Why Didn’t Human Rights Watch Quote the Indian Minister?—Rebutting Prem Dhakal

[Recap: In Part A, I clarified to Prem Dhakal my (non-existent) role with Human Rights Watch. I showed that his public language (e.g. Robert is a smearing hell-bent crusader, he’s deriding all Nepali media, he’s fearful and may lack balls, etc.) hypocritically creates the kind of “biased narrative” he attributes to HRW. He then partially apologized to me publicly.

In Part B, I dismantled Dhakal’s claim in his Point 1 that HRW chose a biased report title for Nepal. I showed many examples of similar HRW titles for other countries, which Dhakal either missed or chose not to tell his readers. Once again, he created a “biased narrative” — this time about HRW’s title.]

Are Madhesis Indians?

In his Point 2, Prem Dhakal says “I don’t regard Madhesis as Indians.” But in the same breath, he faults Human Rights Watch for not quoting an Indian politician who said the opposite:

[Human Rights Watch] decides to not use the claim of Indian Union Home Minister Raj Nath Singh … that there are one crore (10 million) Indians in Nepal.

For Dhakal, this omission is partial evidence that HRW tries to “build a narrative” that is biased.

However, I see two reasons to omit Indian Minister Singh’s reported claim of Madhesis being Indians in Nepal:

  1. Singh denies it.
  2. It’s false.

Modest research will make this clear.

Singh Denies Saying Madhesis Are Indians

The day after the report of Singh’s comment, the Indian Embassy in Nepal denied it:

The Embassy’s attention has been drawn to a media report appeared in the India Today quoting Shri Rajnath Singh, Hon’ble Home Minister of India stating — “Although the Madhesi problem is an internal issue of Nepal, the Indian government will protect the interests of the one crore Indians living there.”
The Hon’ble Home Minister of India has denied making any such statement. [emphasis added]

But Dhakal misinterprets the Embassy’s statement, writing:

[Singh’s] claim has yet to be retracted. Indian Embassy in Kathmandu, though, has issued a statement saying the comments attributed to him do not represent the government position. [emphasis added]

Notice that the Embassy did not say what Dhakal claims. Its assertion was not, “Singh spoke unofficially,” but rather, “Singh never said that at all.” The Indian Embassy’s statement is only three sentences long, and the language could not be more clear. There is little room for misunderstanding by a careful reader.

“I Can’t Believe HRW Missed That”

Prem Dhakal goes on to admonish Human Rights Watch for “missing” Singh’s comment:

Singh’s comment was widely covered in Nepali media and social media. I can’t believe HRW missed that.

By the same token, Dhakal should admonish himself for missing Singh’s denial. The Kathmandu Post (where Dhakal used to work as a journalist) covered the denial in back-to-back articles on August 31 and September 1:

And here is a sampling of other articles covering Singh’s denial:

On its own, Minister Singh’s denial is sufficient reason for Human Rights Watch to consider his (misreported) comment irrelevant.

But wait, there’s more.

“Why did they omit ______?”

Suppose, hypothetically, that Minister Singh claimed Madhesis are Indians. Would that somehow require Human Rights Watch to mention it in its report, in order to avoid accusations of a “biased narrative”? In that case, Singh would be just one of many people with an opinion on this issue. How many people would HRW have to quote, to avoid criticism from Prem Dhakal?

Hypothetically, if HRW had quoted Singh, Dhakal could then find some Official B with an opinion, and complain that HRW didn’t quote Official B. But suppose, in a parallel universe, HRW had quoted both Singh and Official B, then Dhakal could complain that Official C was left out. But wait — in yet another parallel universe, if HRW had quoted Singh, Official B and Official C, Dhakal could complain that Official D was left out. And so on, and so on.

This is the crux of Dhakal’s disingenuous tactic: there is always something omitted in a finite document. As Jon Williams put it, focusing on omissions rather than factual errors is “weak sauce.”

Dhakal acts as if omitting one person’s opinion is a serious act of bias, which is not the case here. But what is serious is misquoting, which Dhakal does twice in his Point 2. Dhakal’s misquote of Singh is built on top of his misquote of the Indian Embassy — a two-story sand castle. Whether intentional or inadvertent, this distortion is fatal to the structure.

But the strongest reason for HRW omitting Singh’s comment is simply: it isn’t true.

“Madhesis Are Not of Indian Origin” — Nepal’s Ambassador

Just a few weeks before Prem Dhakal wrote his “Biased Narrative” article, Nepal’s Ambassador Upadhyay stated unequivocally that Madhesis are not of Indian origin:

Nepal’s ambassador to New Delhi has urged Indian media not to address his fellow citizens from Madhes, the southern plains district of the Himalayan nation, as “of Indian origin”. … Deep Kumar Upadhyay said it was wrong to claim his Terai compatriots as people of Indian origin.

Ambassador Upadhyay justified his assertion, in case anyone should doubt:

“It is thought that they are people of Indian origin. It is not like that. If you see it that way, then it is possible that maybe 400–500 years back, we also migrated from India,” ANI quoted him as saying.
The envoy pointed out that although fifty percent of the population in Madhes is from Terai, they are all Nepalese. There should be no attempts to divide them, he said.

Recall that Prem Dhakal actually agrees with the Nepalese Ambassador — that Madhesis are not Indians. So why is he fixated on the need to quote a disavowed comment by the Indian Minister, and a false one at that? Dhakal reveals his motivation:

[HRW] could at least have mentioned it to inform the readers, especially the uninitiated international ones, and let the readers decide themselves.

Dhakal faults HRW for not treating “Madhesi = Indian” as an issue open for debate. He tells HRW to “let the readers decide themselves.” But why? What century are we in?

Some things are past debate. The earth is not flat. And Madhesis are not Indians.

A Fitting End

Prem Dhakal’s Point 2, “HRW miss Singh link,” is a curious specimen of unnatural selection. If it were to take physical form, we would see a precarious contraption, a crystalline nursery mobile of suspended disbelief, twisting in the wind. Fantastically fragile, it needs only feather-light pressure to precipitate its predestined disintegration.

Translation: Prem Dhakal’s criticism is so foundationless, it collapses with a single fact-check. But luckily for him, no such fact-check came from journalists who enthusiastically hosted and tweeted his article with nary a critical eye.

Next Moves

  • Once again, as in Part B, holes in Prem Dhakal’s research led him to construct a flimsy critique of Human Rights Watch. With his Points 1 and 2 in shambles, Dhakal needs to re-evaluate the strategy that continually leaves him exposed.
  • Dhakal still clings to an obsolete pinned tweet, as I informed him weeks ago, and again five days back. If Dhakal really cares about “biased narrative,” he could stop trumpeting that I am “incapacitated,” since I and HRW responded to him weeks ago.
  • These promissory notes must be burning a hole in Dhakal’s pocket:
  • Remember, the real problem is that over 50 Nepalis were killed, and families are still waiting for justice. Dozens of protesters who killed police have already been arrested. But police have not charged the officers who killed civilians. Nepal’s own human rights agencies NHRC and THRD Alliance agree that police used excessive force and were not acting in self-defense when they shot children and other civilians.

Update: Prem Dhakal apologized:

I have to apologize that I wrongly said that Indian Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s claim has yet to be retracted and Indian Embassy in Kathmandu has issued a statement saying the comments attributed to him do not represent the government position.

Like what you read? Give Robert Penner a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.