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Two dedicated Mumbai journalists wage war against communalism

Two dedicated Mumbai journalists wage war against communalism

THE resolve had been long in the making, but for Mumbai-based journalists Javed Anand and Teesta Setalvad, the ’93 Bombay riots formed the turning point. The pogroms, the manipulation of half-truths, the political subterfuge shook them deeply. Successful careers at the Sunday Observer and Indian Express suddenly meant very little, and both opted out, choosing instead, to quote Teesta, the "tremendous satisfaction of cause-related journalism." The logic was, if the R S S, Shiv Sena and   Jamaat-e-Islami could have the Organiser, Saamna and Radiance— why couldn’t they have a publication that would work as a watchdog and expose the rhetoric of hatred ?

Thus was born Communalism Combat (C C), a slim but feisty monthly, under the umbrella of Sabrang Communications. It was exhausting work; steeped with passion, but financially taxing. Besides exposes on issues like the Talibanisation of Pakistan, the Srikrishna panel report and the Staines’ killing, CC translates and extracts articles from journals and rabid mouthpieces in India and abroad— cautioning readers against their implications.

Their stance is clear: they’ll not abide by the fundamentalists’ intolerance of dissent; majority and minority communalism are two sides of the same coin; and the state should be held equally culpable for communalist violence. "Our aim," says Teesta, "has been to marshall facts and arguments to help people counter the half - truths in which communalist forces deal." It hasn’t been an easy crusade to do this from within the Sena’s bastion. Distributors and printers are hesitant, and CC even had to close shop briefly in ’96-97— until well-wishers bailed it out. CC still has a small readership— 3,500 subscribers, 12,000 print run— most of which Teesta and Javed reach through direct mailing.

Sabrang also works as a unique media monitor— culling out issues and compiling fact-sheets, pamphlets and backgro unders , routinely sent out as "alerts" to journalists, academics, party offices, even N R Is. Because of inherent ambivalences in their work, over the last six years, Sabrang has had its detractions; the chief one being that it errs on the side of simplicity. This year, when prior to the elections, C C ran a bold, strident, ad campaign against the collusive attitudes of the B J P-R S S, murmurs against it came to a head. Angry detractors suggested that C C had been coopted by the Congress. Teesta is undeterred and sees the flak as a sign of success; anger as an index of impact. But even the most noble convictions, looked the other way around, can be read as biases. Mumbai playwright Vijay Tendulkar puts it best in perspective: "There ’s no such thing as complete neutrality. It’s clear on which side they are, but what they publish is very honest. That is why I’m interested in their work."

Less visible, but perhaps more crucial is Khoj— a programme of alternative educational modules, being developed by Teesta. Disturbed by reactions she received from teachers and children after the riots, she realised there were no emotional links between what one studied in the classroom and what one felt. Khoj workshops try to "create spaces for conflicts to be expressed and resolved". Besides running orientation programmes for teachers, Teesta works with 25 schools, private and municipal— using films and interactive sessions on topics ranging from water and who controls it, incidents of police firing to the rights of the girl child. The aim is a truly democratised education. K.N. Panikkar, an eminent historian who attended a Khoj workshop on South Asian history recently, applauds this work. "They go a long way," says he, "in exposing how communalism as an ideology affects the teaching of history. It is truly commendable work."

If you want join hands with this group of committed and concerned citizens, write to Sabrang Communications at Post Box No 28253, Juhu post office, Mumbai-49; call 6482288/6053927 or e-mail sabrang@bom2.vsnl.net.in.

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