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dismissing dissent

dismissing dissent

19th January 2007

FRONTLINE

Dear Editor,

Though the Singur issue is burning in all the media, Frontline ( Vol. 24 :: No. 01
January 13 – 26, 2007) 
allowed space for only 18 words of criticism in the “letters” page:

“The article did not cover the farmers’ plight and the human rights violations that took place in Singur.” Yet there is no article in the current issue addressing these aspects either. When so many readers both within West Bengal as well as the rest of the country have written letters with substantial criticism of your coverage, and expressing their views on the issue, disposing off these letters in a paltry 1 inch space is a blatant insult to your readers, as well as to the party whose crimes you seek in vain to hide.

With this, Frontline has lost its reputation as a magazine that prides itself on its discerning readership, and does not hesitate to print critical letters.

 

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Letter to Editor

When Frontline takes the party line

When Frontline takes the party line

7th January 2007

FRONTLINE Dear Editor, As a long-time reader of Frontline, I’m well aware of your political leanings. Yet I have not normally seen these interfere with your high journalistic standards and in-depth investigative reporting. Therefore, I was outraged by your recent coverage of the struggle in Singur(Frontline Volume 23:25, Dec 16-29 2006).

You misrepresent the 18 month long people’s struggle to protect their lands and livelihoods as simply a contrary move by “a motley group of notable personalities.”

Moreover, you throw in free advertising for the corporation, gratuitously lauding their product as “the cheapest and most fuel-efficient car.” How do we know if it is really the most fuel-efficient? And would this car really be cheap if the corporation was forced to pay the full costs of all the resources it requires without the helping hand of the government?

Not to mention the helping hand of what has unfortunately become this government’s propaganda outlet. Relying on official records, Frontline actually goes so far as to repeat the government-speak that of the 997 acres acquired for the car factory, 910 acres are mono cropped as per “original Record.” When was that original Record recorded? The farmers know and anyone who has visited Singur knows that these lands are now yielding at least two, mostly three, and even four crops per year. Giving up this agricultural land, and the well developed irrigation system of canals and tube wells from Damodar and Hooghly rivers will jeapordize not only the livelihoods of the present generation but also food security for the generations to come. What price can we put on that?

Even if the factory is deemed to be in the public interest, why 997 acres? Compared to European car factories, this is hugely inefficient. Surely handing over additional prime real estate to the Tatas is not in the public interest. What about the cost of proper disposal of the waste generated and effective measures to handle the additional pollution emitted by an influx of cheap cars? Will the Tatas be paying for all of these? Or will the public, particularly the poor be subsidizing this too, even at the cost of their own lives?

We expect a free press to be raising these questions. Instead Frontline simply sings verse after verse the praises of the government’s as well as of Tata Motors’ plans in this project. Especially, the bit about retraining oustees in tailoring and catering (for women) and electrical and auto repair reads more like a government/corporate press release. Why not offer these training classes before taking away people’s land and see how many people opt for them?

This kind of irresponsible journalism has very serious implications for our country. When Frontline takes the party line, it loses credibility, and with that shirks its responsibility towards the vast majority of struggling people, who have no friends in high places, but depend on their labor, their natural resources, and the truth for survival.

 

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Reflections

Strengthening our organisational base in the US

Since its founding AID has earned the trust of some of the most dedicated grassroots workers in remote and rural parts of India as well as in the poorer urban areas. Many individuals and organizations working on livelihood, natural resource, and human rights issues follow certain principles in how they raise support from the community. Only when AID has proven itself an understanding, and responsible member of that community, prepared to raise not only funds but also its voice, in solidarity with the people working for change, have these groups been open to accepting contributions from AID. Over the years we have learned to see the people whom we normally term poor and marginalized, as central to the processes of social change. We have also learned to relate to people informally, taking time to hear and understand their own ways of expressing their knowledge, experiences, and analysis of their problems and solutions, and offering our ideas and resources in a spirit of mutual sharing and reciprocity.

If people like Aruna Roy, Arvind Kejriwal, Sandeep Pandey and Medha Patkar are taking AID seriously and taking volunteers into confidence, it is because they trust AID volunteers not only to answer requests for financial help from NGOs, but also to hear and understand people’s movements, to debate and further strengthen the vision as well as the fight for sustainable development, both strategically and ideologically. What kind of energy do we want, what is education, environment for whom, what model for socially responsible science, technology or business, what do we mean by sustainable agriculture, are a handful of the issues on which the elite and the non-elite need to work together and keep on trying to discover better and better approaches.

It is our willingness as AID volunteers to go through the learning curve, to be ready to question and unlearn many of our long-held assumptions about what is good for the world or even what is good for ourselves that has helped AID as an organization become today one of the few of its kind that has been able to relate to the struggles and efforts of the poor, the marginalised and underprivileged communities without compromising on dignity and reciprocity. This means we have the courage to face those who ask, why are you opposing that dam, you should only focus on rehabilitating the affected people. Or, why are you getting into controversial issues when you could simply be educating people to work in the IT boom.

When we take seriously the challenge to see ourselves as affected people, we are forced to evaluate our own role in the processes that empower and disempower people – ourselves and others. Because we recognize not only the right of every hungry person to have food, but also the right of every well-fed person to share the food produced by the economic system in which we take part, we can demand land rights, properly functioning Public Distribution System, National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, etc, not simply out of concern for those going hungry, but also as our own right and responsibility as citizens and as humans.

Recognizing these rights and responsibilities, AID has held together the three aspects of development – sangharsh, nirman and seva without letting one dominate the other two, but rather seeing them intertwining. When we do any of these with full commitment, it will inherently open space or even directly involve the other two. Through our presence in India, we have strongly projected AID as an organization that backs its financial support with unflagging personal and moral commitment. We say to our partners, we are with you in spirit, we are there for you in time of need, we will answer when you call, we will share your successes proudly, and we will question authorities and raise our voices against injustice. When we talk to people like Chennaiah garu or Swati Desai, they are most moved by how personally aid volunteers take their commitment, sharing their views with friends and family who may disagree with them, patiently discussing issues with new people whom they meet at tabling functions, changing lifestyles and even livelihoods in order to work more wholeheartedly for the cause.

We have a long way to go to live up to these promises. Today we find volunteers in every chapter, deeply inspired by AID. All of us need to work continuously and passionately to sustain this quality and depth of commitment, and the unity of sangharsh, nirman and seva. In the US, AID is a movement, raising the standards for the Indian community to connect with and be the change.

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