The ‘facts' HT found in Dantewada

BY Neelesh Misra| IN Opinion | 11/12/2009
Did Mr. Menon meet the same man, who you now claim was electrocuted, not burnt in oil? We would like to clarify, and we would have known, had the fact-finding team leader helped us meet the elusive oil-dipped man.
NEELESH MISRA responds to PUDR’s letter to the Hoot and says Himanshu Kumar’s assertions were not backed by facts.

The Hoot carried a letter recently about a story of mine which was part of a series I did out of Chhattisgarh.


Its unfashionable for the media to criticise NGOs working for human rights - even for reporters consistently highlighting excesses by security forces - because that earns journalists labels. But it is time a sense of proportion was introduced in this debate. Don¿t shoot the messenger.


Our story was about the fact-finding report "Burnt in Oil", showcased in different parts of India and endorsed by various opinion leaders.  You are now  admitting what we have already reported, that it was led by a sensational lie - that an old man was hung upside down and dipped in hot oil by security forces.


You are now asking us to not rely on the report, but on a documentary by another journalist who, who says the man was "electrocuted", not burnt. That¿s like saying "I am sorry I lied, but look at that man, he is definitely saying the truth".


Well, we don¿t normally report what fellow journalists have reported and do our own investigations, but due to the sensitivity of this matter, in all fairness we have reported very prominently in the story how Gopal Menon said he found human rights violations, including electrocution.


Did Mr. Menon meet the same man, who you now claim was electrocuted, not burnt in oil? We would like to clarify, and we would have known, had the fact-finding team leader helped us meet the elusive oil-dipped man.


To answer your question, of course we did meet Himanshu Kumar, the fact-finding team leader. Please read the story, he is prominently mentioned. We asked him to help us meet the man burnt in oil. Even he hadn¿t met him!


He said "even we are looking for him". The team hadn¿t met a large number of alleged victims it wrote about. And it is unclear how it could physically collect so many case studies after spending just one night in a remote village, when the other villages mentioned are up to eight hours away from Nendra on unapproachable dirt tracks.


Solve this puzzle for me: Despite Mr. Kumar¿s assertion that the team hadn¿t met the man in the oil, Muchaki Deva, the report said he had been taken by the fact-finders to a hospital in Bhadrachalam town. But all surgeons there have said in writing that no such person was brought to them.


In Dantewada, we went to Mr. Kumar¿s office and took pictures of villagers he said had been threatened by police ("Police have told them they will wipe out their village in two days") but his story was again not backed by facts. I questioned the villagers in front of Mr. Kumar, he did much of the translation himself: turned out a man called Badru had read a newspaper report which scared him, and gave him the impression that the village would be burnt down; he told others, who came to Dantewada and told Mr. Kumar, who told HT that police had come to their village to make the threat!


You slam the NHRC report - in that case, do you also disagree with its findings on human rights excesses by security forces and SPOs, that we have cited? Just because NGOs criticise a report that criticises them, does that make it less credible? 


And surely the report must has some merit, since several activists also selectively quote parts of the same NHRC report to make their point against the Chhattisgarh government!


Neelesh Misra

Deputy Executive Editor
Hindustan Times
New Delhi


December 11, 2009



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