Media

How fake news about ‘RSS-linked org promising fair babies’ was invented by media

On Twitter, this particular news article flashed on my timeline – RSS-Linked Organisation Promises Couples Customised, Fair ‘Super Babies’ – it was published on a website called The Wire. People were already making snide comments about RSS, and Hinduism in general, based on the headline.

Such headlines have become so commonplace, and uniformly misleading when it comes to any organisation or event or practice that is purportedly linked to ‘Hindutva’ – even if its merely about traditional healthcare practices without any religious component per se.

So normally one just sighs and ignores them. But once in a while curiosity is piqued, and you decide to do a little deeper digging to find out if things are actually as bad as they sound. And that’s what I did in this case.

I started with reading the The Wire article in detail, and realised that it was merely a re-hash of an NDTV report and an Indian Express article with zero value addition. I went through both of those too, but didn’t find any additional facts (or claims) – it seemed the Wire had done a good job of copying the essentials faithfully.

The essence of the story was that Arogya Bharti, the “medical wing” of the RSS, has been allowed by the Calcutta Hight Court to “carry out a programme on how to conceive children that would be tall and fair provided it adhered to strict conditions.” This was preceded by pointed out that such aspirations pointed to the racial mindsets (of the conducting organisation and attending parents, one presumes).

Then I started digging. And found the following:-

  1. Neither the websites of RSS, nor of the conducting organisations Arogya Bharti and Garbh Vigyan mentions any direct link between them, let alone of Arogya Bharti being the “medical wing” of the RSS.
  2. RSS annual report also doesn’t mention the activities of either of these organisations.
  3. “Contact Us” pages of both the organisations had mobile numbers left on them. To be doubly sure, I called up on both the numbers, and I was told the same thing (Remember, this is something the “journalists” of the aforementioned publications should have done). Neither of these organisations has any official connection to the RSS.
  4. Dr. Ramesh Gautam, National General Secretary of the Arogya Bharti, honestly conceded that his ideology might match that of the RSS, but there were no financial, managerial, or operational linkages with the RSS whatsoever. “Ours is an autonomous organisation,” he clarified.
  5. Further, he flatly denied that there was any attempt to get ‘taller and fairer’ babies for the Indian parents. Referring to his ideology that won’t allow him to indulge in something like that, he argued, “We worship a dark Krishna and a short Vamana, so how can we think that being dark or short is a handicap?”
  6. He said that the workshop, allowed by the High Court, was only about educating the expecting mothers and families about various activities that can help them have a healthy and gifted child, and was not at all about ‘tall and fair’ children as has been wrongly claimed in the headlines.
  7. Again, assuming that calling up a few people is too much of a work for modern day journalists, let’s go back to the websites. The Garbh Vigyan Kendra website describes the process as involving prenatal diet, yoga, music, behavioural and thinking process for a healthy pregnancy and child. Specific advantages of the program as quoted on its the website are –

What the website promises to the expecting parents

You can see that there is NO mention of promising prospective “dark-skinned” parents who undergo its workshop and procedures “babies … with fair complexion” or of the babies being “tall” as a result of the program, as was claimed in the articles by the mainstream media publications. So where did this thing come from? The Indian Express quoted someone from Arogya Bharti, which is in conflict with what I was told on phone by the General Secretary of the organisation.

Therefore in a few minutes and after a couple of phone calls, I could figure out that the headline was grossly misleading (I am still giving benefit of doubt to the Indian Express reporter that the quote was not invented, but we know that the media is fully capable of fabricating quotes), the “RSS-link” was tenuous at best (they just share the ideology), and the organisation isn’t the’Medical Wing’ of RSS as reported.

I still wondered whether such a program of prenatal care, involving a spiritual component in addition to the usual dietary and physical ones, was unique to this organisation and thus it was found to be so sensational? So I decided to undertake some further research.

And I found multiple programs from other countries which talk about similar pre-natal programs essentially involving spiritual and physical well-being of the mother during the pregnancy for ensuring a healthier baby, including one being run by the University of Minnesota. There were others from countries like Australia, Canada and South Africa.

So  I concluded that anything with even a faint whiff of ‘saffron’ about it has become a taboo for certain sections, to the extent that even innocuous healthcare programs are being deliberately demonised and projected as part of some grand design to turn the country into a nazi-like racist state.

I wonder where it will all lead to.

But on my part, it has made me completely sceptical and unbelieving of anything I read unless I do my own digging and checking – especially when it comes to RSS or any organisation with alleged connections to it. And the result has been opposite of that presumably intended – instead of developing a fear and distrust for such organisations, I am growing to admire the multitude of service they seem to be doing.

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