Alumni of school founded by Aroon Purie write to him about ‘hatred’ spread by some of his group's TV channels

Alumni of Vasant Valley School have written to Aroon Purie asking for a clampdown on 'communal hatred' emanating from some of his group's TV channels

Aroon Purie, editor-in-chief, India Today with former Union minister and MP Deepa Dasmunsi (photo: Getty Images)
Aroon Purie, editor-in-chief, India Today with former Union minister and MP Deepa Dasmunsi (photo: Getty Images)

Ashlin Mathew

The alumni of a school founded by media baron Aroon Purie and his wife Rekha Purie have emailed a letter addressed to him about the "communal hatred" being spread and the constitutional ideals being undermined by TV channels belonging to the India Today group.

Signed by 165 students from 18 batches of Vasant Valley School in New Delhi’s Vasant Kunj, the letter, sent on Wednesday, 13 September, points out that as chairman and editor-in-chief of the group, Purie should clamp down on the "hatred emanating from his TV channels" and “hold accountable those that openly engage in communal polarisation under the garb of news reportage”.

The first batch of class 12 students passed out of the school in 1999.

“It is extremely concerning to see the polarising tenor of some of India Today’s news anchors, particularly on Aaj Tak. More than 50 panchayats have issued boycotts against the Muslim community in the aftermath of these (Nuh) riots. Bulldozer justice, which saw 1,200+ structures demolished, has become the tool to inflict retribution against Muslims after any communal incident. Instead of questioning the establishment over this tactic which is an embarrassment to the rule of law, primetime anchors have often justified these actions, cheering on the deliverance of collective punishment,” stated the letter.

The alumni pointed out that the school nurtured within them values of inclusivity, empathy and responsibility.” You don’t owe us any answers, nor are we writing this to demand an explanation. Our only hope is that some of the values that were instilled within us as students, through our teachers, the school administration, our peers, and indeed Mrs Purie, find their way back to the India Today newsrooms,” the letter said.

“In these times, we look toward organisations such as India Today to provide situational clarity, demand accountability, and douse the flames of communal hatred, rather than fanning its embers. Instead, we find that some of the commentary is extremely reductive, devoid of nuance, and does nothing to hold those in power accountable. It is as one of Aaj Tak’s shows is titled, ‘Black and White’,” added the letter.

The show ‘Black and White’ is anchored by Sudhir Chaudhary, who is currently facing a court case in Bengaluru for spreading “fake news” about a Karnataka government scheme for religious minorities.

“The aim of this letter is to voice our collective concerns about India Today's unfortunate contributions to the climate of polarisation sweeping across India,” said a few of the alumni, who did not wish to be named.

The alumni pointed out that the media’s complicity in whipping up communal hatred was only too evident when a constable of the Railway Protection Force (RPF), Chetan Singh, fatally shot a senior colleague and three Muslim passengers on board the Jaipur-Mumbai Central Express on 31 July.

“The officer justified his actions while carrying out this terrorist attack, citing the dog whistles he heard on news television. If the spate of communal incidents across the country isn’t a wake-up call, at least the ethnic strife and civil war-like situation in Manipur should serve as a lens into the disaster that polarization can impart upon us,” wrote the alumni in the letter.

In a video, shot by fellow passengers on the train, Singh, is purportedly heard saying: “… Pakistan se operate hue ye, aur media yehi coverage dikha rahi hai, unko sab pata chal raha hai ye kya kar rahe hainAgar vote dena hai, agar Hindustan mein rehna hai to mai kehta hoon Modi aur Yogi, ye do hain.” (All of this is Pakistan’s operations. Media is giving them coverage and they know everything. But I am telling you, if you have to vote and if you have to live in India,– it is only (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi and (Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath) Yogi, these are the only two names.)

The alumni also pointed out that they recognise that viewership ratings shape today’s media landscape. And that even within this current climate, India Today continues to produce some excellent journalism.

“We want to make it clear that we are not comparing all of India Today to the rest of TV news. During the recent riots in Nuh, Haryana, Aaj Tak reporter Sreya Chatterjee did an entire segment on the effects of the riots in Gurgaon, while it was another Aaj Tak reporter who brought us initial visuals of the riot,” added the alumni in the email sent to Purie.

Author Prayaag Akbar, one of the signatories to the letter, said it was written by a group of alumni far younger than him, so when it circulated among his former classmates, he was immediately proud that the values they were taught to uphold at Vasant Valley — tolerance, inclusion, love for one another — had been imparted to the juniors as well.

“These values were important to our teachers, to our principal, Mr Kapur, and to our owners, Mr and Mrs Purie. As the letter points out, the India Today group is not the worst offender when it comes to the communalist dog-whistles that are prevalent in Indian media today. But the alumni have a right to ask why some anchors and reporters feel the need to resort to such tactics,” said Akbar, from the batch of 2000, a journalist and author of the novel Leila.

The letter was sent before the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), the coalition of Opposition parties, released a list boycotting 14 journalists to whose shows INDIA will neither send representatives nor invite them to political events held by the coalition. Four of those on the list are from the India Today group — Sudhir Chaudhary and Chitra Tripathi of Aaj Tak and Gaurav Sawant and Shiv Aroor of India Today.

National Herald has reached out to Purie for his comments on the letter. This article will be updated if and when he responds.

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