A courageous Indian journalist who exposed residential-school-like system in her country has been honoured by an alternative media outlet.
Neha Dixit has filed a series of investigative reports on a pattern of plucking Indigenous girls from northeastern states of India to be taken far away from their families to indoctrinate them into a right-wing Hindu nationalist ideology.
Published by the Outlook magazine in 2016, the story enraged supporters of ruling Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), who not only lodged a police complaint against Dixit and others at the publication, but also attacked them on social media.
Her report revealed how the different outfits affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), of which the BJP is a part, trafficked 31 tribal girls, including those as young as three. The were taken in Assam and sent to distantly located states of Punjab and Gujarat where special Hindu seminaries indoctrinated them into the ultranationalist Hindu ideology.
The RSS desires to transform India into a unified Hindu theocracy. Already, the attacks on non-Hindus have intensified under the BJP government that came to power with a brute majority in 2014.
Dixit found that these girls were taught Hindi language and encouraged to become vegetarians in accordance with Hindu norms by giving up their tribal identity and customs. The idea is no different from the one that was once adopted in Canada by churches to Christianize Indigenous children after taking them away from their families as part of their policy of assimilation. The RSS too has similar designs of assimilating various minority communities, including tribals, Buddhists, and Sikhs.
But the matter did not end there. Dixit noted that these tribal girls in the RSS-run schools were also brainwashed to become fanatics who hate religious minorities, such as Muslims and Christians.
Last month, the Punjab based Suhi Saver, which covers alternative politics, invited Dixit to Ludhiana where she was honoured with its annual award for courage in journalism.
Apart from reporting on the story of these tribal girls, Dixit has also covered the issue of extra-judicial murders of Muslim men by Indian police. Often, Muslims are branded as terrorists and then killed by law-enforcement officers in staged encounters in the BJP-run state of Uttar Pradesh in the name of peace and security.
Suhi Saver is run by Shiv Inder Singh, who was removed by a Vancouver-based South Asian radio station as its news commentator from Punjab for his critical views of the BJP government. He has been running his outlet with the help of independent donors and every year he invites journalists to Ludhiana for guest lectures on pressing issues that are generally ignored by the mainstream media.
The focus of this year’s event was the oppression of women and growing chauvinism and patriarchy under a right-wing regime. Others honoured on the occasion were independent TV journalist Arfa Khanum Sherwani, who is also a vocal critic of religious extremism, and activists Sudesh Kumari and Gurvinder Singh.
While Kumari spearheaded a campaign for justice to the victims of sexual violence at a spiritual centre run by controversial "godman" Gurmit Ram Rahim in Haryana, Singh was involved in a movement against the barbaric rape and murder of a girl by some influential people in Mehal Kalan, Punjab.