Crying Wolf

Dasu Krishnamoorty

Without any occasion warranting it, a New York Times editorial asked itself,  “What will it take for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to speak out about the mounting violence against India’s religious minorities?” It is a leading question that translates itself in these words: The main threat to the minorities comes from the majority community.

Dasu Krishnamoorty

Dasu Krishnamoorty

This editorial is a part of the series of anti-Modi chants The Times began with Narendra Modi’s visit to the US. This takes me to a quarter century ago when I travelled to the US in the February of 1990 and very soon happened to read a Times op-ed article titled Hindu Militancy on the Rise by an Indian columnist. NYT’s anti-Hindu line paved the ground for some activists from India to meet with US Congressmen, the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom and other human rights agencies to complain against the same thing that President Obama had complained in his recent India visit.

I couldn’t understand the naïveté of these activists in hoping that the US, acting on media reports and reports from its own agencies monitoring human rights, would intervene or at least clamp economic sanctions on India to register its agreement with the activists. This history notwithstanding, Narendra Modi lost no time in breaking his alleged silence on the alleged crimes against the Church, the NYT had so deafeningly publicized. He reached out to all minority communities across the country on Tuesday assuring the minorities that ”his government would stand by individual’s right to freedom of faith,’’ at a function organized by none other than the Catholic Church at Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi.

The NYT editorial raises basic questions of credibility. Ever since the advent of New Journalism in the sixties, employing the tools and techniques of fiction in reporting, the fiction part gained the upper hand in US media. I will quote only one major instance of inventing reality by The Times. Before the war with Iraq, George W. Bush needed evidence to convince US Congress and the international community to go to war because Iraq was on the verge of making weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).  That evidence was manufactured by The Times’ star reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner Judith Miller. Ms. Miller clung to a piece of fantasy in which she saw a person from a distance who looked like a scientist showing to some soldiers supposed sites where materials needed to make WMDs were stored. The New Republic accused her of having “painted a grave picture of Saddam’s WMD capabilities–a picture that has, so far, not been borne out.” She had been charged with “compromised reporting” in the pages of Editor & Publisher. Slate has called her a purveyor of “misinformation.” A Washington Post writer has questioned the reliability of her sources. This unreliable information was enough to start a war.

The Times editorial went on to say, “Nor has he (Mr. Modi) addressed the mass conversion to Hinduism of Christians and Muslims who have been coerced or promised money. Last December, about 200 Muslims were converted to Hinduism in Agra. In January, up to 100 Christians in West Bengal “reconverted” to Hinduism.” The NYT has obviously picked up the threads from Mr. Obama’s speech in New Delhi last month.

The editorial makes us laugh by telling us that 200 Muslims in Agra and up to 100 Christians in West Bengal were “reconverted” to Hinduism. May one ask how have Christians swelled to become three per cent of India’s population and Muslims to 15 per cent without continental-size conversions? The Constitution doesn’t permit conversions and the Supreme Court made it clear on several occasions that the right to convert is not inherent in the right to religious freedom. If conversions are good to Islam or Christianity how are they bad to Hinduism? If conversion is good how is reconversion bad?

Our story is not complete without the episode of how the Pope had embarrassed India by criticizing its laws regarding conversions. When the new ambassador of India to the Holy See, Amitava Tripathi, presented his credentials, Benedict XVI described as “disturbing” the “signs of religious intolerance” in some Indian states, where there is “the reprehensible attempt to legislate clearly discriminatory restrictions on the fundamental right of religious freedom.”

The Pope’s protest about conversion laws in India is weird. Vatican does not take the permission of New Delhi to make laws. Indian legislatures are sovereign and are elected by the people, unlike the Pope who is elected by a college of cardinals. They, (Indian legislatures) not only do not need his permission but are duty-bound to protest remarks he had made to the Indian envoy. A Reuters report mentions Pope Benedict XVI as condemning on a different occasion “Hindu fundamentalist attempts to ban religious conversions in India.” No organization however powerful can do that except a State legislature or Parliament. If as the Pope says anti-conversion laws are “unconstitutional and contrary to the highest ideals of India’s founding fathers,” the Supreme Court of India is there to quash them suo motu.

One word about the NYT: It moved from a motto of All The News That Is Fit To Print to All News Is Fit To Print.

There is a lot we can learn about the paper from a book titled “JOURNALISTIC FRAUD: How The New York Times Distorts The News And Why It Can No Longer Be Trusted” by Bob Kohn.

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