On November 9, 2023, filmmaker, actor and author Sudhanva Deshpande released a statement against the “disinformation campaign” being run by times now against him and Professor Sharmistha Saha. Through the statement, Deshpande has referred to a programme that was run by Times Now wherein they made derogatory statements against Prof. Saha and Deshpande and referred to them as Hamas supporters and apologists.
On November 6, a lecture was held at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT-B) wherein a 2004 documentary film, ‘Arna’s Children’, made by Juliano Mer Khamis, an Israeli Jewish filmmaker, actor and theatre director was shown. As an introduction to the documentary, Deshpande had been invited to give a lecture by Prof. Saha. Certain students attending the lecture and otherwise have deemed the introductory lecture to be pro-Hamas and pro-violence. Furthermore, objections have been raised by some over the alleged glorification of “militant terrorists” by Deshpande. A complaint has now been registered against Prof. Saha, which questions the appropriateness of the professor’s actions in extending the invitation.
What did the show entail?
On November 8, a programme was run by the Times Now with the title “IITians alleg Prof. Saha for inviting filmmaker who glorified Palestinian terrorist”. The show opened with the following statement- “Mumbai: Hamas Backers get a Stage”. The host can be heard stating that “the heart of the Hamas backers continue to bleed, not for the innocents butchered by them but for the terrorists who picked up arms in the garb of freedom.”
The host then states that a webinar was organised by Prof. Sharmistha Saha IIT-B wherein Sudhanva Deshpande had been invited to address the students. The host claims that in one of the videos posted online by the students, Deshpande can be seen glorifying “terrorist Zakaria Zubeidi who is one of the top leaders of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades in the West Bank.” She further said that Deshpande called the terror attack by Hamas to be a freedom struggle that happened after 45 years of dispossession of Palestinians. The host deems the alleged statements made by Deshpande to be “whitewashing the beheading of babies, kidnapping of women and mindless bloodshed as a freedom struggle.”
A video of Deshpande is played after this. In the video, Deshpande can be heard recounting his meeting with Zakaria in the year 2015 and talking about the freedom struggle of Palestine. The filmmaker states that no struggle of freedom can be entirely non-violent, as was the case of the Indian freedom struggle. The second clip then shows Deshpande praising the vision of Zakaria. Notably, the clips were short clips and the context of the statements by Deshpande was neither shown nor explained by the host.
The host then gets another reporter from the field involved in the show. Before moving to the reporter, the host deems the statement made by the filmmaker to be “quite shocking”. Referring to Zakaria as a Hamas leader and a Hamas terrorist, the host compares the current address to be similar to the virtual address given by a former Hamas leader at a protest at Kerala. She asks the field report to give details as to why “there is so much anger mounting at the current address and what do the IIT-ians have to say about it?”
The field reporter begins by calling the incident “deeply shocking” and informs that certain IIT-ians have filed a complaint with the Powai Police station in Mumbai. The reporter then speaks to a group of people who claimed to have been a part of the impugned class. The reporter asks the responding student to give details on “how the lecture was pro-Hamas and how two militants belonging to Hamas were glorified”.
The responding student states that while giving the introduction to the documentary being screened, Deshpande, to his shock, agreed to having met Zakaria and also called him a legend. According to him, this was a “deliberate attempt to influence the students of IIT-B”. The students go on to state that there should be checks and balances in premier institutes such as IIT-B. The responding student also accuses the dean, director, deputy director and other authorities of the institution of ignoring the emails sent by him regarding the aforementioned matter. The student further states that the incident took place when the Vice President of India was present on the campus and it was unfair for the students “to be helpless and held hostage” and made to watch this film. Furthermore, he termed the lecture to be “political indoctrination through Mr. Deshpande who not only justified acts of violence and militant acts of Zakaria.”
The reporter then speaks to another student from the group of students standing there. The second student elaborates that he was not a part of the impugned lecture but was attending the lecture by the Vice President wherein he had said that there should be zero tolerance for anti-national acts. The said student states that he was “sad after hearing that such lectures were being given in the campus at the same time as the Vice President was speaking.”
The field reporter of Times Now, based on the statements of the two students, then deduces that the “students of the IIT-B are very much appalled by what happened in their campus and they were not expecting. It was supposed to be a movie screening before which, out of the blue, a lecture was given which is pro-Hamas.”
The host of the show then concludes the programme by stating that “IIT-ians continue to ask whether there should be some further checks and balances before a stage is given to those who are opining in favour of terrorists and have this kind of an opinion on what is going on in the Gaza strip”.
The show can be viewed here:
Statement by Sudhanva Deshpande
In his statement, Deshpande provided that he had been asked by Prof. Saha to introduce the 2004 documentary film, ‘Arna’s Children’, in which Zakaria Zubeidi is a character. Deshpande provided that his talk was a scheduled part of the class. As per his statement, Zakaria had given up arms and was advocating cultural resistance when the two had met in the year 2015. Referring to the accusation of calling Zakaria a visionary, Deshpande provided that “I had referred to Zubeidi as a ‘visionary’, because in his conversation with me, he envisaged a future where the entire territory of historic Palestine would be a single nation, in which ALL its citizens — Arabs, Jews, Christians, and others — would have equal rights.”
The filmmaker has accused the programme being run by Times Now of spreading malicious disinformation against him. He has clarified that he neither mentioned nor glorified Hamas in his talks. He further pointed out that Zakaria was never a member of Hamas, as was being claimed by Times Now. In his statement, he also stated that “I am not a ‘Hamas apologist’. Times Now is whitewashing genocide and ethnic cleansing.”
The complete statement is provided below:
Times Now has run a malicious disinformation campaign against me and Prof. Sharmistha Saha of IIT-Bombay on its channel on November 8.
I had been asked by Prof. Saha to introduce a 2004 documentary film, ‘Arna’s Children’, made by Juliano Mer Khamis, an Israeli Jewish filmmaker, actor and theatre director. One of the characters in the film is Zakaria Zubeidi. My talk was part of a scheduled class on November 6.
Zakaria Zubeidi is a former military commander of the armed wing of Fatah, the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades. Fatah is the political party founded by Yasser Arafat. When I met Zubeidi in Palestine in 2015, he had given up arms and was advocating cultural resistance. He had highlighted the value of culture in the Palestinian freedom struggle. He co-founded The Freedom Theatre in the West Bank to fulfil his vision. I had referred to Zubeidi as a ‘visionary’, because in his conversation with me, he envisaged a future where the entire territory of historic Palestine would be a single nation, in which ALL its citizens — Arabs, Jews, Christians, and others — would have equal rights.
In a series of bulletins titled ‘Row Over IIT Bombay Event’, the TV channel referred to Zubeidi as a Hamas terrorist and called me a ‘Hamas apologist’. The channel claimed that my online talk to the IIT-B students on November 6 ‘whitewashes’ the October 7 attack by Hamas on Israel, and that I had ‘glorified a Hamas terrorist’.
The bulletins run by Times Now were based on a video recorded by a student of IIT-B, who was present for my talk.
To set the record straight:
I said nothing that glorified Hamas. In fact, I did not even mention Hamas in my talk.
Zakaria Zubeidi was NEVER a member of Hamas, as claimed on air by Times Now.
By flashing lies on its screen – ‘Hamas Apologists Get Stage’ and ‘Blind to Hamas Terror’ – Times Now has defamed me and Prof. Sharmistha Saha on the channel on November 8.
The film ‘Arna’s Children’ shows the work of a theatre for children established by Arna Mer, Juliano’s mother, and an Israeli Jewish person herself. Juliano Mer Khamis was assassinated outside The Freedom Theatre in 2011. Juliano had previously served in the Israeli army.
Fatah is currently led by Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority. Arafat’s leadership and the Palestinian freedom struggle have historically been recognised by India. In 1974, India became the first Non-Arab State to recognise the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) led by Arafat as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.
The Government of India clarified its position as recently as October 12, 2023, affirming, ‘Our policy has been longstanding and consistent. India has always advocated the resumption of direct negotiations towards establishing a sovereign, independent and viable state of Palestine.’
Despite these facts, Times Now has been playing up my statement, ‘The Palestinian struggle is a freedom struggle…’ to fuel its heavily slanted reportage in favour of Israel and the genocide and ethnic cleansing being perpetrated on Palestinians — over 10,000 people killed since October 7, including over 4,000 children, and two-thirds of Gaza’s 2.2 million inhabitants displaced. The Israeli military campaign has targeted hospitals and ambulances, killed journalists, shut down water, electricity and the Internet, and severely curtailed humanitarian aid.
Times Now has also twisted my observations that ‘there has been no freedom struggle in the history of the world, in the history of colonialism, that has been entirely 100 per cent non-violent’. Ignoring this historical fact, Times Now effectively denies revolutionaries such as Bhagat Singh their glorious role in India’s freedom struggle.
I am not a ‘Hamas apologist’. Times Now is whitewashing genocide and ethnic cleansing.