Has the shoe become mightier than the pen?

April 8, 2009

Work is worship. But does that mean a journalist leave his footwear outside before attending something as regular as a press briefing?

Well, that’s one of the suggestions being floated as 25 years after more than 3000 Sikhs were killed in the aftermath of the assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Sikh anger bubbled to the top yet again.

This time, it came in the form of a shoe tossed at Home Minister P Chidambaram by Jarnail Singh, a Sikh journalist with the Hindi daily Dainik Jagran. For video, click here

The reporter wanted to register his protest against the clean chit given to Delhi Congress leader Jagdish Tytler, accused of inciting mobs during the 1984 anti- Sikh riots.

The flying footwear missed the home minister but seems to have left a mark on the Congress conscience.

There are now reports that a nervous Congress party is rethinking the decision to give party tickets to Tytler and fellow accused Sajjan Kumar for the upcoming general elections. They’re both sitting MPs.

But Tytler says his election campaign is not under any cloud and will contest the polls from the north east Delhi constituency.

But Tuesday’s incident has opened a can of worms. While opposition political parties pounced on the opportunity to corner the Congress govt, the journalistic community faced an uneasy role-reversal – answering questions rather than seeking answers.

Many reporters, including those present at the press conference at the Congress headquarters, are feeling let down. They say their job is to report the news, and not make the news.

Some have gone to the extent of saying such incidents break the trust between those holding the press conferences and the press itself.

In a world of heightened security, this can only make matters worse.

But larger and more pertinent questions have emerged.

Some say Singh’s act was symptomatic of a deeper anguish, a deep anger within the Sikh community.

Are the fissures too deep for time to provide the eternal healing touch?

The Congress party insists ’84 was an instance of national outrage. Within 48 hours of taking oath as PM, Indira Gandhi’s son did try to douse the fire of communal strife. But the same Rajiv Gandhi also said “when a big tree falls, the Earth trembles….”

A similar sentiment was echoed by Gujarat CM Narendra Modi in March 2002 after more than 2000 people were killed, a majority of them Muslims, in communal violence.

Asked about the riots, Modi quoted Newton’s third law – “every action has an equal and opposite reaction,” a quip seen by many as Modi’s justification for Hindu anger post the Godhra train carnage that left nearly 60 Hindu pilgrims charred to death.

But spare a thought for Jarnail the journalist? Sikh political party Akali Dal has already hailed Singh as a hero. Some other Sikh groups want to give him a reward of 200,000 rupees.

A repentant Singh is a reluctant hero. He asks why will he accept a reward for an act he’s apologised for, clarifying his method may have been wrong, but the issue he raised was not.

What transpired on Tuesday also brings to the fore another question: should journalists be activists too?

The jury is still out on whether Singh had planned the attack. But this is definitely not a first.

US President had to duck shoes hurled at him in Baghdad during a farewell visit to Iraq in December 2008 and Chinese premier Wen Jiabao evaded a protester’s shoe as he delivered a speech at Cambridge University in February 2009. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was similarly targeted during a visit to the north-western city of Urumia.

Wen was branded a dictator while Bush was called a dog by the Iraqi journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi who was left to cool his heels in prison for three years. That sentence has now been slashed to one year.

Chidambaram was spared such ignominy and Jarnail Singh has been let off.

Police did not press charges and the home minister who wanted Singh to be removed “gently” from the press conference says he has forgiven him too.

But Dainik Jagran is set to initiate disciplinary action against its defence correspondent.

Will Jarnail get the boot or will the journalist survive to wield the pen again?


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Actually shoe has become a mechanism to instant stardom for jurnos…it’s better then writing articles for years without people noticing it…

Posted by Manav | Report as abusive

Instead of disciplinary action on Jarnail Singh, Dainik Jagran and other media organizations should do a brainstorming session with their journalists on new ways to protest… Throwing your shoe is passe!

Posted by Sakshi | Report as abusive

The way Indian media have been reacting to and reporting about political developments, there is little doubt that had Jarnail Singh thrown the shoe at Modi or Varun, no one would would have found fault with him. At best, a mild censure would have been followed by endless debates blaming them and worse.

While Jarnail needs to be criticised for not displaying the balance and neutrality expected of a journalist, the Congress needs to introspect too. The party has been giving tickets to Tytler and Sajjan Kumar despite protests by Sikhs every time. Is it arrogance or does it reflect a disconnect with people?

http://vinodksharma.blogspot.com/2009/03  /varun-sting-who-is-not-playing-communa l.html

Posted by Vinod Sharma | Report as abusive

The only regretful part is that the shoe did not hit the target.

Posted by Cheri | Report as abusive

Shame on Jarnail Singh…..

Posted by G Santhosh | Report as abusive

Your last comment on facebook was really valid and the point has been noted..
now that you asked for it…
My heart goes out to Jarnail.
With journos chasing the hottest candidates and their publications becoming mouthpieces of the party agendas of the various outfits, the real issues (subjective) is getting ‘shoe’ed’ under the carpet.
Atleast the incident has suddenly given the opposition something to bite on…a shoebite nonetheless.
For a cynic like me, a shoe works as a great symbol of the ‘billion aspirations’ that gets trampled on everyday…That it was thrown by the journalist is incidental…For me it is a welcome sign than the copious bunkum dropped to our doorsteps.

Posted by Rajesh Nair | Report as abusive

What happened in 1984 is a big blot on the conscience of this democratic country which has stood for religious tolerance and universal acceptance.

But, this action of Jarnail is unbecomming of a pious Sikh as the 1984 riots were for the Congress party. But noless a person than the Prime Minister of this country, who is a pious Sikh, a brilliant learned man and the Congress party itself had profusely apologised for what happened in 1984.

The law has taken its own course and let’s respect the verdict in the name of Vahe Guru for our beloved country.

Chidambaram has already forgiven Jarnail. This comes naturally to a person like PC who is such a gentleman that his reaction was much akin to Gandhi’s or Jesus’.

Posted by PMKuwait | Report as abusive

25 years is a long wait for justice….But he should have picked a different platform where he is not doing his job as a journo….Whatever happened to Journos ethics of being neutral / impartial etc……. Probably weak or incapable pen leads to shoe might !!!!!!!

Posted by Raghesh Vijaykumar | Report as abusive

It collective disgrace on Indian media espically the way media has been (neo)justifying the incedent.

Though its a valid issue, the form of protest is a shame. Had the journo atleast choosen Tyler or sajjan it would have made some sense. but a genleman like Chidambram?

Posted by Yuvi | Report as abusive

@”What transpired on Tuesday also brings to the fore another question: should journalists be activists too?”
– No longer jurnos are neutral. Look at NDTV and CNNibn. Their journos ask so loaded questions while paying scant regards to neutrality.
I remember Modi speaking in a panel discussion on State- Center power sharing with Rajdeep and that mockery-of-a- journalist was asking him on post-Godhra riots. In spite of modi trying to get back to the topic he was harrangued by Rajdeep.

I agree with Vinod. Had he been Varun or Modi, the shoe thrower’s act would have been justified by our pesudo-Secular media.

Posted by chirkut | Report as abusive

Vinod Sharma: They giving tickets to same people because in some cases ethnic irritant can benefits some parties and they try to cash it no matter what.

Posted by Abid | Report as abusive

When poor soles are exploited by the influential pen pushers, what else can be expected?

Posted by Nilay | Report as abusive

Sikhs were unjustfully targeted in 1984 riots. lot of people who were babies or born after that don’t know about it like the people from southern part of india.
sikhs should get justice. congress has caused immeasurable harm to sikhs during this riots.

besides chidambaram is a turncoat politician to stay in cabinet.

Posted by vivek | Report as abusive

It was amply clear that Jarnail Singh used the shoe as a symbolic protest only and it seems to have worked.
Closely looking at the stance , the action and the trajectory of the shoe , it clearly was not meant to hit PC. Mr.Singh only stands up and with an underarm action throws the shoe like he is throwing a ball to a kid , making sure the shoe lands at some distance from PC. No reflex ducking was needed.
Compare this to Bush shoe throwing , where the shoe was flung in great speed with clear intentions of hitting Bush , look how bush had to bend his back to save his face/shoulder.
Not to condone the action , but yes it was symbolic and it worked.

Posted by kk | Report as abusive

First of all I think it needs to be appreciated that Chidambram handled the incident with remarlkable calm and kept things in perspective. Jarnail Singh too needs to be complimented for having realised his mistake and being man enough to publicly say so.

There is no denying that the 1984 riots or Babri Masjid or Gujrat riots and the like are and will remain a blot. ButI do feel that it time now that we say these incidents have lost their USP politically. Lets call a closure and move on.Political parties are using these to keep inflaming public passions while they themselves are not willing to do anything concrete to bring these shameful acts to a legal conclusion. These tragedies are nothing more for them then tools. Its become a matter of two wrongs making a right.

Mention 1984 to a congreeswallah and his answer is Babri or Gujrat. Similarly mention Gujrat to the BJP and out comes 1984. They continue to shed crocodile tears. Let us ourselves put a stop to this and move on.

Posted by Dara | Report as abusive

Is this Sikh journalist having guts to throw shoe at another Sikh-Manmohan Singh?
As a Tamilian I am furious with this barbaric act on a respectable minister in the cabinet.

Posted by Suresh | Report as abusive

I have been following this story in the news media for the last so many days. It is a matter of profound shame for us as a nation that a civilised, educated person like Mr Jarnail Singh had to resort to such an act to draw attention to the heinous crimes that were committed so many years ago. Like most people in this country I was outraged at this act. But then, I sat back and reflected on this individual’s actions. I even saw the footage of the shoe throwing from another angle. Mr Jarnail Singh actually gently tossed the shoe in the direction of the Home Minister. The sole intention was to register a protest. Just compare the footage to that of the Iraqi gentleman hurling his shoe at President Bush. Had Mr Bush not been quick in ducking, those shoes would have given him a very nasty bruise on his head!

The Sikh community has been a model of patience for all these years in the solemn belief that ultimately, in this country, Justice will be done, that Truth shall prevail. After all, it’s inscribed on our national seal, isn’t it, ‘Satyamev Jayate”!! What does this community, or rather, every concerned, outraged citizen irrespective of colour, caste, creed or religion do after the premier investigative agency of the Government of India declares that a gentleman who has been accused of some of the most heinous massacres in the history of our nation, supported by numerous eye-witness accounts, is as innocent as a new born baby??! We are talking of India, the largest democracy in the world as we like to proudly wear on our chests with pride, not some banana republic in Africa or South America.

So after twenty five long years after the deed has been done, there is still no justice and now the Government is making pathetic attempts at brushing the embarrassing truth under the carpet. What does a citizen, who was banking on the inherent sense of fairness enshrined in the Constitution of this Nation to grant him and thousands like him closure, do??! The flinging of the shoe is symbolic. It is a primal scream. It is the reaction of a man who has been reduced to a state of helplessness, because the State, on which he was banking to deliver Justice, is colluding with the perpetrators to deny him his rights. In the process, they have trivialized the deaths of those thousands of men and women, young and old, who died horrible deaths on the streets of New Delhi that fateful day in 1984.

I am not a Sikh. But my anger against the perpetrators of this crime and other genocides in this Nation knows no bounds. As a civilized person, there is absolutely no justification for any crime out of hate. And yet, we find people, responsible, educated people trying to justify this! What a shame! Rajiv Gandhi in my opinion is no better than Reinhard Heydrich for his infamous remarks in the aftermath of these riots :- “When a big tree falls, the earth beneath is bound to shake.” Heydrich disposed of Jews in an equally euphemistic and unrepentant phrase that he coined, “The Final Solution!”

So is the case of Gujarat. We in India are a shameless lot, inured to this ghastly game of hate between various communities, requiring just the smallest excuse and sometimes, no excuse at all to revert to being bloodthirsty savages. It is a history lesson that we refuse to learn in spite of all the terrible things that we have done to ourselves over the years. Because we were angry with Jinnah for splitting the nation, we killed all the Muslims that we could lay hands on, and they killed all the Hindus that they could lay their hands on in a gigantic orgy of bloodletting unparalleled in History. Even the SS Death Squads would have been put to shame by the zealous and methodical slaughter on both sides of the border. In 1948, a Brahmin killed Mahatma Gandhi, so all the Brahmins in Pune were fair game. In 1984, it was the turn of the Sikhs. In 1993, Mr Ibrahim got away with the Bombay blasts. We could not lay a finger on him or any of his henchmen, but we killed as many defenceless Muslims as we could lay our hands on. In Godhra, we punished the entire Muslim population of a state for the misdeeds of a few miscreants. Naroda Patiya became more infamous than Godhra. What an irony! We do not even hesitate to burn little chidren alive, as in the case of Graham Staines and his sons in Orissa. Our curse is, we forget! We forget very easily. Human life in this country is too cheap. And all of us, including us conscientious, outraged idiots who sit in the safety of our homes and pass judgment on lesser mortals, are to blame for the things that have come to pass.

I was told by a reliable source, that in the late seventies, a young college student named Paresh Baruah along with a few friends was touring the whole of India trying to raise awareness about the seriousness of illegal immigration of Bangladeshis across the border into Assam. In a planned, advertised meeting in Hyderabad, legend has it that only seven concerned citizens spared time to listen to the passionate young man. I’m sure that so would have been the case wherever he went in the rest of the country. What would he deduce from this? That nobody gave a damn as to what happened to him and his cause!! As a consequence, a potentially political movement became ULFA, a virulent separatist movement against which the Indian Armed Forces are still fighting.

All it takes for someone to take up arms against the establishment is that dreadful, helpless feeling where thee is no light at the end of the tunnel. And if after 25 years, you cannot bring the perpetrators of the 1984 riots to book, can you even gauge the emotions of the thirty year old who lost his parents that day and is waiting for justice even today?! Justice has to be done, and more importantly, it has to be in full public view. This not only gives a sense of closure to the victims, but also reinforces the rule of law. It tells potential offenders, don’t do it, the State is coming after you! For the sake of the unity of this nation, it is imperative that the Judiciary takes a proactive role in prosecuting these cases. We need closure to 1984, to the Gujarat riots and may no mercy be shown to the perpetrators, whichever political party they may be allied to. Not just Priyadarshini Mattu and Jessica Lall are crying out for justice from their graves. Judicial activism has to go beyond these individual cases. Thousands of nameless, faceless victims are calling us from the beyond, exhorting us not to fail them. It is our solemn duty as citizens not to forget them and to remember their sacrifice always and forever, so that a day like that never occurs again in the history of our nation. Is the Supreme Court listening?!!

Posted by Anand | Report as abusive

It is unfortunate that scribes resorting to such emotional unwanted things.

they can use pen in whatever way they want but should not do all these non-sense. They should control their feelings and do their job sincerely

Posted by hanmi | Report as abusive

Well said Anand

Posted by Jag | Report as abusive

Maybe throwing a shoe was not very professional thing, but in a country where the influential can get away with anything you are not left with any other choices. If Gujarat BJP minister can be punished for instigating a mob against muslims why Typler and Sajjan Kumar are spared, and how it reflects on promises of delivering justice to all and sundry and their secularism.

Posted by Some One | Report as abusive


The shoe was not thrown on a Tamilian, but a Congress representative in a sign of protest of meddling in the CBI investigations. And for the starters. it has landed well!

Posted by chirkut | Report as abusive

Hail to Mr. Singh for having the guts to stand up against the evil politicians(not Mr. Chidambaram) and political parties of India and bringing in light the genocide of the Sikhs in ’84. CAN someone explain to me how is it possible that not even a single person has been arrested for the mass murder of sikhs in ’84? I only hope that the majority Hindus start backing up the minorities in India, or else this country is doomed!

Posted by Ram Mohammed Singh Azad | Report as abusive

you should ask Manmohan singh as to what he was doing as PM for last 5 yrs and before that Abdul Kalaam as President. Dont forget to ask Sonia as to what religion she follows.

If hindus dont respect the minority religions was there a hidden foreign hand that made the millions of minorities into doctors, engineers, politicians, businessmen,cricketers, actors… the list goes on and on.
Hindus were killed and driven out of muslim countries and from Kashmir, what happened to your voice ,it wont raise for them, right.

You are suffering from a minority syndrome.

No matter what you will shamelessly bash hindus pal, get real, get a life.Great blog name.Great taste, i shd say.

Posted by AzadDP | Report as abusive

Traditionally journalists have been expected to be objective in their reporting, but these days that doesn’t seem to be a common trait, going by the heavily opinionated media.

This particular incident just brings to light the frustrations that the common man goes through, when despite all evidence criminals are let off. The Sikhs have a reason to be upset if the man who is the alleged perpetrator of the 1984 killings gets a clean chit from CBI right before the elections.

When people start losing their faith in democracy and justice, then what else do they do except take the law in their own hands?

Dangerous trend, but this seems to be what is going on.

Posted by amreekandesi | Report as abusive