The Blog of Cafe Dissensus Magazine – we DISSENT

A response to Sonia Sarkar’s flawed article on South Asian University in ‘The Telegraph’

By Hira Hashmi

On 28th May, 2017, an article was published in The Telegraph, titled “The faculty of familiar fractures”, a story done by Sonia Sarkar on South Asian University, New Delhi. I am one of the people, who was interviewed. Since my end semester exam was on the very next day, I was not very willing to waste my time. I did mention my time constraint to that lady as well. Anyways, I thought I helped that lady by giving my inputs for her story. However, I was shocked to see the piece of fabricated incident attributed to me in the article, an incident which I am not even aware of.

She wrote, and I quote:

Hira Hashmi, who is from Karachi, is studying International Relations at SAU. She talks about how last year, when 18 Indian soldiers were killed by militants allegedly “harboured” by Pakistan, a group of Indian students abused the Pakistanis on campus openly. “They put up posters saying ‘dushmano ki buzdili’ and ‘Pakistanis are cowards’. When we protested, they removed them,” says Hira. “The campus was divided into two groups. It became an Us vs Them debate. We thought we may have to go back to our country halfway through the course.”

This appears to be a figment of Sonia Sarkar’s imagination or a case of misplaced information, which was wrongly attributed to my university. All I talked about was the visa issues, which my batch faced. I also mentioned to her that the batch next year enjoyed the freedom of SAU visa as bestowed to the rest of the SAARC countries. Sarkar cropped out the positives as it didn’t synchronize with her pre established agenda. South Asia University has been my home for two years, and even in the wake of Uri attack and amidst all the cross border tensions, nobody hurled any abuse at me in any form in the university.

This was not the first time I have shared my experience of staying in India. In 2015, a research scholar from JNU spoke to Pakistani students at SAU and published our views in a local newspaper. Moreover, last year I spoke to a large audience at ICC, New Delhi, on the calendar launch ceremony, conducted by Aaghaz-e Dosti, an NGO (promoting friendship between India and Pakistan). I was also interviewed by a journalist, which was later aired on Sahara news television channel. Never did my words for my university reflect negative and defaming sentiments because they were not twisted, as in this case. This story, which Sonia Sarkar covered and had my name associated with it, is an outright lie and a fine example of sensationalistic, irresponsible journalism, something which is not expected from such a renowned newspaper.

The dichotomy of “Us vs Them” is again her own invention. I mentioned clearly to her that I have more Indian friends in SAU than from any other SAARC country. However, she kept on cooking up stuff as a cheap publicity stunt to spice up her story, in the process defeating Sahir Lodhi and Waqar Zaka from the other side of border. People in my university will find me more with Indian students than my Pakistani counterparts.

Here is a photo collage to show the “very strong divide” between “US and Them” that Sonia Sarkar envisioned from my bites:

The article starts on a demeaning note:

It was meant to celebrate diversity, create a blueprint for a more unified South Asia. Instead, Delhi’s South Asian University has turned into a miniature Saarc summit with Indo-Pak rivalry occupying centrestage and every other country jostling for attention. Sonia Sarkar has the story.”

This nauseating piece of introduction itself is so disparaging that it is miles away from the fact. Any non-Indian student (current or ex) can testify that the environment inside the campus, despite all the political upheavals and personal differences, has always remained warm and cordial. It’s disheartening to see my alma mater’s reputation being maligned by a journalist, who distorted information, misrepresented facts, and clearly had an agenda. The article discredits everything that the South Asian University stands for. All the good work by the faculty members, the administration, and everyone, who made an effort to bring students from diverse backgrounds, is now under question, just because an insincere journalist had a story in mind and all she needed was some real life characters.

The reality is that, in my first semester, I was quite surprised watching Pakistani students carrying Pakistan’s flag inside the campus and playing Pakistani cultural songs. If s/he is encouraged to celebrate his/her country’s independence day with great fervor, you can imagine the amount of freedom a Pakistani student enjoys at South Asian University.

Sonia Sarkar obviously had her own design in mind, when she came here for the interviews. For instance, she writes:

Hira has learnt to cope with the biases too. Tips from her Indian cousins have helped. “They told me that whenever someone asks where I am from, I should say Ranchi since it sounds like Karachi.”

Her writing itself showed what a flawed narrative she tried to weave. This Karachi/Ranchi innovation was nothing to do with the university campus. She mentioned that “there are only 19 Pakistani students” at the SAU. That part is correct. However, she didn’t mention that the university has also provided hostel, where students from all the SAARC countries live together. So common sense shows when people live together in a close community, everybody knows who is from which country and city. Such Karachi/Ranchi disguise won’t work. This clearly shows how gravely she has twisted words as I humorously mentioned it in the context of using public transport, while randomly moving around the city, etc.

I believe the premise of South Asian University is the safest place for all non Indian students. Phrases like “biases” and “coping” are used to paint me like a victim and portraying the university as a failing institution, which is totally absurd. My department and its faculty have always guided and helped me in their best possible way. I am sure they will keep helping their students the same way, irrespective of nationality, religion, and caste. People like Sonia Sarkar, who come to South Asian University, looking for unsuspecting non-Indian students, who were not familiar with this media trickery, and write what they have in their mind. She might gain hollow success via such shabby short cuts, but our professors have taught us to stick to the ethics of research and interview and we will always honor their guidelines.

I tried getting in touch with her for an explanation, but her number was out of coverage area. I even made a twitter account and tweeted her snippets of the article, demanding an explanation. This might be like daily chores for her, but for us it’s a serious issue. I would like you to kindly take note of it. Also, I request you to kindly take down this article. Sonia Sarkar must apologize for deliberately trying to damage the reputation of my university.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are author’s own and don’t reflect the views of Café Dissensus.

Hira Hashmi is a master’s student at the Department of International Relations,  South Asian University, New Delhi. Her area of interest is culture and world politics. Currently, she is working on refugee crisis as her research topic. She is from Pakistan and has pursued her graduation at the University of Karachi.


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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on ‘Masculinities in Urban India’, edited by Madhura Lohokare, Shiv Nadar University, India.

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