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You are a Ansari, rise above your religion: Gorakhpur DM to journalist

The story behind the story of eviction of Muslim-owned homes near Gorakhpur Temple; news reporter alleges DM threatened to action against him

Sabrangindia 09 Jun 2021

Image Courtesy:nationalheraldindia.com

That journalism is a high-risk vocation is an established fact the world over, in India, especially in states such as Uttar Pradesh, the risk is a daily chance almost all journalists take even when commenting on news from the state. The risks and threats come in many forms and legal actions such as FIRs are initiated against reporters, yet some journalists like Masihuzzama Ansari, take a brave decision to share their experience with the world before it is too late.

The Delhi-based journalist who hails from Uttar Pradesh realised he was at ‘risk’ of becoming a headline himself, while reporting on the disputed “evictions” of Muslim families near Gorakhanath Temple in Gorakhpur. He called the District Magistrate for the official version of the district administration and instead was asked his religion, told to rise above it and allegedly threatened with arrest. 

Ansari, is a sub-editor at India Tomorrow news portal. He told SabrangIndia, he feared for his safety now and has written to the National Human Right Commission (NHRC), Press Council of India, Press Club, and the Editors Guild of India, to intervene before it is too late.

Ansari, called Gorakhpur DM K Vijayendra Pandian on the phone to get the official position on  the staus of ‘eviction notice’ given to 11 Muslim families, who claim they were allegedly asked to vacate their homes located near the Gorakhnath temple.  Instead, he was allegedly asked his religion by the IAS officer, who after figuring out the reporter was a Muslim, alleged he was spreading rumours, encouring Hindu-Muslim divide and he can be booked under the IT act. An audio said to be of that teleconversation shows that a person is impling the caller was biased due to his religion. The respondent's tone changed when he established that the caller was a reporter named ‘Ansari’. According to some reports. Ansari was even told that he could be booked under the draconian National Security Act (NSA). SabrangIndia spoke to Ansari recently to understand how a reporter, doing his job, and counter checking information is still at risk of becoming the subject of a news report himself, and is still vulnerable to the state taking action against him.

How did you hear of the ‘eviction consent’ the Muslim families are said to have signed?

My contacts at Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, had called me and told me some families had got what to them seemed like an eviction consent notice and they were troubled. These families said they have lived in the area for many generations, well over a century, and signed the ‘sarkari paper’ under duress but they really don't want to move.  I asked them to share the June 2 notice, and saw that it did not have any official department’s name, but merely said it was a “consent letter” that stated that the families were ‘willingly vacating their homes for the sake of the security arrangements for the Gorakhpur temple’. I know the area well, in the past the roads have been widened around the temple, some homes were demolished then too but they all got proper notices and compensation. However this ‘consent’ letter on plain paper was seen for the first time by anyone. I spoke to the families and they were scared, they told me they signed out of fear.   

How are so many Muslim families settled there?

I also asked that question and was told that the land had been “donated by nawab Asad Ud Daula” and that the families had lived there for over a century now. These families now run small businesses to survive, there are only a couple of them who have a proper education, the rest are just simple folks now scared of official action. But till now, they were never disturbed because they were Muslims, the locals said. A couple of Muslims even said in earlier times they have even gone to the temple festivities, or sought advice on small disputes. And Hindus sought similar advice from the local Maulana when needed. 

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath is the Mahant of the Gorakhnath temple, was there any issue earlier? 

There was no Hindu-Muslim problem here. Now they feel scared, even though some already signed the ‘consent letter’ and added their phone numbers as asked.  Administrative officials visited and told the locals that the police camp needs to be built and they will have to move. Their houses do not come in the way of the proposed camp, said locals. Since June 2 when the barely literate men signed on the ‘document’ they are still not sure what awaits them. They told me the SDM had also visited the area and told the residents they had to vacate the place and come for discussions to the Tehsil. The locals, even those who had signed, say they are clueless on what the local administrator will do next. They told me they were scared and that their names should not be revealed in any reports. Finally only a couple of them agreed to speak on record, and shared the documents. I reported what they said on record. The men had signed the document, but the women were upset and did not want to leave the ancestral homes they are emotionally attached to. I suspected the legality of the consent letter and decided to call the DM saheb to ask him what it was all about.

Why did the officer then lash out at you as alleged?

He told me to report ‘fairly’ and not as a Muslim. I called as a reporter to get the government’s version of what was being alleged by the locals in Gorakhpur. The DM said I was trying to spread rumours, and create enmity between Hindus and Muslims. He insisted that the families living near the Gorakhpur temple were willingly handing over their land and homes to the authorities, as the issue was of the safety of the temple. However, said the so-called agreement was not on any official paper nor did it have any official seal or signature. I had spoken to the families who said they were scared and were forced to sign the so-called consent letter. The paper looked fake to me and I had called the DM to get a clarification on the issue. However, the DM threatened me with legal action, if I were to continue reporting on this issue. His tone and words to me confirmed that the ‘consent’ paper had been sent by the department itself. But the DM said I should “rise above” my religion when reporting and whoever publishes the report, will be jailed…, that i am breaching their [the families] privacy…They have consented to move…. Etc. The locals had told me they were not even allowed to read what the ‘consent’ letter stated and were just told to sign quickly. Those who brought the paper were all government officials, said the locals.

Why did the DM ask your religion? How does your being Muslim matter? 

I did not call him as a Hindu or Muslim. I called him a journalist. I called the families again after speaking to the DM who had also told me he had some ‘documents’ from the locals and I should check again. The locals told me that the officials had come again for more to sign the documents. However by then the residents found some courage and refused to sign anymore. They told me they asked for a legal notice to which they will reply. 

Do you feel threatened in any way?

Yes. I have, as a journalist, called many officials in the past to confirm or verify news before reporting. No one has responded like this. I was shocked that an official spoke this way, normally an officer does not talk like this even if they are angry. This Hindu-Muslim angle of conversation is usually one used by politicians, not government officials. The DM said he will take action against me under the IT Act. If I was to spread a rumour would I have called the DM for clarification and his version? I would have just filed the report when I got the information in the morning. I tried to get the government version all day, and spoke to the DM by evening. 

Did you get any further calls from the administration?

No, I did not get any such calls. When reporting I spoke to local politicians also, and they wanted to stay anonymous but confirmed that the affected families were very scared now. 

You felt threatened, what actions did you take next?

I have filed a complaint with the National Human Right Commission (NHRC), because there are many who study journalism and they too will be spoken to like this in the future if I do not complain. I want them to know there is a law in place that officials cannot threaten journalists. I wrote to the Press Council of India and to the Editors Guild of India, Press Club. I was also told by my sources that some ‘process has been initiated’, I then saw it in the Al Jazeera report as well. My wife and I live alone and are vulnerable, I have not approached the police yet. I hail from Uttar Pradesh and know the area well. 

There have been reports of targeting of journalists in Uttar Pradesh during Covid surge. What do you think is happening?

No administration wants to see or hear any reports that are critical of them. Journalists have to be muted, and in fact even local politicians are now scared of speaking up against the UP government. A local leader told me he was scared of the NSA being slapped on him if he commented anything critical of the government actions. This DM has threatened a journalist and also made disparaging comments on me being biased because I was Muslim. Look at what has happened with Sidique Kappan when he went to report from Hathras.

Related:

Were minority community families asked to vacate homes near Gorakhnath temple?
One killed, six injured in UP for allegedly smuggling cows
Allahabad HC stays arrest of former IAS officer booked for tweeting pictures of Covid 
Barabanki: Clerics approach UP Advocate General, seek consent for case against DM, SDM

You are a Ansari, rise above your religion: Gorakhpur DM to journalist

The story behind the story of eviction of Muslim-owned homes near Gorakhpur Temple; news reporter alleges DM threatened to action against him

Image Courtesy:nationalheraldindia.com

That journalism is a high-risk vocation is an established fact the world over, in India, especially in states such as Uttar Pradesh, the risk is a daily chance almost all journalists take even when commenting on news from the state. The risks and threats come in many forms and legal actions such as FIRs are initiated against reporters, yet some journalists like Masihuzzama Ansari, take a brave decision to share their experience with the world before it is too late.

The Delhi-based journalist who hails from Uttar Pradesh realised he was at ‘risk’ of becoming a headline himself, while reporting on the disputed “evictions” of Muslim families near Gorakhanath Temple in Gorakhpur. He called the District Magistrate for the official version of the district administration and instead was asked his religion, told to rise above it and allegedly threatened with arrest. 

Ansari, is a sub-editor at India Tomorrow news portal. He told SabrangIndia, he feared for his safety now and has written to the National Human Right Commission (NHRC), Press Council of India, Press Club, and the Editors Guild of India, to intervene before it is too late.

Ansari, called Gorakhpur DM K Vijayendra Pandian on the phone to get the official position on  the staus of ‘eviction notice’ given to 11 Muslim families, who claim they were allegedly asked to vacate their homes located near the Gorakhnath temple.  Instead, he was allegedly asked his religion by the IAS officer, who after figuring out the reporter was a Muslim, alleged he was spreading rumours, encouring Hindu-Muslim divide and he can be booked under the IT act. An audio said to be of that teleconversation shows that a person is impling the caller was biased due to his religion. The respondent's tone changed when he established that the caller was a reporter named ‘Ansari’. According to some reports. Ansari was even told that he could be booked under the draconian National Security Act (NSA). SabrangIndia spoke to Ansari recently to understand how a reporter, doing his job, and counter checking information is still at risk of becoming the subject of a news report himself, and is still vulnerable to the state taking action against him.

How did you hear of the ‘eviction consent’ the Muslim families are said to have signed?

My contacts at Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, had called me and told me some families had got what to them seemed like an eviction consent notice and they were troubled. These families said they have lived in the area for many generations, well over a century, and signed the ‘sarkari paper’ under duress but they really don't want to move.  I asked them to share the June 2 notice, and saw that it did not have any official department’s name, but merely said it was a “consent letter” that stated that the families were ‘willingly vacating their homes for the sake of the security arrangements for the Gorakhpur temple’. I know the area well, in the past the roads have been widened around the temple, some homes were demolished then too but they all got proper notices and compensation. However this ‘consent’ letter on plain paper was seen for the first time by anyone. I spoke to the families and they were scared, they told me they signed out of fear.   

How are so many Muslim families settled there?

I also asked that question and was told that the land had been “donated by nawab Asad Ud Daula” and that the families had lived there for over a century now. These families now run small businesses to survive, there are only a couple of them who have a proper education, the rest are just simple folks now scared of official action. But till now, they were never disturbed because they were Muslims, the locals said. A couple of Muslims even said in earlier times they have even gone to the temple festivities, or sought advice on small disputes. And Hindus sought similar advice from the local Maulana when needed. 

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath is the Mahant of the Gorakhnath temple, was there any issue earlier? 

There was no Hindu-Muslim problem here. Now they feel scared, even though some already signed the ‘consent letter’ and added their phone numbers as asked.  Administrative officials visited and told the locals that the police camp needs to be built and they will have to move. Their houses do not come in the way of the proposed camp, said locals. Since June 2 when the barely literate men signed on the ‘document’ they are still not sure what awaits them. They told me the SDM had also visited the area and told the residents they had to vacate the place and come for discussions to the Tehsil. The locals, even those who had signed, say they are clueless on what the local administrator will do next. They told me they were scared and that their names should not be revealed in any reports. Finally only a couple of them agreed to speak on record, and shared the documents. I reported what they said on record. The men had signed the document, but the women were upset and did not want to leave the ancestral homes they are emotionally attached to. I suspected the legality of the consent letter and decided to call the DM saheb to ask him what it was all about.

Why did the officer then lash out at you as alleged?

He told me to report ‘fairly’ and not as a Muslim. I called as a reporter to get the government’s version of what was being alleged by the locals in Gorakhpur. The DM said I was trying to spread rumours, and create enmity between Hindus and Muslims. He insisted that the families living near the Gorakhpur temple were willingly handing over their land and homes to the authorities, as the issue was of the safety of the temple. However, said the so-called agreement was not on any official paper nor did it have any official seal or signature. I had spoken to the families who said they were scared and were forced to sign the so-called consent letter. The paper looked fake to me and I had called the DM to get a clarification on the issue. However, the DM threatened me with legal action, if I were to continue reporting on this issue. His tone and words to me confirmed that the ‘consent’ paper had been sent by the department itself. But the DM said I should “rise above” my religion when reporting and whoever publishes the report, will be jailed…, that i am breaching their [the families] privacy…They have consented to move…. Etc. The locals had told me they were not even allowed to read what the ‘consent’ letter stated and were just told to sign quickly. Those who brought the paper were all government officials, said the locals.

Why did the DM ask your religion? How does your being Muslim matter? 

I did not call him as a Hindu or Muslim. I called him a journalist. I called the families again after speaking to the DM who had also told me he had some ‘documents’ from the locals and I should check again. The locals told me that the officials had come again for more to sign the documents. However by then the residents found some courage and refused to sign anymore. They told me they asked for a legal notice to which they will reply. 

Do you feel threatened in any way?

Yes. I have, as a journalist, called many officials in the past to confirm or verify news before reporting. No one has responded like this. I was shocked that an official spoke this way, normally an officer does not talk like this even if they are angry. This Hindu-Muslim angle of conversation is usually one used by politicians, not government officials. The DM said he will take action against me under the IT Act. If I was to spread a rumour would I have called the DM for clarification and his version? I would have just filed the report when I got the information in the morning. I tried to get the government version all day, and spoke to the DM by evening. 

Did you get any further calls from the administration?

No, I did not get any such calls. When reporting I spoke to local politicians also, and they wanted to stay anonymous but confirmed that the affected families were very scared now. 

You felt threatened, what actions did you take next?

I have filed a complaint with the National Human Right Commission (NHRC), because there are many who study journalism and they too will be spoken to like this in the future if I do not complain. I want them to know there is a law in place that officials cannot threaten journalists. I wrote to the Press Council of India and to the Editors Guild of India, Press Club. I was also told by my sources that some ‘process has been initiated’, I then saw it in the Al Jazeera report as well. My wife and I live alone and are vulnerable, I have not approached the police yet. I hail from Uttar Pradesh and know the area well. 

There have been reports of targeting of journalists in Uttar Pradesh during Covid surge. What do you think is happening?

No administration wants to see or hear any reports that are critical of them. Journalists have to be muted, and in fact even local politicians are now scared of speaking up against the UP government. A local leader told me he was scared of the NSA being slapped on him if he commented anything critical of the government actions. This DM has threatened a journalist and also made disparaging comments on me being biased because I was Muslim. Look at what has happened with Sidique Kappan when he went to report from Hathras.

Related:

Were minority community families asked to vacate homes near Gorakhnath temple?
One killed, six injured in UP for allegedly smuggling cows
Allahabad HC stays arrest of former IAS officer booked for tweeting pictures of Covid 
Barabanki: Clerics approach UP Advocate General, seek consent for case against DM, SDM

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