An open letter to Shekhar Gupta by a man whose efforts were maligned by ThePrint

Dear Shekhar Gupta ji,

I fondly remember reading about your boss/mentor Nihal Singh ji, and his sage advice to a younger you, to verify facts and re-verify them again before publishing them. Those were the days, editors preferred journalistic ethics over sensationalism.

I also fondly remember reading about your 2012 Lalit Doshi Memorial Lecture, where you said “Who has the patience to verify facts…” in the context of where the media industry was headed. Little did I know this was a pre-emptive disclaimer about ThePrint’s editorial standards.

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Let me explain where I am coming from, as I was the subject of unsubstantiated insinuations on your news site.

On July 14, 2017, ThePrint published a piece called “Under PM Modi, India got back more stolen antiquities in 3 years than the UPA government in 10 years” (available here). For most part, the piece is fairly well researched in describing the success of the Modi government’s diplomatic effort. The piece also mentions me by name and describes our effort, India Pride Project (IPP), where we are bringing the cause of heritage recovery to the fore. So far so good.

However, towards the end, your reporter decides IPP needs a communal spin. She quotes an ‘anonymous’ art curator describing us as, “the group is ideologically driven and only investigates Hindu-antiquities”.

My, my Mr. Gupta! Only Hindu-antiquities? That’s a strong insinuation to our motivations, don’t you think? Not that facts matter to you, but I’m taking the liberty to set some out for you, anyway.

  1. I have presented IPP’s work, a dozen times in India and abroad, and always start with six examples. In EACH AND EVERY talk, four of those six investigations are Christian, Islamic, Jain and Buddhist artifacts respectively. Screenshots are attached below, and were also sent to you on Twitter, where you have still not responded. Wonder why.

The ‘non-Hindu’ artifacts investigated by the India Pride Project (click on the image for larger resolution)

For your information, these public sessions I mentioned, are free of charge, so ‘news media start-ups’ like yours can afford to attend.

  1. My introductory video on IPP has been viewed a few thousand times online. I specifically focus on the destruction of not just Hindu, but Islamic and Jewish heritage. Video here:

  1. A cursory look at my interviews or writing published elsewhere, will show you tons of examples/citations of our “secular” leanings. For example, my Sunday Guardian article from October 2016, where I talk about Jewish, Buddhist and Islamic heritage, and NOT ONCE about Hindu heritage.

However, your reporter chose to paint us saffron, based on an ‘anonymous’ source; who is either:

  1. Ignorant about our very public stance & work (benefit-of-doubt scenario); or
  2. Is part of a disinformation campaign and is wilfully provocative (more likely the case).

If it’s the former, you should have questioned this “expert’s” competence. If the latter, his intent.

Instead, your editorial team probably said, “Let’s not waste 5 minutes fact-checking on Google. Also, we’ve had Anuraag’s email ID and phone number for weeks, but let’s not seek a clarification either. We’ll just go with an unsubstantiated opinion from an unnamed person”. Any of this fact-checking could have been easily done; from the very comfort of your ivory-tower.

But not just your editorial team refused to indulge in some cross-checking, your esteemed publication even refused to carry my unedited response/rebuttal once I registered my protest over the way our efforts were maligned by an unknown ‘source’ (I am happy to send you screenshots of the exchange). So much for Freedom Of Expression!

The reason you guys denied me the rebuttal was, “This is a report and not an opinion piece…”

So let me get this right Gupta ji. An unsubstantiated claim, from an anonymous source, not verified by the editor, without seeking a comment/clarification; is a “report” by your standards? Dhanya ho prabhu!

Now don’t get me wrong Gupta ji. At a personal level, I am proud of my heritage and origins. On identifying as a Hindu, as I’m guessing you do as well (well, at least I hope you do). But you see, that’s just incidental, and has nothing to do with our rozi-roti or causes that we support. It takes a very different kind of journalism to reach conclusions like “I’m sure Reliance Jio makes phones for only Hindus, because the Ambanis are Hindu.” Sounds stupid right? Yeah, exactly my point!

No wonder you had so much trouble in Goa, defending your industry against Vivek Agnihotri and Shefali Vaidya. The wisdom of the crowds (on social media), trumps the questionable ethics of Lutyens‘ media.

Shekhar babu. You have friends and connections in the Lutyens ecosystem. I don’t. Aapke paas bangla hai, gaadi hai, bank balance hai. Mere paas, facts hain. This might not mean much in your world, but it does to ordinary Indians like us; that are agitated at the misinformation machinery your ilk runs. It‘s almost like your industry is facing a coup; and a real one at that.

Chhota muh badi baat, but there’s a bigger question you should ask yourself Shekhar babu. Can a startup media-platform afford to communalise issues; especially when facts to the contrary are so widely and easily available to readers? If this is what all you intended to do, why did you need a new brand name at all? is there absolutely no way you guys can improve? Just keep launching new platforms with new names but the same old frustrating spin and propaganda.

Any objective that is larger than one’s self takes a whole lot of dedication, Shekhar ji. Researchers like Dr. Mankoti & Vijay have made it their life’s work, to investigate stolen heritage. Volunteers like Aashish and Rahul run IPP’s technology and social media presence over and above their day-jobs. A group of Jain traders in Chennai (Ajith, Umesh, Naresh, etc) run the advocacy program for Tamil Nadu. A bunch of 20-somethings in Delhi support us with awareness campaigns. I myself have travelled across the world, creating a climate for specific artifacts to be returned to India. Hundreds of volunteers offer us help whenever we need it.

None of us is paid for our effort. The project is self-funded from our own meagre pockets (no donations, no government funding, no charity receipts, nothing). IPP is a true example of how great objectives can be achieved, when people with the right intent come together.

Foreign Governments & agencies have acknowledged our work. Universities and Institutions across the world are excited about IPP, and invite us over to speak. Heck, even UNESCO chose to honour our work. But somehow, your reporter ignored these fine institutions, and their opinion. Or maybe an ‘anonymous art curator’ is more credible as per your journalistic standards?

However… all that matters now is that IPP is a ‘saffron’ effort. Why? Because an unnamed, self-proclaimed expert said so. Thank you!

As my wise, old, bua used to say, “Aankhon se keechad nikalo, duniya apne aap saaf dikhegi.

Just to clarify. Unlike your publication (that declined to publish my point of view), I’m not against your sources’ freedom of expression; however intelligent or otherwise, those opinions might be. Just because I live by the mantra “Try being informed instead of just opinionated”, doesn’t mean your sources, or your team should too. So again; I have nothing against the opinion of this ‘art curator’.

I can only wish though… either the reporter, or the editor (any ONE of them) could have either fact-checked, or given us the chance to comment (any ONE of the actions) before going to print. But as you had yourself predicted in 2012, “Who has the patience to verify facts…”.

Heck! Why should you ‘Walk-the-Talk’, when you can ‘Mock-and-Shock’.

Unfortunately, editorial integrity is a pipe-dream. Especially when we don’t live in times, where stalwarts like Nihal Singh run the news.

Yours factually,
Anuraag Saxena.

(Anuraag Saxena is a Singapore-based CA & MBA. He is passionate about Indian heritage and culinary-history, and runs India Pride Project (www.ipp.org.in). He tweets at @anuraag_saxena)

Anuraag Saxena is a Singapore-based CA & MBA. He is passionate about Indian heritage and culinary-history, and runs India Pride Project.

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