Zee News’ is in the news for all the wrong reasons. During the JNU episode, the channel was accused of airing a doctored video to pronounce a few students ‘anti-national’. Then came the resignation of one of its reporters whose letter – widely circulated on the social media – accused the channel of partisan reporting on the issue. But Zee News seems to be unrelenting in its ‘follow-up’ of that story to brand individuals as ‘anti-nationals’.
On March 8, its Executive Editor Sudhir Chaudhary – in the news himself in 2012 for allegedly trying to extort 100 crore rupees from former Congress MP and industrialist Naveen Jindal – went after senior JNU professor Nivedita Menon by selectively plucking out quotes from her address to students at JNU to brand her an ‘anti-national.’
On March 9 came the turn of well-known Urdu poet and scientist Gauhar Raza. Although his poem, recited on March 5 at the 51st Shankar-Shad Mushaira – a prestigious platform for Urdu poets of India and Pakistan, and named after the luminaries Shankar Lall and Lala Murli Dhar – had no mention of terrorism or Afzal Guru, the channel branded him as a member of ‘Afzal premi gang’ and therefore a ‘desh drohi’. The Zee News reporter allegedly also mentioned sarcastically that Raza had even made a documentary on the Gujarat riots.
In an interview to The Wire, Raza accuses the channel of violating journalistic ethics to spread venom in the society in the name of ‘nationalism’ and jeopardising a citizen’s security and safety in the process.
You have been named a member of ‘Afzal premi gang’ for reciting a poem in the Shankar-Shad Mushaira. Does the poem have any reference to Afzal Guru or terrorism?
There is no reference to Afzal or terrorism in that poem (see below). Whoever has followed my work knows that my poetry is always against violence and terrorism, against jihadis. I have written poems against killings by jihadis in Afghanistan. In 2010, I wrote a poem on two journalists killed in Afghanistan. I have written verses against Punjab terrorism.
The channel was found running a doctored video during the JNU episode to brand some people anti-nationals. It did the same to academic Nivedita Menon. And now it has done it to me. It kept showing my face on the TV screen with the headline ‘Afzal premi gang ka mushaira’. It aired lies, like anti-national slogans were raised by the audience and people flooded the stage sloganeering. There was nothing in the air there except wah wah and clapping.
Did you contact the channel seeking an explanation since your poem didn’t refer to Afzal Guru or terrorism?
Around 4 pm on March 9, the channel contacted me asking if I was free to come to its studio for the prime time news. I refused as I was busy elsewhere. On looking back, I think it had a plan to brand me anti-national on live television, which couldn’t happen and therefore they kept showing my face.
I have not contacted the channel after the programme was aired because I don’t think it is doing journalism and will therefore not see my point. Journalists sometimes make mistakes but they apologise on realising it. In this case, it is a pre-planned agenda to malign me, so I see no point getting in touch with the channel.
You have been reportedly receiving threats through phone calls and emails after the programme was aired. What do these threats say?
The programme has triggered threats through phone calls and emails. I have been called a jihadi, a threat to mankind, a threat to the country. Since I am also a scientist, some emails said I should not be allowed access technology as I might pass the country’s secrets to the jihadi groups.
Do you fear your security? Did you go to the police?
I certainly fear for my security after the programme. The channel kept showing my photo on prime time. So one can identify me very easily and attack me anywhere but I can’t identify my possible attacker. I can’t move around freely. It is the faceless enemy that the channel has set after me. So I have reasons to fear for my security. I feel helpless because I don’t know how to be careful. Haven’t you heard a man from Ghaziabad came the other day and slapped Kanhaiya Kumar? He could have killed him. The channel just claimed something and moved on but what about the person? How does that person refute these allegations? How does one reach out to the faceless people whom the channel injected that venom and explain to them that what was said was a lie?
The aim behind the programme was certainly to use a highly powerful channel against a powerless citizen. The aim was to scare people from expressing their views, from writing poetry, books, from painting what they like. I may not be scared by it what will be its impact on others, say who attended the event, who organised it? This is dangerous for the country.
I didn’t go to the police because what is the point of it? Didn’t we see what happened to Kanhaiya in police custody?
Are you planning any legal action against the channel for tarnishing your image and jeopardising your safety?
Personally, I believe in free press. But this is certainly not an example of free press. I am yet to decide whether to take legal action against the channel or not but I will definitely put forward my protest against it by lodging complaints against the channel in the Press Council of India and such foras.
The Shankar-Shad Mushaira has been a prestigious platform for Urdu poetry. Do you regret the event being dragged into a controversy like this?
The Shankar-Shad Mushaira has been a prestigious platform for the Urdu poets of the sub-continent. The format of mushaira and kavi sammelans available to Urdu and Hindi poets is unique to the sub-continent, and you will not find this anywhere in the world. That such a platform has been attacked has hurt me even more.
Both Hindi and Urdu poets have always questioned the notion of religion and god. Some may disagree with them but none was attacked for it. Even during the Emergency, poets didn’t lose their voice. I particularly remember attending a mushaira in Delhi then when someone recited, ‘Chirag ko akhon main mehfuz rakho; Bahut door tak raat hi raat hain…’ The Government didn’t go after him. Even in Pakistan, there was no fatwa against Faiz Ahmad Faiz even though he raised many controversial issues. Though Habib Jalib was jailed for various other reasons, there was no fatwa against him. Jalib criticised the Zia era by writing lines like, ‘Tum se pehle yeh jo ek saksh yahan takhs-naseen tha; usko bhi apne khuda hone pe itna hi yakin tha…”
However, we are now seeing a lot of attacks in the sub-continent for not toeing the linbe. Look at the attacks on the science commentators. Three of them have been killed in the last one and a half years in India; 6 killed in Bangladesh and three in Pakistan. There is no tolerance for the other.
As many as 400 eminent people have come out in support of you by writing a protest letter to Zee News and seeking an apology for it.
I was dumbfounded by such overwhelming support from people across different fields of work; there are actors, painters, filmmakers, singers, lawyers, activists. They are demanding not just an apology from the channel but is also appealing to the Centre and the Delhi government to initiate criminal proceedings against the channel for putting a citizen’s life under threat.
You made a documentary on the Gujarat riots of 2002, which the Zee programme mentioned.
My documentary was not a technically sound one but was the first on the Gujarat riots. It was attacked and banned from screening in some places but the media always supported it. When media starts opposing you, you don’t know whom to go to even if you are right. So it is very important to have not just a free and fair media but also a responsible media.
Below is the poem that Raza recited at the Shankar-Shad Mushaira in New Delhi on March 5:
Dharm me lipti watan parasti kya kya swang rachayegi,
Masli kaliyan, jhulsa gulshan, zard khizaan dikhlayengi.
Europe jis vahshat se ab bhi sehma sehma rehta hai,
Khatra hai wo vahshat mere mulq mein aag lagayegi.
German gaskado (gas chambers) se ab tak khoon ki badboo aati hai,
Andhi watan parasti hum ko us raste le jayegi..
Andhe kuen me jhooth ki naav tez chali thi maan liya,
Lekin bahar roshan dunia tum se sach bulwayegi..
Nafrat me jo pale badhe hain, nafrat me jo khele hain,
Nafrat dekho aage aage unse kya karwayegi..
Fankaron se pooch rahe ho kyun lautaye hain samman,
Poocho, kitne chup baithe hain, sharm unhe kab aayegi.
Yeh mat khao, wo mat pehno, ishq to bilkul karna mat,
Deshdroh ki chap tumhare upar bhi lag jayegi…
Yeh mat bhulo agli naslein roshan shola hoti hain,
aag kuredoge, chingari daaman tak to aayegi…
Also, sample below a poem penned by Raza in 1994 in memory of the martyrs of Jallianwallah Bagh Massacre
Mujhe yakeen hain
Kabhi toh swarg jhuk ke puchta hi hoga, ye falak
Yeh kaisi sarzameen hain yeh kaun log the yahan
Jo zindagi ki bazio ko jitney ki chah main
Luta rahe the bejhijhak lahu ki sab asrafiyan
Yahan lahu-lahu ke rang mein aaya tha kis tarah
Na sabj tha n kesri, na tha saleeb na nishan
Na Ram nam tha yahan, na thi Khuda ki rahmaten
Na jannato ki chah thi, na dozkho ka khauf tha
Na swarg inki manzilen, na narak ka sawal tha
Masih-o-Gautam-o-Rasul, Krishna koyi bhi nehi
Ke jiske naam jam peeke mast ho gaye ho sab
Yeh kaun si sharab thi ke jiska yeh suroor tha
Yeh kis tarah ki mastiyon main is kadar guroor tha
Yeh kis tarah yakeen ho ke ek must-e-shaka hain
Jo zindagi ki maang main bikhar gaye sundar-si
Inhe yakeen tha ke inke dam se hi bahaar hain
Yeh keh rahe the hum se hi bahaar par nikhar hain
Bahaar par yeh bandishen inhe kubool kyun nehi
Inhe kubool kyun nehi yeh gair ki hukumatein
Yeh kya huwa ke ek-b-ek sab khamosh ho gaye
Yah ape aus kyun pari yeh dhool dab gaye hain kya
Mujhe yakeen hain ke phir yaheen isi mukaam se
Uthega hasra ji uthenge saare naram khwaab phir
Barabari ka sab junoon simat ke phir se aayega
Bikhar degi zindagi ki Heer apni zulfo ko
Yahi se uthegi sada ke khud pe tu yakeen kar
Yahi se zulm ki karri pe pehla war aayega.