etc. Honourable mention for Manisha Pande whose Newsance episode comparing police actions in the US and India made my blood run cold and kept me sleepless the night I watched it.

Warm regards

Zafar Al-Talib

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Dear Newslaundry crew,

Hello again! I was a subscriber a year ago when I was a grad student. I stopped subscribing when my income dried up, and because I found some of the views moderately objectionable.

I decided to resubscribe thanks to Abhinandan's staunch defense of not having angry right-wing voices on their platform. The bellicose shoutings of people like Iyer-Mitra and the like should be shunned. I don't quite understand why well-to-do Indians love the idea of political neutrality; I hypothesise that it stems from the upper-caste philosophy of maintaining a veneer of neutrality because politics is for the middle castes.

Talking about castes, I appreciate having a panellist who talks about how caste can and should be used to understand modern-day Indian culture. I don't think our education system does justice to the history of caste in India. For example, growing up in a Brahmin household, I knew to dislike Ambedkar before I knew what castes were.

Yours,

Vaibhav Dwivedi

PS: I joined at the highest possible monetary limit because of Abhinandan abusing Iyer-Mitra, it touched my heart. Keep it up.

PPS: I hope you guys do a topic on the Urs of Hazarat Ameer Khusro. Maybe invite a guest over?

***

Email 1

Hello NL team,

I wanted to appreciate Anand's commentary on the troubles faced in migrant camps in the last episode. We all know these incidents are happening every day in India but it is always good to look at these incidents in unison, and Anand always seems to give voice to these incidents.

Email 2

Abhinandan was saying that he would like to ask a police officer about retaliation during an unnecessary escalation by the police. Why don't you invite some retired officer or even someone in active duty and ask the question on Hafta?

Mahendra Verma

Newslaundry
www.newslaundry.com