Media and Mass Crimes, A Roundtable on Jan 5 at Nirmala Niketan

Media and Mass Crimes : Censorship, truth-telling and the pursuit of justice

Reminiscences and insights from journalists who covered the riots and their aftermath.

Organized by the ‘Bombay ki kahani, Mumbai ki Zubani’ campaign

Date    : Jan 5, 2013. 

Venue : Nirmala Niketan, Churchgate 

Time   : 2.00p.m. to 5.00 p.m.

An exhibition of photographs from news-photographers will also be displayed at the venue 

Twenty years have passed since the demolition of Babri Masjid and the riots that raged in several parts of India. The violence unleashed in Mumbai in 1992-93, abetted by an indifferent and inept political administration, forever altered this city.

Through the years, the transition of Bombay to Mumbai has seen different changes – the complete dismantling of textile mills and factories, making way for malls and entertainment hubs, software parks and sweatshops for engineering, garments, pharmaceuticals packaging and a host of other goods.  It has also seen increasing ghettoisation and the displacement of large communities of people.

How was this violence recorded? Who or which agencies chronicled this change? Were they able to accurately record and report on the forces that were responsible or the victims-turned-survivors of the brutal changes in their lives?

There are many stories, many narratives in this 20-year saga and the month-long ‘Bombay ki kahani, Mumbai ki zubani’ campaign has sought to focus on some of them.

One such focus is on the media coverage of the immediate violence in 1992-93 and the recollections of media persons who covered the riots and its aftermath. While some in the media, predominantly managed to file their reports and provide valuable eye-witness documentation, others experienced some form of censorship or even practiced self-censorship. Still others stayed the course, going beyond their news reports by giving evidence in commissions of inquiry and pursuing the course of justice for the survivors of violence.

In what was then a predominantly print medium, with state ownership of television, the role of photographers in providing visual evidence of the violence cannot be underestimated. Their pictures and their visual voice provide a unique narrative.

In a special roundtable programme‘Media and Mass Crimes : Censorship, truth-telling and the pursuit of justice, we shall see and hear some of these voices, from journalists who were witness to the events of the time.

Session I : Eyewitness : Journalists’ recall…’

Speakers: Yuvraj Mohite, Prabhat Sharan, Mukesh Parpiani

Naresh Fernandes, Meena Menon,  Sudharak Olwe, Teesta Setalvad

Session II : Truth-telling and the pursuit of justice

Speakers : Jyoti Punwani, Meena Menon, Yuvraj Mohite, Javed Anand, Meena Menon, Teesta Setalvad

NSPA Performances at Railway Stations

NSPA artists, Dhammrakshit Randive and Neeraj Arya will be performing

at Borivli and Bandra stations

on the following days as part of the campaign.

Date                             Time                      Station               Performer

Wed, Dec 26             9-10 am                    Borivali               Neeraj Arya

Wed, Dec 26             5:30-6:30 pm         Borivali               Neeraj Arya

Sat, Dec 29                9-10 am                    Bandra                 Dhammrakshit Randive

Wed, Jan 2              10-11 am                    Borivali                Neeraj Arya

Wed, Jan 2              6:30-7:30 pm          Borivali                Dhammrakshit Randive

Sat, Jan 5                6:30-7:30 pm           Bandra                 Neeraj Arya

Sat, Jan 12               5-6 pm                        Bandra                 Dhammrakshit Randive

Bandra Station- Mini-Heritage Hall parallel to Platform No. 1 on the West Side. Beside the Rickshaw Stand on the west side.

Borivali Station- In front of unused Subway at the Main Entrance of Borivali Station on Platform No. 1, diagonal to the Ticket Counters on the West Side

Aman ke Naam: A Music Program by Shubha Mudgal

Please mark your calendars for this music program that will mark the end of this month of the

Bombay ki Kahani Mumbai ki Zubani campaign.

Aman ke naam

by

Shubha Mudgal (vocal)

accompanied by

Aneesh Pradhan (tabla)
Niranjan Lele (harmonium)

13th January 2013
6:30 to 8:30 pm

St Xavier’s College Auditorium

Free and open to the public

20th December: Meeting with Women at Aawaaz-e-Niswaan and Leafleting at Kurla Station

The meeting started with the screening of Mera Ghar Behrampada. Around 35 people were present for the film screening, majority of them were young girls but there were around 4 middle aged and elderly women and there were 2 young women who had come with their young sons.

After the film, our discussion began with Shireen sharing what she has heard about the Bombay riots. She told us that she knows that riots had happened between Hindus and Muslims “Jab Babri Masjid Shaheed Huwi”. Taking off from what Shireen said, Swatija   who was present for the meeting spoke about the present context, about how communalism is very much present today as well and the strong hold that religion has on people.

After that, another participant recounted her experiences of the riots, how houses were looted, burnt, how people were killed and how so many families were forced to move from their original residences.

Swatija pointed how what happened in Bombay in 1992-1993 was a dent in the mixed and diverse fabric of Bombay, it consumed all of Bombay and although there might not be physical acts of violence between the two communities, the relationship between the two has been affected. She spoke about how Muslims had to move to areas that were not infrastructural well equipped; she gave an example form the movie where a Muslim says how the only job they had in the evening was that of swatting mosquitoes.

The discussion then went to the role of the police during and after the riots and how no action has been taken against the police that was complicit in the riots and this is a major setback.  Swatija said that we need to change this story of Bombay.  Participants said that she didn’t want her children to suffer the same oppression that she suffered.

Swatija brought back the question of the relevance today of what happened 20 years ago and Ruksar spoke about her and her family weren’t directly affected but her area was affected and how there are effects even today. For instance, any fight that occurs today is given a communal, Hindu versus Muslim twist. She also spoke about the Marathi identity and how that is also used to perpetrate hatred against Muslims.

At this point, Rehana said that even Hindus were affected in the riots. The discussion again came back to how Muslims aren’t helped by the police and are instead targeted by them.

Swatija spoke about how rape was also used in the riots of 1992-1993 and how it is very important for all of us to come together and raise our voice against this violence. She spoke about the loss of trust that we see today and how it is important to remember what happened 20 years ago so that we can stand up to it today.

After this we walked to Kurla Station and stood there with the banner and distributed leaflets about the campaign and spoke to the commuters.

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19th Dec: Session in Ambedkar College

As part of the campaign, we had a session with the NSS students of Ambedkar College on 19 December. Lalitha Dhara who is VIce Principal of the college and part of the campaign facilitated the session. Chaya Datar, Meena Gopal, Shakil Ahmed and Nandini Manjrekar participated in the interactions.

The room where the session was held and the corridor were festooned by the BKKMKZ quilts, which caught the attention of the students, some of whom had also made a few. Around 80 students came for the session, of which, as we discovered later in our interactions, only two were born before 1992! Meena introduced the theme of the Why Remember campaign, and talked about the events that have been taking place in the city.  Two films made by the School of Media and Culture Studies, TISS, were shown– Farukh vs the State and Badalte Nakshe. We decided on the first as the college is in the vicinity of Hari Masjid and the second since it brings out the context of ghettoisation post-1992-93.

We had a short but interesting discussion after the films. Chaya and Nandini spoke about why the campaign is important to reclaim the city and how the films bring out how older social ties have been lost  and survivors have had to wage long battles for justice. Shakil spoke about how right wing media like Saamna persists in constructing the bad Muslim, citing a report that had appeared that very day in the paper. We asked the students how they felt about these issues. Some students shared their feelings — largely focussing on why its important for all of us to shun discrimination on religious grounds and live in peace and unity. One girl described her sense of shock when she encountered someone who was thirsty but had refused water from some Muslim students although they had offered it to him.

We found that the film Badalte Nakshe was effective in bringing out issues related to ghettoisation in the city, while the film Farukh vs the State perhaps needed more background information to be shared (about the riots and the Srikrishna Commission )prior to the screening.  Piyush Garud, one of the student filmmakers from TISS came in late but was able to share with great feeling and reflection what the making of a film on Mumbra (Aakhri Panah) meant to him, growing up in Kalyan and seeing how Mumbra was stigmatised as ‘Chota Pakistan’ and a den of terrorists. His talk in Marathi clearly caught the attention of the students, and the session may have been more effective if the students had had more time to interact with him.

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“If we forget what happened, we will not get justice.”

Akhtar Wagle’s quest for justice – and what this journalist learnt from her…

Geeta Seshu

“ Life is all memory, except for the present moment that goes by you so quick you hardly catch it going. ”

—    Tennessee Williams

 

Often, in the course of our work as journalists, as we record endless narratives of people who have suffered unimaginable violence and still persevere in their struggle for justice, we ask ourselves: “what are we doing? Is it fair to poke and prod the memories of those who suffered? Should we be reminding them of their plight and asking them all these ‘how did this happen’ questions? Is it fair to raise their hopes when all we can offer in return is an article in a newspaper or magazine?

Thanks to Akhtari Wagle, I got some answer to these uncomfortable questions a few years ago. Women’s Feature Service (WFS), the well-known syndicate of features of women, commissioned me to work on a special series of women in conflict. The features were to record the voices of women who suffered violence in conflict situations and survived to struggle for justice. I was told of Akhtari Wagle who lost her 17-year-old son in the second phase of the Bombay riots of 92-93.

Today, of course, the story of the death of Shahnawaz Wagle is very well documented. No less an august body than the Justice Srikrishna Commission appointed by the Maharashtra government to investigate the riots, has maintained that what happened to Shahnawaz was nothing less than ‘cold blooded murder’ ((para 5.58 of the Srikrishna Commission report).

As Akhtari Wagle put it, “The police came from house to house and pulled out all the men – young and old. They pulled him from my hands and took him down. Before anyone could say anything, they shot him. My daughter (Yasmin) saw them from a crack in the window. She ran downstairs to him but they hit her with rifle butts and drove her back upstairs.”

The family watched as the police put the youth’s body on to a vehicle and took it to J.J. Hospital. Tahir Wagle (her husband), to his eternal regret, had remained in Ratnagiri where the family had gone to visit a ‘dargah’ at Vishalgadh. His wife, son and daughter chose to return to the city, despite reports of the breakout of violence. He returned to Mumbai four days later and only then could the family claim the body of the youth. “I’m told he survived for a day in hospital but no one could go to him. The city was under curfew and the women of my family could not stir out. They did not even tell me that he had been shot, they just told me to come back,” he says.

The Wagles take pains to reiterate that their son did not die at the hands of Hindu groups or even their Hindu neighbours who lived in the adjoining Rustom Daruwala chawl. According to their painful reconstruction of the events, the police had acted on an anonymous complaint that bottles had been thrown by someone from Pathan chawl.

“My son and his cousin, Arif, were daring and helpful boys. They braved the violence to get milk, bread and food for the women stuck at home. I guess this was why they were targeted,” he feels. While police even dragged an 85-year-old blind man out, Arif managed to escape as he hid under a bed and women sat on the mattress, nearly suffocating him in the process.

Akhtari gave courage to Yasmin to give her 12th Std board exams : “I told her: ‘your life is before you. You must study further. He won’t return but you have to make your life’.” Later, she stood with Yasmin to depose before the Srikrishna Commission. As she recalls, “We went for every hearing of the Commission. Yasmin was at first very frightened but I told her that whether she was afraid or not, she must go and give evidence. We went before the Commission with great hope,” Akhtari said, adding, “”I know that my son will not return but I want punishment for the culprits. I want justice from the government. ”

Just a few days before the 20th anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition, Akhtari Wagle filed a writ petition before the Mumbai High Court demanding action against the police officers – Then D.C.P., K.L. Bishno, then A.C.P. Jadhav, Byculla, Mumbai,         then Sr. P.I. Ulhas Patankar, Byculla, then B. B. Patil, P.I., Byculla P.S., Mumbai then P.I. Vaivle, Byculla P.S., Mumbai, P.I. BhamLe,  Byculla P.S., Mumbai, then P.S.I. Phartade, Byculla P.S., Mumbai, then P.S.I. Ram Desai, Byculla P.S.

So where’s the lesson for me and for all the journalists who chronicle the grief of survivors of violence, you may ask?  Well, like so many other journalists before me and after me, I went to meet Akhtari Wagle and Tahir Wagle in their residence in Pathan Chawl, the same house they lived in from where their son was so senselessly dragged out and shot. I sat with the couple and they patiently remembered every detail and showed me photographs of their son and their young daughter, Arifa, who had died young in a tragic drowning accident.

Arif’s wife was cooking when I went to interview Akhtari Wagle.  Towards the end, she couldn’t contain herself and burst out, “ Why do you people keep coming here to ask her to speak? Why do you want her to remember and tell you all these painful details? How will this help?”

How indeed? But before I could struggle to pacify the young woman and try to answer, Akhtari answered,” Let her ask. Let me tell her what happened. Only if we keep speaking about Shanawaz, can we hope to get some justice. If we forget what happened, we will not get justice.”

So quietly and so gently, with no anger or vehemence, she helped give me a rationale for the work I, and my journalist colleagues, need to do, over and over again.

akhtar wagle 2 ahktar wagle by window akhtar hasan wagle and Tahir wagle akhtar wagle

20th and 21st December College Program

Sophia College and the Bombay ki Kahani Mumbai ki Zubani

are organising a programme  on 20th-21st Dec 8.45 am to 9.45 am

at the Sophia College, Peddar Road

Film screening of ‘Farooq vs the State’ (Hindi/English with English subtitles, 25 mins) Directed by K.P. Jayasankar and Anjali Monteiro and  ‘Ek Akhri Panah’  (Hindi with English subtitles, 2012, 14.27 mins) Directed by Juanita Mukhia, Krishna Panchal, Piyush Garud and Tanvi Barge re of TISS.

One of the student directors Krishna will also be present for the discussion following the screening.

Coordinated by Shakil and Janta ka Aina team, Sabah and Sangeeta

The program is for the students, but also open to the public

19th December College Program

Ambedkar College and the Bombay ki Kahani Mumbai ki Zubani

are organising a program in Ambedkar College, Wadala

on 19th Dec 10.30 am – 12 noon

Film screening of ‘Badalte Nakshe’ (Hindi with English subtitles, 24 mins) Directed by Nithila Kanagasabai, Nitya Menon, Archana Sadar and Likokba and ‘Ek Akhri Panah’  (Hindi with English subtitles, 2012, 14.27 mins) Directed by Juanita Mukhia, Krishna Panchal, Piyush Garud and Tanvi Barge of TISS.

One of the student directors Krishna Panchal will also be present for the discussion following the screening.

Coordinated by Chhaya Datar, Nandini and Meena

The program is for the students, but also open to the public

Mass Crimes and Justice: A Gendered Perspective

Women’s Research and Action Group and Forum Against Oppression of Women are organising a seminar  on 12th January, 2013, from 2 pm to 5: 30 pm to view the theme of mass crimes and impunity against the backdrop of communal violence in India

The aim of the seminar is to examine the unique forms of victimization to which women are subject during the commission of mass atrocities, and to examine the various roles played by them during and in response to the outbreak of such violence. Speakers will be engaging with instances of violence in Kandhamal (2007-2008), Mumbai (1992-1993) and New Delhi (1984) through the lens of gender. In particular, this seminar is part of a month-long program focussing on the communal violence in 1992-1993 which destroyed the secular fabric of the city, which seeks to remind us of what happened twenty years ago and examine the implications it has had on our present and the way it has paved for our future.

The seminar will be at Mumbai Marathi Patrakar Bhavan, Mahapalika Sangh, Azad Maidan, Fort, Mumbai on 12th January, 2013 and is open to the public.

More details will be published closer to the date.