Completes A Decade
By Jyoti Punwani
14 September, 2003
Shaikh may have faded away as the eye-witness who couldnt withstand
the pressure of the ruling party in Gujarat had Teesta Setalvad not
presented her in front of the media. If Shaikh gets another chance to
testify to what she saw at Best bakery on March 1, 2002, when 14 people
were killed, it will be largely due to the protection given her by Communalism
Combat and its sympathizers. Here, Javed Anand, who along with wife
Teesta has edited Communalism Combat for ten years, tells Jyoti Punwani
what it means to be a professional journalist running an advocacy magazine.
Q When Teesta and
you started Communalism Combat, both of you already had jobs. Why did
you decide to leave them to start a magazine which might not have survived?
A Because we felt
that at Business India and Sunday Observer, we could only be doing full-time
journalism, and not be fully involved with what was burning us up. Though
we were writing about those issues in our papers, we felt we needed
to start a magazine devoted to that, which of course wouldnt have
the kind of reach our papers did, but which would look at the same issue
in a different way. We felt starting such a magazine would also give
us time to do other things, like advocacy, going to court
Q But you could
do those things even as full-time journalists.
A Not everything
was within our capacity. I remember in 1988, when Bal Thackeray had
called a press conference where he had issued Sikhs an ultimatum and
threatened them with an economic boycott, we had collected 300 signatures
of journalists asking the government to take legal action against him.
Thackeray had then dared the CM to act. Soon after, I had to interview
S B Chavan, who was then the CM, and I asked him what happened to the
action he had promised. He replied that he had been advised it would
We were active in
various ways- I remember we had started this group called Sabrang, and
brought out stickers with the slogan `Prem se kaho hum insaan hain,
which we went around sticking in local train compartments. But it takes
a lot of juice to be doing a full-time job and being involved in other
causes. Id rather not be doing this round the clock!
Q Didnt the
financial hurdles deter you?
A Oh yes. I was
then earning around 13 -14,000 and Teesta around 8 - 9000. When we started
CC, we could afford to pay ourselves just Rs 3000 each. We could survive
on that because we didnt have to pay house rent or the monthly
outgoings of a flat in a co-operative society, and we didnt have
the kind of needs others did. Our daughter Tamara was by then 3.
in and stood by us all through that first year. But it was difficult.
We did assignments here and there, but we finally got stranded and could
not bring out any issue between June 95 and February 96. I had almost
given up and told Teesta that we should be looking for full-time jobs.
Our second child had by then been born.
But then we decided
to raise funds, had a show of ``Tumhari Amrita, and people chipped
in again. Some ads came in
We are extremely grateful to Air Freight
which has stood by us all these 10 years. The other regular advertiser
right now is the MP government. Previously we used to get a regular
ad from the Tatas, but that stopped after the BJP government came to
power. But there may be no direct connection.
Q What about foreign
A As a newspaper,
we are prohibited from accepting donations from abroad. When the allegation
was made against us because of our ad campaign against the BJP during
the last general elections, we dared those making it to investigate
us. Many womens organizations were co-signatories to one of the
ads, and some of them received foreign funding.
Q There were allegations
that the Congress sponsored those ads.
A We couldnt
have run those ads without sponsors! The Congress was one of the sponsors,
and we feel no shame about associating with the Congress. Wed
do it again. The BJP and the Sangh Parivar are the biggest danger for
the country, and we dont mind taking the help of parties like
the Congress to fight them. Not that the Congress is an angel. Weve
never given them a character certificate. We speak about the 84 riots
and Teesta in The Big Fight recently spoke about the Congress in Maharashtra
not implementing the Srikrishna Commission Report.
Q You carry a lot
of articles by politicians.
A We do feel it
critical that we engage with the political class. If we didnt
engage with them, if we kept our moral uprightness, we wouldnt
reach anywhere. We know we are not dealing with angels. We ask them
questions which need to be asked. Fascism can only be fought politically.
Q How do you resolve
the age-old debate between objective and activist journalism?
A There can be nothing
like taking an objective stand between secularism and fascism. Thats
bull-shit. We are publicly and unashamedly against fascism. Otherwise
we maintain high professional standards in CC. For instance, if before
an election we are making an assessment of the winning chances of any
party, we look at it purely from journalistic point of view.
Q Doesnt your
stand prevent you access as journalists to those you oppose? Dont
you feel the need to let them speak sometimes?
A Frankly its
not our concern to establish our ``credibility as journalists
to fascists. When we feel the need, we approach them. We have sent faxes
to L K Advani and had he replied, we would have published his replies.
But we don't want to appear objective just to get Bal Thackeray to talk
to us. We write with full responsibility. Weve written on Muslim
communalism as strongly. We dont feel our writing would be incomplete
without a sound-byte from the Jamaat-e-Islami or the Muslim Personal
Q What about your
limited reach? Arent you talking to the already converted?
A This remains a question 10 years after we started. But Im more
confident answering it now. If we were just sermonizing, it would be
a valid concern. But this magazine is shown around everywhere, held
up during Lok Sabha debates, mainly because of the information it carries.
Theres not too much editorial writing. Investigative journalism
is our forte. Our special issue on Gujarat was translated in 6 languages,
and we keep being informed that our issues have been translated by some
group or the other.
We have no illusions
- if we were working in mainstream publications, we would be read by
lakhs, but then we would be part of a package deal along with fashion,
Also, being in CC has allowed us to bring both the Gujarat
report as well as act to hold Narendra Modi to account. We dont
feel the constraints we would as full-time journalists.
Q Dont you
wish your articles would appear in the mainstream press?
A Sometimes we do.
And sometimes they have. Our 10-part series on the Srikrishna Commission
appeared in Mid-day, Dainik Bhaskar, and many other publications. When
we interviewed V N Rai, we sent a capsule to the Times which carried
it and then he was interviewed all over. In fact he joked that we had
made a national hero out of him!
Q Whats your
print order, and how do you handle distribution?
A We print 8-10,000
copies, depending on the theme, and we have to coax vendors to keep
the copy. Its not a question of ideology here, but pure commerce.
They have new publications coming out and giving them incentives every
month almost. We cant afford that. But we have managed an all-India
Q Since CC is devoted
to one cause, have you ever run out of topics for the next
A Thats a
dream we wish would come true! One of the loveliest letters we received
was from a Narbada Bachao Andolan activist wishing that ``communalism
ended and this magazine went out of business. But for every issue,
weve had to hold back stuff because we cant afford to add
pages. We do joke about communalism being a question of our bread and
butter, buts seriously, I wish the day would come when there wouldnt
be the need for CC, and I would go back to mainstream journalism, come
home and listen to jazz and do some gardening.
Q So do you think
this is ``the best of all possible worlds?
A Not at all. We
are aware that all this needs to be said in Hindi and we hope that will
soon happen. Some groups in Maharashtra have also proposed bringing
it out in Marathi. Were ok with that as long as we dont
have to bear the financial burden.
Jyoti Punwani is
a Mumbai based free lance who has written extensively on communal issues.