An excerpt from an article in The Wire is making the rounds on Twitter to claim that the news organisation promoted ‘anti-Hindu’ sentiments by terming Durga Puja a “racist festival” and the Hindu deity a “sex worker”.

Ex-navy officer Harinder Sikka questioned The Wire in a critically worded tweet, “Can u dare write such obscene words for Islam?”

Twitter handle @missionkaali followed by Delhi BJP leader Kapil Mishra also shared the screenshot speculating if the outlet indeed published the excerpt.

Several other users — @Voice_Of_Dharma, @Muralik79739498 — posted the screenshot. Twitter handle @indianrightwing opined, “Maa durga being called a s*x worker that too during navratri by
@thewire_in. There can be no punishment except for legal death sentence…”

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Fact-check

Twitter handle @indianrightwing which suggested the “death penalty” for The Wire as punishment for alleged “Hinduphobic” views also shared the article containing the excerpt in question. Had the user read the report, they’d know that the news organisation wasn’t promoting its own opinions but a reference made by Union Minister Smriti Irani in 2016. The use of direct quotes itself hints that the statement was not made by The Wire.

The article dates back to February 27, 2016, after the former HRD Minister’s Lok Sabha speech addressing the criticism of the government’s handling of the protests at JNU by alleging that “anti-national” events were held on campus. She made the speech on February 24, 2016, and the relevant portion can be watched 31:40 minutes onward.

Irani claimed that the excerpt on Durga Puja was printed on a pamphlet for the celebrations of the ‘Mahishasur Martyrdom Day’ in 2014 which was denied by the organisers of the event. JNU student Anil, a member of All India Backward Students’ Forum (AIBSF), who was one of the organisers, told The Wire, “What Irani said was totally fabricated. The things she said we wrote in our pamphlet were in fact from an ABVP pamphlet, where they claimed to be quoting what we had said. But she is making it sound like we said it. The JNU administration may have given her the pamphlets, but that does not make them ‘certified’. They simply collect them.”

However, JNU administration claimed that the document quoted in the Parliament was authentic. “The HRD ministry had asked us to authenticate the documents including pamphlets of the events. We checked the security reports in our records and the pamphlets were found included in them. The documents were correct according to our records and the same has been conveyed to the ministry,” JNU Registrar Bhupinder Zutshi told PTI.

A controversy erupted as AIBSF intended to hold an event to show the sharp contrast of Mahalaya celebrations for several Dalit and tribal communities with Durga Puja festivities. The event has sparked controversy in the past as well. Bahujan community rejects the Brahmanical representation of Mahisa-Durga by mourning the death of their king who is slain by goddess Durga to reflect the triumph of good over evil.

“A tribal community who identify themselves as Asurs or Mulnibasis, lock themselves inside their houses to mourn the martyrdom of their king who was ‘mercilessly slain by Aryan gods’. According to the subaltern version of the mythology, Mahishasura, the buffalo-tribal king, was deceived and stabbed by Durga because of a boon that no man could defeat him. Subsequently, a group of gods arrived and killed him,” according to The New Indian Express.

The event held at JNU in 2014 intended to show the different perspective of Mahalaya. “We were celebrating Mahishasura Martyrdom Day because he is an icon for the adivasis and other marginalised people in India. Historically, it was the adiviasis who were called demons, for instance the ‘Asur’ community who also worship Mahishasura. How can you dishonour your own citizens? It is against the constitution…We are not saying that nobody should worship Durga, it is the people’s right [to do so]. But at the same time, why must you show Mahishasura dying? That is hurtful to those, especially marginalised sections, who have a different view of the story,” said Anil speaking to The Wire at the time.

A four-year-old article in The Wire, quoting Smriti Irani making a reference to a pamphlet distributed at JNU, was misrepresented on social media. It is noteworthy that organisers of the university event denied printing a pamphlet that referred to Hindu deity Durga as a “sex worker”. They alleged that ABVP had misquoted them and in turn, the Union Minister. JNU administration however said that the pamphlet was “authentic”. The same excerpt was now used to target The Wire, which was also clarified by its founding editor Siddharth Varadarajan.

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About the Author

Pooja Chaudhuri is a senior editor at Alt News.