A Request to Indian Media: Read Nepali News

Indian media continues to peddle misinformation about Nepal-India ties. @IndiaToday is the latest example.

India Today’s Rahul Kanwal should have googled the name Govinda Gautam before making a sweeping, ignorant and completely false statement.
India Today’s Rahul Kanwal should have googled the name Govinda Gautam before making a sweeping, ignorant and completely false statement.

India has produced some of the finest minds in the fields of science and technology, literature, and philosophy. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about journalism in the world’s largest democracy. There have been countless criticism of Indian journalism by Indians themselves. Indian journalists peddling jingoism and misinformation while covering India’s relationship with Nepal has also been noted. This post details one more example of lazy Indian journalists making uninformed and outlandish claims without evidence and disseminating false information.

On 12 June, India Today broadcast a programme hosted by one of its marquee anchors and editors Rahul Kanwal. Kanwal did not come off as a moronic bully that Arnab Goswami was during a recent Republic TV debate on India-Nepal relationship. However, he failed in fulfilling a basic duty of journalism that requires one to do some research on the topic one is going to discuss. As a result, he ended up spreading unverified and, at one point, downright false information through his channel.

Kanwal was talking about yesterday’s incident in Sarlahi, near Nepal’s border with India, where an Indian national was killed after being shot during a clash between the Armed Police Force (APF) and a group of Indians with the later forcibly trying to enter Nepal violating lockdown restrictions placed by both countries along the international border.

An Armed Police Force (APF) personnel at a makeshift border outpost in western Nawaparasi at the border with India. Image: Kantipur

After the APF blocked the Indians, they retreated only to return “with hundreds of people to protest which soon turned violent. Our security personnel opened fire as the unruly mob started attacking them,” according to Superintendent of APF Gangaram Shrestha. A TKP report quotes an eyewitness saying that the seven-member APF team was outnumbered by the advancing protesters. Just as the security personnel were forced to retreat from their post, witnesses said the mob started to attack. One Indian national was arrested for snatching weapons from the APF personnel, according to Shrestha. He was handed over to the Indians today.

It does not seem like a case of a couple trying to visit their relatives on the Nepali side of the border as some Indian media have portrayed it to be. But only a fair investigation will provide a full picture. However, Rahul Kanwal or any other Indian media outlet did not find it necessary to mention this.

Here is how Kanwal presented the ‘fact’: “Most people who are watching would be shocked if somebody says there was an Indian trying to cross over into Nepal and the Nepal Armed Police opened fire and Indians were shot and others were injured. It is being said that this is not linked to the border dispute but something like this never happened and therefore very clearly raises questions…”

And then former Indian ambassador to Nepal Rakesh Sood suddenly wore a judge’s hat and issued an uninformed verdict that the person who was killed was “an innocent”. But let us focus on Kanwal’s assertions, one of which is a half-truth and does not provide a full picture, while the other is outright false.

  1.  “Most people …would be shocked if somebody says there was an Indian trying to cross over into Nepal and the Nepali Armed Police opened fire and the Indian was shot…

Kanwal does not inform his audience of the Nepali version of the event that superintendent Shrestha details above which is Journalism 101. 

More importantly, Kanwal erases the context. Heightened security measures have been put in place at the international border by both countries to curb the spread of coronavirus. While Nepalis are permitted to enter their country, no foreigners are permitted. Likewise, Indians in Nepal are allowed to go to India. 

COVID-19 related restrictions have also limited unregulated cross-border movement including those of smugglers and criminals. There have been several incidents in the past few weeks, during lockdown, in which Indian smugglers have forcibly tried to enter Nepal and, in the process, they have attacked Nepali security forces several times. On 22 May, for example, a mob of around one hundred Indians attacked APF men at Jhapa’s Kachankawal municipality in which an APF man was injured. The Indian border police dispersed the crowd. Five incidents of Indian mobs attacking APF men were recorded between 24 April to 3 May. Since the border was sealed to prevent the spread of coronavirus in March, 18 incidents of Indians forcefully trying to enter Nepal in violation of the rules have been recorded. In one such incident, an Indian mob abducted a sub-inspector from Siraha and took him to India. The Nepali side secured the release of Sub-Inspector Tej Bahadur Karki only after coordinating with the Indian border police.

  1. “but something like this never happened [before]…”

Kanwal should have googled the name Govinda Gautam before making that sweeping, ignorant and completely false statement. Gautam died after being shot by the Indian border police on 9 March 2017. Gautam was not even trying to cross the border, he was shot inside Nepali territory following a dispute over building a culvert over Sano Khola River in Kanchanpur district.

Govinda Gautam died after being shot by the Indian border police on 9 March 2017.
Govinda Gautam died after being shot by the Indian border police on 9 March 2017. Image: Gefont

And this was not the first instance of Indian border police killing Nepalis. Something like this happened before 2017 too. They beat a Nepali, Mukul Raya Yadav of Saramjawa Rural Municipality in Rautahat district, to death in 2009. In fact, in 2018, the Indian government decided to provide Rs 800,000 to the family of Yadav as compensation after the Indian National Human Rights Commission found the Indian border police (SSB) guilty.

Kanwal also fails to mention countless incidents of Indian border police harassing, beating, and bullying Nepalis on a daily basis. Instead, Kanwal oversimplifies the incident and portrays it as an incident of Nepali armed police killing an Indian trying to cross the border. Here is an example from May 2017 of how Indian border police harass Nepalis along the Indo-Nepal border:

India’s SSB nabs two Nepalis
GULARIYA. May 27, 2017- The Indian Sashastra Seema Bal arrested two Nepalis who had reached the bordering Indian market of Tikoniya to fetch groceries on Friday. They have been identified as Keshav Dahit Tharu and Antaram Tharu, residents of Madhuban Municipality-6 in Bardiya district, police said. According to locals, SSB officials in plain clothes had asked the Nepalis to deliver a packet they (SSB) were carrying to a medical shop in Tikoniya. Upon reaching there, the SSB personnel accused the Nepalis of carrying cocaine and arrested them on the false charge, relatives of the duo said.
(Source: The Kathmandu Post)

The Indian official propaganda that portrays India as a giver and Nepal as a recipient obscures the true extent of give and take in Nepal-India relationship.

In his Q&A with Nepali editor Yubaraj Ghimire, Kanwal repeats his false claim “that I am just saying there has never been firing of this kind”. And then Kanwal goes on to lecture that “India opens its heart, …doors to everyone from Nepal” giving the false perception that either Nepal has not reciprocated. This suggestio falsi is in line with the half-truth Indian official propaganda that always portrays India as a giver and Nepal as a recipient. Incidentally, a report Kanwal ran on his show before the Q&A dutifully highlighted this patently false ‘giver-recipient’ narrative through the 11 June statement of an Indian foreign ministry spokesperson. The spokesperson said:

“India deeply values its civilisation, cultural and friendly relations with Nepal. Our multi-faceted bilateral partnership has expanded and diversified in the recent years with increased focus and enhanced Government of India’s assistance on humanitarian, development and connectivity projects in Nepal. We have supplied about 25 tonnes of medical aid to Nepal, including paracetamol and hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) medicines, test kits and other medical supplies. Government of India has also ensured that there is no untoward disruption in trade and supply of essential goods to Nepal, despite the lockdown on both sides. India has also helped in repatriation of Nepalese nationals stranded abroad on humanitarian grounds.”

This Indian narrative, dutifully parroted by the Indian media without questioning, obscures the true extent of give and take in Nepal-India relationship. For example, India receives billions of dollars of remittances from Nepal– on an average $3+ billion annually in recent years. It is a whopping $2 billion more than what Nepal receives as remittance from India. What Kanwal fails to mention is that Nepal too “opens its heart, …opens its doors to everyone from [India]”. Hundreds of thousands of Indians come to work in Nepal to earn a livelihood.

Indian journalists and commentators must do some basic research and study more about Nepal and their country’s relationship with Nepal, particularly if they are covering or commenting on the issue.

Likewise, have Indians ever reflected upon and converted in monetary value the benefits they have reaped by recruiting and retaining Nepalis in their armed forces? The cost of Nepali lives lost fighting India’s wars in addition to the immense Indian soft power generated by the recruitment of Gorkhas would surely outweigh anything that India has ever done for Nepal including the cost of paracetamol and hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) medicines that the Indian government brags of providing to Nepal. The argument that India is supporting Nepal by providing employment to its youth, however, does not hold water given widespread unemployment in India.

But Indian journalists omit this fact in their story because they do not find it to be a journalist’s duty to question their government’s narrative and therefore parrot whatever the babus tell them.

This episode once again highlights the need for Indian journalists to to some basic research and study more about their country’s relationship with Nepal, particularly if they are covering or commenting on the issue. One can observe many Nepalis and Nepali journalists voraciously consuming Indians’ perspective on Nepal-India ties disseminated by Indian media outlets. Nepalis further share those articles or interviews widely in their social media timelines. But the same cannot be said of Indian nationals or Indian journalists. Indians rarely circulate a Nepali perspective or news report on Nepal-India relationship published in a Nepali media outlet in their social media timelines. Had it been more frequent, perhaps the number of blatant errors, omissions, and outright lies propagated by the Indian media while discussing Nepal-Indian ties would decrease.

Nepalis enthusiastically circulate an Indian perspective or news report on Nepal-India relationship published in an Indian media outlet in their social media timelines. Indians rarely reciprocate.

Published by UWB

Pioneering blog from Nepal...since 2004.