Raksha Kumar responds to Vijeta Kumar's column on Firstpost: Publishing unsubstantiated opinion is wrong

This is my rebuttal to the piece published by Firstpost on 19 January 2018 — For Rohith Vemula, who wanted to learn; and for Savarnas who are too good to learn — by Vijeta Kumar.

With fewer funds being spent on reportage, lazy opinions have claimed that space on news websites. It is easy for publications to carry opinions rather than invest in ground reports. It is this phenomenon that has brought about unsubstantiated opinions to the fore — egged on by social media. This assertion is not specific to Firstpost, but a general remark on the state of the media.

Everyone has an opinion and every opinion should get its space. But, what does it say about a publication like Firstpost to carry them without doing basic background checks?

In her 19 January piece, the author talks at length about Savarna students in her class. She writes: "Over the years it has become comical to teach a certain brand of upper-caste students who like to believe that learning to write can happen only once in life and that because they have already done it, there is absolutely nothing left for them to learn."

The piece is full of such sweeping generalisations, without substantiation. However, that does not bother me. I realise that as a DBA writer, it is perhaps natural for her to carry such opinions. Perhaps, some of it is justified.

The only reason I am spending precious minutes responding to an opinion I would have otherwise not even read, is because it makes a baseless personal attack at me. For an editor to catch this, would have been ideal (and honestly, pretty easy).

Well, one might ask what is ideal in the world of journalism anymore!

The piece (after two changes) now reads:

When you give hunger food, it will swallow it whole with everything it has. It’s what Rohith Vemula would have done if he had the time, the space, and the energy that millions of spoilt Savarna kids have.

Today, classroom spaces are under the threat of producing people like Nandini Krishnan, Raksha Kumar and Amba Azaad who will say things like ‘honest opinions’ and get away with spewing entitlement.

If I were the editor, my first query would be: "Have these three writers said/done something directly harming Rohit Vemula?" Because the sentences follow each other. It reads as if "people like me" were responsible for Rohit's death or that we are such "threats" that we will cause tragedies such as Rohit's in the future.

Clearly, this glaring mistake would be visible to an editor or even the author (who claims to be a creative writer)?

My second query would be, does the author know about my writing on Rohit Vemula? No. Does she know my caste? No. Does she know my economic class? No. What then gave her the right to almost suggest that classroom spaces are under threat by people like me? Any discerning editor would have asked for substantiation.

Ironically, the piece links to my tweet where I am admitting to caste privilege rather than denying it. How does admitting and being aware of my privilege make me a threat to classrooms? Would the author rather prefer who those who are blind to their privilege? Again, Firstpost should have bothered to click on the link to the tweet.

To be fair, the author has a right to her opinion, she is free to brand me anything. But, in her personal space (perhaps on blogs? social media?). Not on a platform that claims to have editors. A major part of writing is re-writing. And editors exist for that reason — to push us to re-write, to be gatekeepers.

If I write an opinion piece on the author to say that she is perhaps a threat to millions of her students because she has no nuance in her thought, without offering a shred of evidence, will Firstpost publish it? If not, what gives them the right to say that I spew entitlement (without substantiating it)?

In fact, the author is using her privilege to be published by Firstpost that is read by millions, and is furthering it by writing "honest opinions".

As a journalist who has spent years doing on-ground reportage, including on issues like caste and class privilege, I am disappointed with the vetting standards of publications. The author's opinion does not bother me as much as the standards of publishing do. Doing spellchecks and grammar checks is for computers, editors need to do more than that.

Websites need "content". Websites thrive on page views. The more provocative the opinion the better — never mind substantiation.

Why am I spending my time responding to a rather baseless allegation by a person I don't know or care about? Well, because the internet never forgets. And certain records need to be set right.

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Updated Date: Jan 22, 2019 13:17:18 IST

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