Indian Citizens Petition to NDTV

via published on October 17, 2010

To:  NDTV India

Dr. Pranoy Roy,
Chairman & Managing Director, NDTV Ltd.,
cc: Ms. Barkha Dutt,
Group Managing Editor, NDTV Ltd.,

We the signatories of this petition, as concerned Indian citizens (resident and non-resident) would like to register our strong protest for the way in which your channel conducted debates hosted by Ms. Barkha Dutt on the judgement of the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court on the Ayodhya dispute.

We do hope, as a responsible news channel watched by millions of Indians world-wide, you are not oblivious to your social responsibilities, which include fostering a climate of amity between communities, especially between India’s two major religions. Sadly, we have to point out, that fostering such a climate of amity between the two major religions is not possible by harping on the victim-hood of one side alone. Unfortunately this is the net effect of the debates you telecast and could only widen the chasm between the two, exacerbate tensions and lead to a climate of mutual hatred and ill-will.

We as concerned citizens interested in fostering a climate of amity and goodwill between various communities in the country take strong exception to the following aspects of the post-verdict debates and do hope you will remedy them in future:

1. For instance if your moderator, Ms. Barkha Dutt allows one side to harp on ‘December 6 1992’ ad nauseum, as if India’s history really began on that day or as if that was the only incident responsible for Hindu-Muslim tensions, she could willy-nilly appear to be taking sides in the debate.

2. The other side could equally well argue that ‘December 6 1992’ was merely the culmination of a process of alienation of Hindus aggrieved by centuries of victimisation under alien rulers and decades of discrimination under pseudo-secular Indian rulers. But the fact of the matter is that they don’t get to voice their side of the argument because they are not allowed to, which gives one an impression that Ms. Barkha Dutt is taking sides.

3. One could ask with equal legitimacy, why the 1989-90 events should not be considered a watershed in Hindu-Muslim relations as it was during this period the Kashmir valley was cleansed of its Hindu population, leading to the exile of between 350000 and 400000 Pandits in their own homeland?

However Ms. Dutt and the panellists on the show stubbornly refuse to countenance the question as for them the concept of ‘secularism’ means one thing in Jammu & Kashmir and quite a different thing in the rest of India.

Of course Ms. Dutt is entitled to her views but if airing her views is likely to add to the belligerence that is already prevalent in the air should she not restrain herself from airing them?

4. We are pained to observe that those who advised that ‘everyone should respect the judicial verdict’ and ‘the country has moved on’ till the day of the judgment suddenly began denouncing it as soon as it was delivered. Legal experts say that it would take at least a few weeks to read and digest the 8000+ pages verdict but panellists on your channel were allowed to denounce it almost as soon it was delivered.

5. Panellists who oppose the construction of the ‘Sri Ram Mandir’ were asked loaded questions like “were you disappointed with the verdict?” As you are aware, in legal parlance such questions are characterised as ‘leading’ calling for a ‘conclusion’ from the witness. This obviously means that the panellist would have to take a stance from which it is impossible to reconcile later even if one wanted to. As Ayodhya is a sensitive issue and is likely to inflame passions on both sides of the divide could such provocative questions be not avoided?

6. In some instances Ms. Dutt was animatedly participating than moderating the debate. She could have opposed or at least protested voicing diatribe as comment, like describing the verdict as a ‘Panchayat settlement’.

7. We believe panellists who support the court verdict could have been given more time. The court has indeed given an opportunity to the two sides to bury their differences and come to an amicable solution. Would not an amicable solution at this stage help the ‘nation to move on’ as indeed it should?
8. The moderator on several occasions used the word ‘dissenting judge’ while alluding to one of the judges on the bench, which gave the verdict. As different judges agreed / differed on different aspects of the complex issue, it would be unfair to selectively use the word ‘dissenting judge’ depending one’s view point and convenience.

9. As the verdict is being slowly digested and excerpts appear on various Internet fora it is now abundantly clear that the Honourable justices have in fact based their judgment on hard evidence and not on faith of the majority religion as large sections of the media seem to imply.

10. Transcripts of evidence tendered by the historians, archaeologists and other expert witnesses of the Sunni Wakf Board, their cross-examination by the defendants’ lawyers and the observations of the Honourable justices should leave no one in doubt that the Sunni Wakf Board has no case at all and that the Masjid was in fact built on the ruins of a temple or a existing temple was destroyed to build the Masjid.

In spite of overwhelming evidence supporting the claim of a temple having either existed or demolished on that site should the media harp on its ‘faith-prevailing-over-evidence’ line thus tarnishing the image of the judiciary, the ‘court of last resort’ for the common citizen? Will it not weaken the common citizen’s faith in the democratic institutions of the country?

On the other hand will not awarding the suit in favour of the Muslims irrespective of the merits of the case be akin to some kind of ‘road justice’, in which the smaller vehicle or pedestrian in a road accident is invariably sympathised? Will it not weaken the majority religion’s faith in the judiciary?

The Ayodhya debate was but one example of the prevailing political culture – which your channel typifies – that defines secularism as anti-Hinduism.
We are of the humble opinion that the country can ‘move on’ only if every concerned citizen – not least the opinion-shaping bodies like the media – work in tandem for fostering amity and goodwill between various sections / groups of citizenry.

The Honourable Court has indeed accorded the nation a wonderful opportunity to bring about a climate of amity and goodwill between India’s two major religions. Whether the nation seizes it or fritters it away largely depends on the opinion-making institutions like the media.

Will NDTV help or hinder the cause? Please consider this plea in earnest.

Thank you for listening.

Concerned Citizens of India


The Undersigned

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