Nailing a canard

The mischief that Pankaj Mishra created lives on

Six years ago, Pankaj Mishra managed to get himself published in the rarefied spaces of both the New York Times op-ed column and the New York Review of Books. He wrote of the controversy surrounding the Indian Army’s killing of five men in Pathribal in Kashmir. The army claimed that these men were the terrorists who had carried out, a few days earlier, the massacre of 38 Sikh villagers in Chittisinghpora. This account was challenged, and exhumations, investigations and controversy followed.

But then Pankaj Mishra-the novelist triumphed over Pankaj Mishra-the journalist. He went on to call for an enquiry into, in effect, whether the Chittisinghpora massacre was carried out by Indian security forces. And suddenly the conspiracy theories, the misinformation and the mischief that usually confine themselves to credulous circles became ‘world-famous’.

So much so that six years on, while India’s slow—but nevertheless wonderful—process of public accountability is getting to the bottom of the Army’s conduct in the killing of the five suspected terrorists, it is being used to continue to obfuscate and amplify Mishra’s dubious assertions (via email from Patrix). Lies not only take a life of their own, but they also breed mutant offspring. What were Indian intelligence agencies for Mishra became Hindu militants for Bill Clinton (see Abhi’s post on Sepia Mutiny). Never mind that the New York Times interviewed a jihadi from Sialkot, Pakistan, who confessed to having participated in the massacre. Or that it would have been patently stupid for the security forces to carry out the massacre wearing their uniforms and insignia if the intention was to pin it on jihadis.

Sure, the Indian army deserves to be condemned and punished for carrying out the Chittisinghpora massacre. After it has been proven that they committed it.

And Pankaj Mishra’s articles may have helped establish his career. But they do not establish the Indian army’s culpability in the massacre.

(Note: Some parts of this post were modified in response to Pankaj Mishra’s clarification, the thrust of which is in this article)

Update:An excerpt from a comment on Pickled Politics blog sums this up nicely:

The fact that British killed an innocent Brazilian man doesn’t mean the British intelligence services blew up those trains last July in London. Police around the world routinely arrest the wrong people for crimes or seek to unfairly pin crimes on people under pressure. Does this mean the police themselves committed all those crimes to begin with? [Pickled Politics]

11 thoughts on “Nailing a canard”

  1. Nitin,

    The kep problem with Mishra’s argument is that he places both the Indian Army and the militants on the same pedestal. It is no one’s case that the Army has never commited atrocities in Kashmir, infact as Iraq as shown it is pretty much impossible for any Army to counter terrorism which has any degree of popular support without crossing the line sometimes. Of course, it does not mean that such acts should be condoned. But the onus of proof must lie on those who question such acts.

  2. The “reporting” done by Pankaj Mishra and his ilk, which are too numerous in India, is irresponsible. Not becauase they are doing poinintg fingers at the Army but because it seems that all they do is come up with fantastical theories without thinking through the logic of these theories (which you pointed out). Other journalists with god knows what agenda pick up these “scoops” and before you know it the oft repeated lie becomes the truth. This is kindergarten journalism and is a disservice to the readers.

  3. Nitin, I just commented on Sandeep blog and couldn’t resist doing the same think here…pretty much the same comment.

    Here is another gem from Pankaj Mishra. He writes another book titled “Temptations of the West: How to be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet and Beyond” (apparently to China and Japan) and gleefully reviewed by the Economist (July 1-7).

    Just one paragraph from the review (I was laughing out loud reading the review):

    “His eye is keenest in his homeland, the subject of more than half the book. Mr Mishra shreds the Hindu nationalists, purveyors of a religion cobbled together from folk beliefs in the 19th century, for the political purpose of opposing foreign rule. He reveals their contradictory ideas of caste and the imbecility of their world-view which is haunted by fears of the World Trade Organisation and the pope. In their rhetoric, they are as anti-America as al-Qaeda. Yet, at the same time, Hindu extremists seek to co-opt Western countries through mastery of their own scientific achievements. Mr Mishra discovers, in a secret laboratory hidden in a teak forest, Hindu extremists making dental powder out of cow’s urine. But the nationalists’ violence is no joke: 2,000 Indian Muslims were slaughtered in Gujarat in 2002 alone. In Kashmir the army, backed by every Indian government of the past decade, has murdered thousands of people in a failed effort to quell an insurgency that is rooted in legitimate grievance.”

    I wonder who the imbecile is. Like you say, Pankaj Mishra (who connection to Indian people is such that he still calls Mumbai Bombay with a parathesis saying now known Mumbai) gets space in western magazines and newspapers for whatever garbage he writes!

  4. One should also read Pankaj Mishra’s clarification pointed to by Nitin. Words and words, and at the end of it, he ended up saying nothing.

    One cannot deny he raises some very important questions though:
    1. Is he malicious or just stupid?
    2. Is not the malicious stupidity greater in people who actually have sympathy towards his drivel (cf. Sepia Mutiny post linked by Nitin)

  5. 7×6, over the years I have actually noticed a lot of sympathy for Hindu and/or India bashers from Sepia Mutiny writers. I am not surprised with Mishra’s apologizers.

  6. fully agree with atanu…we need to lampoon and ridicule this idiot..and who exactly is the NYT to publish all this bull…hell they even undermined their own country’s war efforts by publishing info about the swift operation..

  7. hell they even undermined their own country’s war efforts by publishing info about the swift operation..

    Yup, God forbid a newspaper should do independent reporting.

  8. Well, our friend Mr Mishra also claimed that Hinduism as a religion did not exist before the 9th-10th century A.D, and he claims to be from Varanasi (and not one of the city bred, westernized Indians). I think there is some malice in him. I would also not be surprised if his descriptions of the “secret laboratories” have a good bit of his imagination in them.

  9. Six Times Seven,

    Truly said, it is amusing how some people who happen to share Indian genes (unfortunately) are too ready to imagine smoke when there is no fire.


  10. I’ve been trying to get a more detailed description for Mr Mishra’s entry at Please check it out and let me know what else needs to be posted.

    If the author of the Economist review is not a Pakistani, I’m a hatstand – btw I also laughed out loud reading, it’s so biased, there’s really nothing you can add! Last time I buy the Economist, used to subscribe for years, first became tired of the shallowness of their economic and financial analysis and have now lost any trust for their editorial policy when they i) backed the Iraq war and then ii) allow such blatantly biased reviews.

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