Operation Baby Lift: Is Outlook practicing anti-Hindu bias?

It appears that the Outlook magazine is deliberately pursuing a Hinduphobic agenda and this is anything but ethical journalism.

In the recent edition of Outlook magazine, they have published a cover story on “Operation Baby Lift”, wherein they accuse “Rashtra Sewika Samiti” and “Sewa Bharti” for indulging in “Human trafficking” and “abduction” of girls. The investigation was carried out by a young journalist Neha Dixit. First of all, I would like to congratulate the journalist and the Outlook team for their ‘extensive investigation’. These people might have their own prejudices and misconceptions about India and Hinduism, but at least they are earning money in this competitive era of business, even if it is through running a negative marketing strategy! But, they forgot to add a disclaimer at the end of this ‘brilliant’ story saying:

“This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.”

outlook piece

outlook pieces

Though, at the first glance, the story appears to be thorough and a result of extensive investigation, on a deeper probe, it comes across as being vague, inconsistent and a product of highly biased reporting.

For example, consider the sensational terminologies like “Baby Snatching” and “Trafficking” that have been repeatedly used in the Outlook report. The United Nation’s Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Trafficking in Persons defines “Trafficking in persons” as:

the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”

Now, according to the information provided by the Outlook author herself, the parents of those Children had given consent to Rashtra Sewika Samiti to take their children for imparting them education and better life opportunities. And these children were sent for the purpose of education. The parents have even signed affidavits regarding the same in front the notary public and judicial magistrate. Here is a copy of the affidavit signed by a parent:

letter

Since, the parents themselves had given consent for sending the children and since the children were sent for the purpose of education and there has been no incidence of exploitation, where is trafficking? Where is baby snatching? The author cleverly gives a twist to the entire incident and tries to portray genuine social work as trafficking and abduction. The author, then, cites the Supreme Court’s verdict of September 1, 2010, which came after a probe revealed the trafficking of 76 children from Assam and Manipur, most of them minor girls, to “homes” run by Christian missionaries in Tamil Nadu[i] and hence, tries to discredit the humanitarian work being done by organizations like Sewa Bharati, Rashtra Sewika Samiti, etc. by equating them with evangelism being carried out by Christian missionaries. One wonders, whether this “hit-job” at Hindu organizations was carried out at the behest of evangelical organizations, which have suffered an image crisis after the Supreme Court gave its verdict, and since, more and more of their unethical activities are coming to light with each passing day.

One also wonders, whether the Outlook author forgot the basics of doing research, or whether she sidelined them, so as to arrive at the pre-determined conclusion. In her report, she uses a very small sample set as example and tries to portray that thousands of children are being ‘trafficked’ by organizations like Sewa Bharti and Rashtra Sewika Samiti. There are few simple questions that the author needs to answer: What is the size of the sample used by her? Is the sample size large enough to give a fair picture of ground reality? How many people did she interview? Where is the questionnaire? If children are being indeed trafficked, then why do parents continue to send their children to these schools? Did she undertake a comparative study of people who are happy with their children in these schools versus those who are unhappy? Why has she not taken given enough weighted to the views of these organizations? Why is her report one-sided and tries to pass subjective observation as objective truths?

It would have done them good, if the Outlook team had kept their preconceived biases aside and had studied the history of organizations like Sewa Bharati, before coming up with their defamatory article, camouflaged as “investigative journalism”. Laxmibai Kelkar established the Rashtra Sevika Samiti at Wardha on 25 October 1936, and since then, they have been continuously working towards the empowerment of women. Till date, there has not been even a single incidence of wrongdoing, corruption, or any illegal activity. Similarly, Sewa Bharati was established in 1979 and since then, it has involved itself in various service activities among the most neglected sections of the Indian society. Sewa Bharati has done enormous relief work during natural calamities, be it 2001 Gujarat earthquake, or 2004 Tsunami, or 2008 Bihar floods. “Seva Bharati” is reported to have 13,786 projects in education, 10,908 in health care, 17,560 in social welfare and 7,452 self-reliance projects.[ii] Vidya Bharati, another Hindu organization, operates one of the largest private network of schools in India, with around 17,396 schools, 2.2 million students, and 93,000 teachers. Considering, the history of selfless service of these organizations, any fair and unbiased media outlet, would have thought twice before publishing propaganda material as ‘investigation journalism’; they would have at least presented a balanced account shedding light on all aspects of the issue, including accounts from those who have benefited from these organizations, as well as the responses of these organizations to the charges made against them.

In any case, the Rashtra Sewika Samiti has issued a letter condemning the defamation carried out by the Outlook magazine and has stressed that their organization is not involved in any illegal activity:

letter...

Now, let’s have a deeper look into the Outlook report.

In Part 1 of their report titled “Baby Snatching”, despite the catching headline, not a single incident of abduction of babies is mentioned. Instead, the author tries to paint the sending away of children for the sake of studies, with parents singing affidavits stating the same as some kind of conspiracy involving Sangh organizations. The author takes issue with the English language of the affidavits, since most of the parents had no knowledge of English. But, she conveniently ignored the fact that the affidavits were signed in the presence of a notary public and judicial magistrate in Kokrajhar and hence the language is not an issue at all.

Hinduphobia of the author is quite evident, when she cleverly uses the conversations with “Adha” and “Mangal” to portray Adha as the victim and Mangal, who belongs to RSS as a part of a larger conspiracy. This is not to suggest that the plight of Adha should not be addressed or is concocted. If, Adha is not being able to contact her children, then this issue must definitely be highlighted and sorted out. But, at the same time, one should not ignore the fact that Mangal’s child was also sent to the same organization. Why is it Adha’s child going outside to study is projected as trafficking, whereas Mangal’s child’s case is not trafficking?

The author’s ignorance about Hinduism, becomes quite evident, when she tries to show how Bodos are not Hindus and writes: “The complexities of the tribals’ animist practices are flattened out for the Sangh parivar’s agenda.” She further writes: “In fact, the original religion of Bodos is Bathouism, which does not have any scriptures, religious books or temples. Bathou, in Bodo language, means the five principles: bar (air), san (sun), ha (earth), or (fire) and okhrang (sky). Their chief deity Bathoubwrai (bwrai meaning elder) is believed to be omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. The five principles are Bathoubwrai’s creations,” without realizing the fact that earth, air, sky, etc. are considered Pancha-Mahabhutas in Hinduism and the Upanishads itself speak about how these manifested out of Brahman, which is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent!

In another follow up report titled “Govt Threatens To Sack Assam Child Rights Top Official”, Neha Dixit alleges, following Outlook expose, the Central government threatened Runumi Gogoi, chairperson, Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, to either change her report or be removed from her post. Yet, a press release from Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, published after the above report, refutes the allegations. Here is a copy of the press release:

press release

These inconsistencies raise serious questions regarding the credibility of the Outlook report and forces one to question, whether this is another hit-job on BJP and Sangh Parivar?

In the Part 2 of the report titled “The Trail”, the author tries to project the social welfare activities of these organizations as fulfilling some hideous and regressive “Hindutva Agenda”. She brands Vidya Bharati and Ekal Vidyalays work in educating the poorest of the poor as providing “Hindu nationalistic education to children.” She takes issue with children learning to say “namaskar” and practicing traditional way of life and writes “With such training, the young women grow up with an unquestioning belief in the Hindutva idea of the intended role of women in the Hindu rashtra.” The author does not even spare the national song. She calls teaching of the national song and various folk songs about Indian history as “a quiet, subtle indoctrination.”

When Ghana Kanta Brahma speaks about the burning issue of demographic changes, inter-religious conflicts, rampart conversions by Muslims and Christians of the area, and the disadvantaged condition of the Bodos, the author dismisses it as “creating paranoia” and “hearsay” and yet she does not mince her words, while speaking about “Ghar Wapsi” programmes being conducted by some Sangh organizations!

When I contacted Shri Priyank Kanoongo, member of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, Delhi, about the issue raised in Outlook report, he stated that the “inquiry is going on in this case and till now no problems have been found.”

In Part 5, titled “Ghar Wapasi for the Girls?” the author writes: “In the last two decades, the Bodoland territory has seen high penetration by Christian missionaries. The SC order men­tioned earlier in this report was an ind­icator of such involvement and trafficking of children. The Sangh parivar has emulated a similar model—and gone a step further—in a grand social agenda that seeks to ensure a permanent ‘Hinduised’ vote for the BJP.

This is a clear attempt at equating the welfare activities of the Sangh related organizations with evangelical activities of the Christian missionaries. Has Outlook, now become an apologist of the missionaries? What else explains this unnecessary and unfair equation? Just because Christian missionaries involve in trafficking, does not mean every other organization involved in social welfare will indulge in trafficking. It appears, the author is pursuing a different agenda than the plight of young girls, which is supposed to be the subject of the report. The author has repeatedly not only tried to equate Sangh organizations with Evangelical activities, she has also tried to uphold that Bodos and tribals are not Hindus and has consistently tried to portray any attempt to mainstream these tribals as an attempt at converting them into Hinduism.

Notwithstanding the fact that the author is completely ignorant about decentralized and open architecture of Hinduism, which is unlike Abrahamic religions, and which has for centuries developed through innumerable local traditions and beliefs and practice systems and yet unites them through underlying principle of Dharma; she also appears to be deliberately attempting to de-root Bodos and other indegenous communities from mainstream Indian culture and tradition, and hence create cultural separation and isolation. This, if pursued as a policy, is a definite recipe for disaster, mass conversions, and breaking of India.

This is not the first time that the Outlook magazine has shown its anti-Hindu bias. As recently as 20, July, 2016, the magazine published an article about “Kanwariyas” by Murad Ali Baig, wherein the author had drawn a derogatory comparison between Kanwariyas and Naxallites. It appears that the Outlook magazine is deliberately pursuing a Hinduphobic agenda and this is anything but ethical journalism.

Footnotes:

[1] http://creative.sulekha.com/tamil-nadu-christian-child-kidnapping_467823_blog

[1] https://web.archive.org/web/20081120205345/http://newstodaynet.com/2006sud/06apr/0604ss1.htm

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Shubham Verma is a Researcher and writer working with Public Policy Research Centre, New Delhi. His research focus is on Social sciences, Indian culture, Internal security and Rural development. He is the founder of Azad Gurukul.