IAMCs Response to Times Now

1) Times Now’s India Upfront program coverage of the Religious Freedom briefing in Capitol Hill : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qa31df3KRmQ

Original Video of briefing: https://www.facebook.com/IndianAmericanMuslimCouncil/videos/1912060422205443?sfns=1

 

December 12, 2018

To
Mr. Rahul Shivshankar
Editor-in-Chief
Times Now
New Delhi

Subject: India Upfront program coverage of the Religious Freedom briefing in Capitol Hill

Dear Mr. Shivshankar,

Greetings.

We write to you with reference to your program “India Upfront” broadcast on Times Now network
on November 30, 2018 at 7:55 PM, covering an event titled “Religious Freedom in India: A
Briefing on Capitol Hill”.

This event was held at the Russell Senate Office Building at the Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.,
on November 29 and was organized by Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), an organization
dedicated to promoting peace, pluralism, justice and liberty for all.

We, the undersigned, were among the speakers at that event, and we are writing now to express
our dismay and disappointment with the content of your aforementioned show which was, to
say the least, duplicitous and defamatory towards us and our organizations.

Firstly, as the newscaster, you repeatedly said that the views expressed at the briefing were akin
to the positions held by India’s opposition parties. At one point in the show, you asked: “Is it a
possibility that some of these [organizations] are sponsored by political opponents of the
governments here [in India] because the points that were made were very political in nature?”

The insinuation that political opponents in India might sponsor us or our organizations is not only
preposterous but false and defamatory and we reject it outright. We advocate for freedom of
religion and a free press as guaranteed in the Indian constitution and understood by the
international community. We are not partisans and have worked to bring attention to violations
of these principles under different Indian administrations. There is no question that any of us,
individually or collectively, are linked with India’s political parties, ruling or in the opposition.

The Briefing was headlined by Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, a towering advocate for human rights
and religious freedom and the daughter of Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor to win a seat
on U.S. Congress, and who created the Congressional Human Rights Caucus. To suggest that
she would be fronting for any domestic stakeholders in India insults her global stature.

Indeed, in speaking at the Briefing, all of us, the undersigned, were simply invoking our right to
free speech guaranteed to us under the United States Constitution that allows its citizens
unrestricted freedom to organize, demonstrate and propagate any cause or causes, domestic or
international, they deem as critical to upholding America’s national and political interest.

We believe that the RSS’s rising Hindutva majoritarianism that has unleashed violence against
India’s social and religious minorities — notably, Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs
— is antithetical to the moral commitments of the U.S. and Indian governments to democracy
and the safety and security of social and religious minorities around the world.

It is not only our right but also our duty to ask U.S. Congress and U.S. Government to hold the
Government of India to account for failing to protect its social and religious minorities and uphold
the constitutionally mandated guarantees of right to life and freedom of religion.

Secondly, it speaks poorly of your journalistic values that though you made numerous allegations
and insinuations against the briefing, your editorial team did not once reach out to any of us for
our version. Balanced reporting, including the right to reply, is fundamental to free and fair
journalism, and your program and your network clearly failed on that global standard.

Thirdly, it is surprising that you allowed the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) to call IAMC anti-
Hindu and anti-India without giving IAMC a chance to counter that blatant falsehood. IAMC
believes India is strongest when it lives up to its democratic and inclusive promise.

Fourthly, you and your program falsely claimed that “there was no conversation” at our Briefing
“on attacks that have taken place on Hindus”. In fact, the Briefing prominently discussed the
arson at the ashram of Swami Sandeepananda Giri, who has supported the entry of women at
Kerala’s Sabarimala temple, and the physical violence against Swami Agnivesh, a Hindu monk.

Fifthly, your program claimed that it had “access” to the footage of the event, insinuating that
the Briefing was a secret venture. The fact is that this was a public briefing that had been well
publicized ahead of its occurrence, including on social media platforms such as Facebook.

Sixthly, it is surprising that throughout the program you chose to ignore the fact that a leading
Hindu group in the U.S. — Sadhana: Coalition for Progressive Hindus — was also represented
at the Briefing via its co-Founder Sunita Viswanath. Sadhana has been a leading Hindu voice
expressing strong opposition to the politics of extremism and intolerance in the U.S. and India.

You also belittled the fact that several speakers at the briefing are from the social and religious
minorities facing the brunt of the Hindutva violence. They included Rev. Dr. Sarah C. Anderson-
Rajarigam, who is a Dalit Christian woman and a Lutheran priest in the U.S.; Pawan Singh, who
is Sikh by faith; and Vishavjit Singh, also a Sikh and a survivor of the mass violence against the
Sikhs in India in 1984 following the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi.

It is no less astounding that your program did not address a single issue raised at the Briefing
where the increasing violence against the religious minorities in India was graphically detailed.

Indeed, this briefing has received wide coverage by leading news organizations in India, including
by your sister organization, The Times of India, which fairly represented the briefing for what it
was — a briefing on religious freedom in India organized on Capitol Hill — and accurately
summarized the points made and issues raised by various speakers at the event.

We now urge to you acknowledge the wrongs in your program as outlined above as also carry
our statement on your network prominently so as to redress the grievance you have caused us.
We would also like to let you know that we will publicly release this letter for publication in leading
platforms, including on social media and in the digital space.

With warm regards,

AHSAN KHAN, President, Indian American Muslim Council
KHALID ANSARI, Co-ordinator, Coalition for the Defense of the Constitution and Democracy
LISA HENDRICKSON, Director of Government Relations, Hardwired Global
MIKE GHOUSE, Founder, Center for Pluralism
PAWAN SINGH, Director, Organization for Minorities of India
SARAH C. ANDERSON-RAJARIGAM, Dalit priest, Grace Lutheran Church
SUNITA VISWANATH, Co-Founder, Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus
VISHAVJIT SINGH, Performance artist and survivor 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom