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Theatreperson Sudhanva Deshpande Slams Times Now for ‘Smear Campaign’ Over IIT-Bombay Event

n a press statement, Deshpande accused the TV channel of defaming him and an IIT-B professor based on his Nov 6 lecture, and distorting his statements about the Palestinian struggle and the humanitarian crisis,

Sudhanva Deshpande (right) during a performance. | Image courtesy: Flickr

New Delhi: In a strongly-worded press statement released on Thursday. theatreperson and author Sudhanva Deshpande has accused national TV channel, Times Now, of running a “malicious disinformation campaign” against him and Prof. Sharmistha Saha of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Bombay. The alleged campaign took place on November 8 during a broadcast that targeted Deshpande's involvement in an IIT-Bombay event. 

Deshpande said the media report stems from a lecture he had given on November 6, where Saha had asked him to introduce the 2004 documentary film, 'Arna’s Children,' made by Israeli-Jewish filmmaker Juliano Mer Khamis. The film focuses on the work of a theatre for children in Palestine. 

The central point of contention, Deshpande said, arises from the portrayal of Zakaria Zubeidi, a former military commander of the armed wing of Fatah, in the documentary. He highlighted that when he met Zubeidi in 2015, he had abandoned arms and was advocating cultural resistance. Zubeidi founded the Freedom Theatre in the West Bank to fulfil his vision of a united Palestine where all citizens, regardless of ethnicity or religion, would have equal rights, the press statement added.

Times Now, in a series of bulletins titled 'Row Over IIT Bombay Event,' reportedly referred to Zubeidi as a Hamas terrorist and labelled Deshpande a 'Hamas apologist.' The channel claimed that Deshpande's online talk “whitewashed” the October 7 attack by Hamas on Israel and “glorified a Hamas terrorist.”

Striking back at the TV channel, Deshpande said, "I said nothing that glorified Hamas. In fact, I did not even mention Hamas in my talk." Additionally, he emphasised that Zubeidi was never a member of Hamas, contradicting the claims made by Times Now.

The actor further accused Times Now of defaming both him and Saha, asserting, "By flashing lies on its screen – ‘Hamas Apologists Get Stage’ and ‘Blind to Hamas Terror’ – Times Now has defamed me and Prof. Sharmistha Saha on the channel on November 8."

He further said, “The film ‘Arna’s Children’ shows the work of a theatre for children established by Arna Mer, Juliano’s mother, and an Israeli Jewish person herself. Juliano Mer Khamis was assassinated outside The Freedom Theatre in 2011. Juliano had previously served in the Israeli army.” 

The dispute extends beyond the specific event, as Deshpande highlighted the broader context of Times Now's alleged biased reporting in favour of Israel. The theatre activist contended that the channel distorted statements about the Palestinian struggle and downplayed the ongoing humanitarian crisis, including over 10,000 casualties, 4,000 of whom are children, and the displacement of two-thirds of Gaza's population.

Deshpande also underscored the importance of historical context, citing India's recognition of the Palestinian struggle. The press statement mentioned, "In 1974, India became the first Non-Arab State to recognise the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) led by Arafat as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people." The statement also referenced the Government of India's recent clarification on its position, advocating for the establishment of a sovereign, independent, and viable state of Palestine through direct negotiations.

Concluding the statement, Deshpande expressed concern over Times Now's interpretation of his remarks, saying, "I am not a 'Hamas apologist.' Times Now is whitewashing genocide and ethnic cleansing." He accused the channel of distorting his observations that ‘there has been no freedom struggle in the history of the world, in the history of colonialism, that has been entirely 100 per cent non-violent’. 

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