I knew it was a great story when I watched a video clip on Facebook from a pro-BJP Malayalam TV channel reporting the hitherto unknown Christian burial of the ashes of India’s first Dalit President KR Narayanan. As a Christian I knew it was impossible to do it without a lot of subterfuge.
Amid the charged atmosphere in India, despite the source of the story, I knew it would be widely read, dissected, trampled upon, and get us abuses; but to kill the story would have been a grave injustice to our profession.
What I saw in it was a news angle, but so-called fact-checking websites see a conspiracy angle. Can’t blame them, it happens when conspiracy is what one has for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
In the entire article in the fact-checking website, though they tried hard, the "fact-checkers" failed to find an iota of incongruity or untruth. Certainly, the story was in a way cruel towards the image of widely respected Narayanan and his family, but we had to tell the world what was buried under the earth for more than a decade. For some, it could have come across as unnecessary muckraking, but I certainly am enlisted in journalism with a long spade.
Fact-checkers, before you go to town with the outlandish charge of conspiracy, you could have challenged the facts that were part of the story.
A story doesn’t cease to be a story just because it doesn’t suit somebody’s preferred narrative. A story is killed when it doesn’t pass fact-check. Fact-checkers, what was missing in your take down was fact-check, a tool that earned you readers.
So let’s do it for you once again.
It’s a fact that part of Narayanan’s ashes was buried according to Christian customs in a Christians-only cemetery.
It is a fact that he wasn’t a Christian officially.
It is a fact that Narayanan's children didn't publicly announce the deed of getting his ashes interred in a Christian cemetery.
Narayanan's children claim the decision to bury his ashes was taken by his Christian wife after his death.
It is fact that there was selfishness on the part of the family to surreptitiously pass him off as Christian because burial wouldn’t have happened without a pastor vouching that he was Christian.
It is a fact that even now Narayanan's daughters don't explain how a non-Christian's ashes can be buried in a Christian cemetery. The churches don't allow that.
It is a fact that there are two tombstones and not one. So, the claim that ashes were buried along with the wife's body cannot be true. If so, why have a separate tomb?
It is a fact that he hasn’t willed that his ashes be buried. It is also a fact that he was a great human being.
The problem really is with untrained agenda-driven propagandists who try to pass of as fact-checkers. Their beliefs are hardwired into the brain that no matter how strong the evidence is against the beliefs, their tendency is to pooh-pooh evidence.
But if a journalist cannot spot a story after seeing for himself that India’s first Dalit President, who was officially a Hindu all his life, has a tomb in a cemetery exclusively reserved for Christians, then he better relearn the craft.
We know that what "fact-checkers" probably meant while publishing the wishy-washy take-down was: “We don't like such stories”. Whether you like it or not, truth doesn't change and it doesn't have an alternative. It is our job to tell unpalatable truths, whether some nattering high-priests like it or not.
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