-INDIA: A journalist’s plea for dialogue

WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING

“We need to find a language in which dialogue is possible without malice, hatred and communal prejudice.”

DECEMBER 9, 2008 –  Barkha Dutt is Group Editor, English News, of India’s NDTV. She led a team of reporters to cover the terror attacks on Mumbai from outside the Taj Mahal hotel. This week, Pakistan’s Khaleej Times published her comments on their Opinion page. Her poignant comments are perhaps something we should all reflect on. Here is what she had to say:

“This time, this too shall not pass. And that’s the good part. The anger after the attacks in Mumbai is inflammable enough to start a fire.

But as India demands answers, action and accountability, should we pause and wonder, for just a second, what sort of house we want to build on the ashes of this cathartic blaze?

All this rage and the energy of an enlightened citizenry will end up exhausting itself if not directed at specific ideas for change. So, while we demand the ouster of politicians, we need to look beyond the sense of easy power that it gives us and ask where we go from here. Will we learn our lessons or will the headlines lapse till the next attack, and the next?

The real tragedy of Mumbai is that we now know for sure that more lives could have been saved had the system not been bogged down by inertia, red tape and turf wars. What sort of country does not give its National Security Guard (NSG) commandos – iconic heroes for a new India – even one dedicated aircraft? It is criminal that a proposal to this effect gathered cobwebs for three years.

How do we explain that specific intercepts on a naval invasion were ignored and are now dismissed as inputs that were not ‘actionable?’ It is embarrassing to watch multiple agencies compete in public to defend themselves – leaving us feeling even more vulnerable than before. And the worst part is the horrible, horrible sense of déjà vu. . . . “

Barkha Dutt continues:

“Yet, here we are, back at the drawing board. These are the questions that we should be demanding answers to. Rage has to find a specific syntax so that it does not get lost in the anarchy of anger. Rage, for example, must not become an excuse for targeting another religious community.

Some of that rage has been directed at the media as well. And yes, one of the lessons that are still waiting to be learnt is that you need a centrally coordinated information dissemination system in place when such crises erupt. . . “

The role of media

“Some people have raised questions about why we [the media] had to report on an ongoing operation. Many of the allegations are untrue and a case of shooting the messenger. Here are the cold facts: the security cordon on the site of encounters was determined by officials and was respected by journalists at all times. Had anyone asked us to retreat or switch off our cameras for tactical reasons, we would have done so.  . .”

“Television, this past week, has tried to provide a larger sense of community to a city in grief. It may surprise some readers but many of those who had families trapped inside the two hotels wanted to talk. They wanted to express their pain, anger, grief, fear and sometimes hope. Of course, the privacy of those who wanted to retreat into solitude was respected at all times. But there were scores of others – both survivors and victims – who wanted to share. And we believe we tried our best to tell their stories.

The truth is that in the weeks and months to come, we’ll have much to learn from a week that could transform India forever. For starters, we need to find a language in which dialogue is possible without malice, hatred and communal prejudice. Otherwise, we shall lose the India we love. And the terrorists would have won.”

Barkha Dutt’s article can be read in its entirety at:

http://www.khaleejtimes.com/SectionhomeL.asp?section=opinion

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