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Journalists ignore anti-Christian pogrom

India

NEW DELHI - Shock does not come alone. It comes in droves. What happened two years ago in Kandhamal was shocking. The depositions of the Kandhamal victims before the National People's Tribunal were even more shocking.

What drove me to the venue of the Tribunal was Nobel-laureate Elie Wiesel's famous line: "There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest".

I was not at all prepared for the shock the so-called "national" newspapers inflicted on me on August 23, the day after the Tribunal started functioning. I searched for a report on the Tribunal and I did not find even a word in most of them. And they included newspapers that claim to practice "Journalism of courage" and "Dharmosmat Kula Daivathom".

And that set me, a practitioner of the profession for the last 37 years, thinking. Was the event not newsworthy? Sixty victims had travelled all the way from Kandhamal to New Delhi. Each one of them had a story to narrate that would shock the conscience of the nation, if there was one.

The Tribunal was not official in the sense it was not organised by the government. However, the jury members were persons with unimpeachable integrity. It was headed by Justice A.P. Shah, a former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court. There were others like Harsh Mander, an IAS officer of the Gujarat cadre who quit the service in protest against the government's collusion in the Gujarat riots, Syeda Hameed, a member of the Planning Commission, and film producer Mahesh Bhatt.

The National Solidarity Forum, an umbrella body of several civil society groups, that organised the Tribunal had put together an exhibition of photographs and "remnants" of the pogrom which itself was worthy of a detailed coverage. And it was inaugurated by no less a person than film lyricist Javed Akhter, MP. The exhibition also depicted some drawings by impressionable children drawing upon their experience of persecution.

One excuse journalists often give about not reporting an event is that it took place far away.

That could not be said about the Constitution Club, the venue of the Tribunal, which is in the heart of New Delhi, directly across from the Indian Newspaper Society (INS) building which houses the offices of most newspaper organisations.

The organisers had sent Press notes also about the event. I can only conclude that the agony of the poor does not count in New Delhi where everybody is busy making money. To be fair, let me also add, that two days later when the Tribunal gave its verdict, many newspapers gave a reasonably good coverage to it.

It was the first time that I witnessed a People's Tribunal. I was, therefore, a little curious when I reached the venue. The Tribunal functions like a judicial court. An introduction is first made about the victim and then he or she is allowed to narrate the incident that happened.

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