I am tired of the pretense that passes for freedom of expression in the media. It has happened to me in my country, India, in the past. At the time, I did raise the issue with the people concerned directly, which is where it got buried. That was real low. Now, comes this…

My article, Half Muslims and non-Muslims (posted on my blog) was pulled out from Express Tribune where I write a weekly Op-ed column. I was not informed about it. I sent a note early this morning wanting to confirm whether it was only missed out in the internet issue (as I don't have access to the print edition) or something else. I got a reply in the afternoon saying that “it was too sensitive given the current situation”. The subject was the attack on Ahmadis and a comparison with Ismailis.

A couple of points:

1. There have been several reports, several columns on the subject. Many have picked on the establishment. So, how does my piece become too sensitive? Is it because I have made a reference to Ismailis, a community to which I belong? Or is it because I am an Indian, that too an Indian Muslim?

2. There is the issue of professional courtesy. My piece was sent on Sunday night, almost midnight. On one occasion when they did not receive it they had called; I expect that when they do not use a piece by a columnist who they had approached to write for them months before the launch, then they jolly well let her know. A simple email might have at least made me aware of what was going on; in fact, a timely note would have made it possible for me to send a replacement and then argued.

What I am writing here is not anything that I have not spoken about to the person in charge of the section there; he knows exactly how I operate with regard to deadlines and scheduled day of the column. Also, except for standardisation, I am not ready for crass editing of my columns.

Since January, it has been a supposedly corporate style set-up where regular emails were exchanged by varied staff members. So where were they all when they had to inform their first-day-first-show columnist who is expected to meet deadlines but is not shown similar courtesy on time?

Whoever made this decision obviously knew that s/he considered it “too sensitive” on receiving it or after a few hours. You do not wake up at the last minute and get the heebie-jeebies; if you do, then I am not sure about how sensible the policies are.

I have been writing since 1990 and know what I am talking about. If a voice is to be shut up, whether in India or in Pakistan or in Timbucktoo, then the media has no business to rubbish censorship of anything else.

Look in the mirror and shatter a few delusions.
- - -
Updated on June 3, 8 PM IST:
I have received several emails; many discussing Islam, some wanting to start signature campaigns. This is beyond Islam.
And for those who believe I should not be dissing Pakistan, I cannot keep repeating that it does not matter who/what it is. I have had a far worse experience in India. Those who came in late, do take a look at The Media and I.


  1. FV, Sorry to hear about Pakistani censorship -- it is incredible that the Pakistani media which considers the terrorization of Ismaili and Ahmadi muslim communities "too sensitive" gets on the pulpit with a megaphone about "the ill-treatment of muslims in India". Clearly, such Pakistanis feel no sense of shame in speaking in two voices from both sides of their two faces.

  2. Farzana,
    Given that the article was pulled out without informing you and giving you a chance at sending over the replacement - a lapse from the Paper's side - insist that you be paid for it (assuming your contract is structured accordingly).
    About the judgement on appropriateness vis-a-vis "current situation" - though a relatively subjective thing , my guess is columnists and reporters quite frequently have opinion conflicting with the "Professional Management" that runs the newspaper.
    Just curious about this - how did Asian Age handle such situations ? I mean, not just with you , your other co-columnists as well ? Just Curious about the process , nothing more.

  3. Reading back on Pakistan's official stances on minority groups like Qadianis and Ahmadis, it appears that Pakistan's official prejudice against Qadianis and similar minorities has official sanction from the Pakistani government. It is a fact that every Muslim Pakistani has to declare the following in the application form for a Passport: “I consider Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Quadiani to be an imposter nabi and also consider his followers whether belonging to the Lahori or Qadiani group to be Non-Muslim.”

    When the discriminatory law that stated Qadianis were not muslims was challenged in the Pakistani Supreme court, the SC's court used the copyright act and claimed the the Qadianis were diluting "Brand Islam" and refused to reconsider the racist/prejudicial law against Qadianis. If the SC in Pakistan indulges in such prejudicial behaviour, it is not very surprising that the rest of Pakistan follows suit in such behaviour. Dr. Abdus Salam, Nobel Prize winner and one of the brilliant citizens of Pakistan was disrespected and never honoured by the Pakistani establishment -- He was even disrespected after his death.

  4. Hi Farzana,

    I read the online Daily Times. While I don't know enough of Pakistani politics to place their editorial policy right, left or center (secular right, if I had to guess), invariably they have an interesting mix of essayists -- and, reading Munir Attaulla's take on the Ahmedi atrocity, it struck me that they might better appreciate the style and subtlety of your work over there:


    "Too sensitive" indeed. What's to account for this condition?

    Since you've obviously reserved the right to duplicate your work here on Cross Connections (for which I, for one, am grateful), I'm guessing your contract with the Express was equally iron-clad? :)


  5. Have they given a reason?You can take them to court.You keep writing,they are loosers!!

  6. NO one buys daily Express in Pakistan. Their presence on the NET is minor too.
    The other day Ayesha Siddiqa had the same complaint against Dawn and now she too writes for Express but not as frequently as she did for Dawn. I will ask her opinion too on this issue.


  7. Hi FV

    Even though The Tribune didn't publish your op-ed, you could still put your POV thru' this blogspace, which is good for anyone who wanted to know the facts.
    The Tribune developed cold feet at the last moment maybe because it is genuinely concerned about the safety of it's staff( breaking into media houses is a common occurance in Mumbai),or else it didn't want an Indian to point
    out their country's flaws ( which is usually followed by a barrage of unsolicitated advice from hindu sounding names:).
    Your article was not an Indian or Pakistani POV or a "global Muslim" POV, but it's hard to escape the labels..There are so many people in India who consider themselves "more" Indian than the others,given a certain set of criteria invented by themselves, just like the Pakistanis who branded
    Ahmadis as non-muslims, so not Pakistani enough. We had the terrorists, now we have the Maoists and we want to use air-power on them! We have used the Army
    on our own people so many times that we don't know who is India...Kashmir,Punjab, Assam, Nagaland, Manipur etc. have their own story to tell about army atrocities,but
    someone not inflicted directly just brand them as not Indian enough! And that without talking about the daily media scrutiny that stalks the religious minorities in India.

  8. To all, I have updated the post to show how censorship works on BOTH sides.


    I honestly did not think this particular piece would cause problems; in fact, by my standards, I found ti 'thanda'. Clearly my cool is hot.

    Re. your second comment, yes, it is an official policy. I have questioned such policies here and I have in other societies. I cannot make an exception of Pakistan.


    There is no contract...I do not know if others insist; I go by word-of-mouth. In fact, I have seen others re-use their pieces, but I did not. I guess I was just being proper unnecessarily.

    I have often gone against stated management policies. There may be others but they quickly jump on to the other establishment (Arun Shourie comes to mind). There is a lot to say on the subject. Perhaps you might like reading the link and the link within the link.

    As for demanding to be paid, I know it can be done, but for the publication it would amount to 'paise dekar moonh bund kar diya' (buying my silence).

    If you have more questions, do ask.


    What court? There is no chit of paper forget a dossier :)

    The reason given AFTER I wrote to them was "too sensitive".

  9. Mstaab:

    Mark, my political writings have layers often, but subtle they are not! I used to write for The Friday Times but non-political articles.

    If anything, spreading the word through Cross Connections and other sources must have got them more readers.


    Stop rubbing it in! As you know form certain past 'stupid' decisions on my part, I have put my head in the lion's mouth, not just den. Besides, I like the idea of start-up ventures.

    Btw, I can take some solace that I was specifically used in the inaugural issue, although not scheduled. Ayesha Siddiqua is a Pakistani...her experience will be different, besides she writes on military etc.

    But thanks for your words.


    Hmm...labels, labels, labels...a couple of weeks ago I was told there was some discussion about how certain people hated me because I dissed India in Pakistani papers and how as an atheist I had no right to speak about Kashmir (no kidding!)...now an Ismaili critiquing a Muslim country and an Ismaili tarnishing the community by equating it with Ahmadis (no kidding!). And then there wad the one about how as a Muslim I did not have anything to say about...you get the drift.

    I think even if it was a last-minute decision, I should have been informed.

    But, yes, I have this forum and there have been people who have spread the word...

    PS: Where have you been? Hope you are doing good.

  10. >>. . . but subtle they are not!<<

    Indeed. That was my own little joke -- mostly for AI's benefit. :D

  11. Farzana,
    Ayesha writes on different issues. Please read her blog http://ayeshasiddiqa.blogspot.com
    I hope to fix her blog one of these days but until then please scroll to get to her articles.
    I would also recommend you write for http://viewpointonline.net/

    This is a new publication operated by former colleagues of Faiz Ahemd Faiz and Mazhar Ali Khan of famous son Tariq Ali.If they are true to their words, this might be the most progressive magazine to have come out of Pakistan.
    Khadim Hussain who I believe is also editing Express is a part of this venture too.
    Just think about this: your one article was pulled out and I never get the privilege of being pulled out after publication. They just wouldn't publish me at all. So be happy!


  12. Mstaab:

    For Al's benefit and at my cost!


    One column got pulled out is a big deal when you are asked to commit to it. And as I wrote earlier, there is a longer history.

    Ah, but you have been published. Now all you have to do is send something they like so much that they just got to take it off.

    Can you beat such positive thinking?

  13. FV, mstaab, If you ask me, subtlety -- like beauty -- is in the eye of the beholder :-) If one misses the layers of meaning, one misses a lot.


  14. Hi FV

    I am doing fine, thank you. There's been some changes on the personal front lately, so not being able to keep up with the "commenting":), but I do manage to visit your blogs every now and then to keep up with the latest postings (as do a lot of other people I guess)!


  15. RBaruah:

    Hope the changes are good and even better. I am kind of a mother hen and do start to get concerned :)

  16. Ms. FV
    I am not a muslim and hence not an expert on Islam but I there is one big difference between being an Ismali or Ahmadia: Whereas Aga Khan is a descendent of Prophet, Ahmadia claim their leader as the coming of 'Mahadi' . Legally under Z A Bhutto they were declared non muslim and to claim a muslim, I suppose id tantamount to death sentence. I agree that Ismalis are more esoteric than Ahmadia as far as Islam is concerned. And it a shame that Pakistanis should treat Ahmadias so shabbily when their community provided the only Nobel Prize winning scientist and famous Jurist Sir Zaffrula Khan

  17. Anon:

    This is the point I am making: why does one group gt minority status and not another. Please understand that although i do not practise any faith, I am technically as Ismaili, so I don't have an axe to grind.

    A belief system that claims to be abhor images permits pictures of the Aga Khan in the Jamaat Khana. I have no issues with how people choose to pray as long as they stay out of my space, but it is a curious anomaly.


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