Friday, 29 December 2017

Malayalee Journalists Come in Support of Savarna Author M T Vasudevan Nair's Islamophobic Statement

Veteran savarna Malayalam author, M T Vasudevan Nair refused to sign certificates that were taken to him by a group of Muslim students saying he couldn't do it because he wasn't sure if they wouldn't turn into terrorists later. This was a private conversation but within days of this being made public by one of the lecturers at the college, on his Facebook page, he gave a statement to the media that he had indeed said that because he genuinely feared if the students would turn into terrorists. Here is the statement he gave to e-vartha, translated by me. 
'“The students asked me to sign on certificates issued on a camp that I had no relation with. I said I couldn't. How can I sign something that way?" M T asked. 

He said that it was when they further insisted that he asked them if it wouldn't affect him, who signed the certificates if the next day those who participated in the camp engaged in terrorist activities. It was not an Islamophobic comment as is being accused. His explanation was that it was only pointed out as a possible danger if he signed a certificate from some camp that was organized by some random person.'

I am writing this post to point out how the Malayalam mediapersons responded to this statement by M T Vasudevan Nair [Nair is an unambiguously uppercaste surname in Kerala.] It was when Inji Pennu, Global Voices, wrote a Facebook post that i noticed these statements. It alarmed me how carelessly these mediapersons were exhibiting their (usually Islamophic, casteist, misogynist) opinions on social media sporting their mediaperson identities and exhibiting them publicly. 

One of the journalists that Inji Pennu mentioned in her post retaliated by mocking her on his profile as is the usual procedure on social media. What caught my eye was something else. It was how everyone was trying to make it look as if the journalist was a victim. Of what? Wrong translation. 

I am a writer-filmmaker and know a thing or two about translation [yes, the small 'i's are deliberate.] But i would like to point out how nasty this retort is to everyone who reads him. 

The first reason being that no one ever 'translated' the post by K A Shaji, who is a journalist with the Hindu newspaper. It was quite the right decision in my opinion because his post was as Islamophobic as the comment by the author he was defending. Inji Pennu's post was her opinion about two statements by two journalists [Mr. Mathew Samuel of Narada News and K A Shaji of the Hindu] from Kerala when a renowned savarna male author was accused of Islamophobia. Since Mr Shaji is weeping accusing Inji Pennu of mis-translating him, i think it is time someone translated the shameless justification.

K A Shaji said,

M T Vasudevan Nair is 84 years old. He has been sporting his introvert behaviour with great discipline for all these years. If you ask me if writers are required to be introverts and if writing is impossible if you are not an introvert, I have no answer. But being introvert is his choice. Readers and citizens should respect it. I am not eligible to analyze M T's contributions to literature. To tell the truth, he is not one of my most favourite Malayalee authors. 'Manju' is the only work that I repeatedly read and enjoyed. I have often felt that all his other works are of the same kind. I liked 'Vanaprastham' and 'Varanasi' more than 'Randamoozham'.

But I have always adored his secular mind and opinions. Unlike other male and female writers, he is not the one to shoot off opinions on anything and everything. If he is invited to events, he dodges them. He gets angry if they insist. He will behave in a way that will offend the people who invited him. I have that experience from when I was a student and media person in Kozhikode. If phoned asking his response regarding something relevant, he cuts the call. 
That's M T. He thinks everything that happens around him doesn't need his opinion or intervention. He behaved contrary to this, actively responding and intervening towards the end of 1980's and beginning of 90's. He was anxious about the hindutva consolidation that led to the demolition of Babri Masjid and the riots against minorities that followed. He stood with the secular left and intervened to a great extent.

The next time he intervened was regarding the problems that followed after the police firing on landless adivasis in Muthanga. I still remember one of those mornings. M T called a lot of media persons in Kozhikode including me on phone. It was hard to believe. He wanted us to go to his place. He wanted to say something. I was amazed. Wondered if someone was playing a prank.

It was expressing solidarity with the strikes for land by the adivasi community and also resigning from the post of chairperson of a committee of a film festival that was organized by the then government. He became a strong presence in the investigation commission that went to Muthanga and also in the committee for helping the land struggle.

The next instance of him giving an opinion on anything was against the central government in relation with demonitisation. The sangh parivar attacked him from all sides. He didn't say anything much.

You can agree or disagree with M T. But calling him Islamophobic on the basis of a couple of lines taken from a private conversation that has been interpreted in a biased manner and is being spread with bad intentions has a different agenda. When someone entered his privacy and invited him for an event and he got angry, and as reported, he might have shown the anger to those who insisted that he sign the certificate. Those who observe and read M T know that it is not an anger based on religion (faith). It is dangerous to extract private conversations and misinterpreting them. It's incendiary material.

When you say that your enemies are secular, the fault is not with them but with you. One more thing. Cheering for someone saying something, somewhere, misinterpreting someone who has lived on earth for 84 years, becoming a part of secular, pluralistic society and who became the light and hope of that society is not right at all. Identity consciousness and breaking idols are fine but when you do it maintain minimum decency in mind.

This was posted with an image of Fitzgerald's quote: 'Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.' 
The above translation has been done so that it offers meaning word by word. I would have made it much more beautiful and would have tried to maintain a better flow for the reader in my translation if it had been assigned to me as a job. Here i would like to just state the facts. 
So the above was K A Shaji's take on M T's Islamophobic statement. If i were to write my opinion on it, it would be something like:
Privileged mallu male journalist thinks M T's Islamophobia is 'anger' and part of his introvert nature. Also, anyone who calls Islamophobia out is doing so with a hidden agenda. Someone needs to tell Shaji the journalist that the only thing looking more stupid than M T's statement is his own in support of the savarna male writer. 
That is called an opinion. You can see how different it is from the translation and honestly, i don't want to listen to which of M T's works a journalist likes or dislikes when they are talking about Islamophobia of the same author. That's like Kevin Spacey coming out as gay when he was accused of sexually abusing a minor. There is absolutely no connection between the two. 
Now to Mathew Samuel, ex-Tehelka journalist who owns Narada News. 
His Facebook post said that he had rung Mr Nair up and he had denied that he had anything as reported by the students. Only, that was not all that he said. He called the students 'rascals' and liars. He said that action should be taken against them. Below is the translation of his post. 
[I] spoke to M T Vasudevan Nair sir in the morning. What is being circulated in social media is an absolute lie. [He] didn't say anything like that. The kids asked him to sign on a paper. M T asked what he knew about it to sign it. I have become old... I don't want such unwanted controversies... This is what he said. These kids who lied about M T should not be let off. It was a blatant lie that they said about a world renowned author. Those rascal kids who attacked him inappropriately made a big mistake...

If i had the option to spit on this nonsense, i would have done so. Since that is not possible i have a few questions. 

1. World renowned? Since when? Not that it matters but i would like to know.
2. How did you decide, as a journalist, that M T was telling the truth and those students you called rascals were lying?
3. Do you also report sexual harassment? Is this how you do that as well? You ring the accused and ask him if he raped someone and if he says he is old and did not rape anyone would you also call the victim a liar?
4. You are using Facebook as a media person, aren't you? That is, when you put up a post saying someone denied saying something, it's as the owner of Narada News that you are doing it? 
5. Do you know the difference between a news report and an opinion piece? I normally don't ask this to journalists but looks like you are a rare specimen.

Even more problematic was a news item that was published on his site later. It said that M T had denied that he gave a statement to E-vartha. Here is the statement from E-vartha as reported by Narada News.

Managing editor of E-vartha made it clear that they would investigate if the news was fake and would take appropriate action. 'It was a journalist by the name Sudheesh Sudhakaran who rang M T from the office. It might be because he called from office that a byline was not kept. If the call was made from office phone, there would be a voice recording. [I] don't know if the call was made from a landline. Will investigate if Sudheesh Sudhakaran's was a fake report. If M T has been misquoted, action will be taken' owner and managing editor of E-vartha, Al Ameen told Narada News.
That's great. Narada News, a portal that does terrible and lazy reporting will now write editorials on fake news. How is it that a portal like Narada News - the site itself that looks like it's purpose is to eradicate pot bellies of grown up men - gets to decide if another portal is credible enough to print news on a savarna male writer? Narada News that prints recycled erotica titles '60 'Drug Friendly' Women And 30 Men Have New Year Sex Party at 'Sex Island' will now be the credibility standard?
But guess what? After calling the students liars and rascals, a Narada reporter spoke to the students and lecturer who met M T. They confirmed that he had said that. There is a line from the lecturer that clearly shows how Muslim identities are constantly scrutinized and scanned. They are asked for evidence just like how victims of sexual assault are expected to provide an intact hymen as 'evidence'.
'We didn't go there expecting such a conversation. So we don't have video or audio recording of it. But he asked on our face, 'What if these students/kids become terrorists in future? Wasn't the World Trade Centre attacked and demolished saying 'we'll meet in heaven'?' We are greatly saddened by this statement from someone like him [M T Vasudevan Nair].'
So Mathew Samuel decided that the students and lecturers were liars even before he spoke with them. Is there anything more violent that a mediaperson can do?

I had to write this here now because i feel the need for this to go on record in English. 'Beautiful English' as Mr Shaji calls it. Malayalee journalists have been gaslighting in this manner for a long time and most of it have gone unreported because it was released exclusively for Malayalee readers. Not anymore. We need to document every bit of right wing gesture and understand that the media is a huge part of it.
അതേസമയം, തങ്ങളുടെ ന്യൂസ് പോർട്ടലിൽ വന്ന വാർത്ത വ്യാജമാണോ എന്ന് അന്വേഷിച്ച് നടപടി സ്വീകരിക്കുമെന്ന് ഇ-വാർത്ത മാനേജിങ് എഡിറ്റർ വ്യക്തമാക്കി. 'ഓഫീസില്‍ നിന്ന് സുധീഷ് സുധാകരന്‍ എന്ന റിപ്പോര്‍ട്ടറാണ് എം ടി വാസുദേവന്‍ നായരെ വിളിച്ചത്. ഓഫീസില്‍ നിന്ന് ചെയ്തതു കൊണ്ടാകും ബൈലൈന്‍ വെക്കാതിരുന്നത്. ഓഫീസ് ഫോണില്

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