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We are tired. We are tired of politically saturated intimidation filtered through insidiously political naivety.

When we signed the petition seeking the withdrawal of the Wharton India Economic Forum’s invitation to Narendra Modi, we did so because, as previously outlined in painstaking detail, we objected to providing Modi with a plenary platform on our university’s dime. Unfortunately, The Daily Pennsylvanian has revealed its severe miscomprehension of this very basic point and, in fact, has worried us with the very serious prospect of our suppressed speech.

We are tired, but in a saga that has reached farcical and now unethical proportions, we are reminded of the fundamental value originally spurring us to sign — to counter intimidation.

Yesterday, each of us received an e-mail from a Wharton student and Daily Pennsylvanian reporter. We feel it is most responsible to reproduce its content in full:

“As you know we’re probably covering the Wharton India Economic Forum and the fallout from their decision to uninvite Narendra Modi. We heard that the petition Professor Ania Loomba sent out was an opt-out petition in that she put the names on the petition and said people can opt out if they sent her an email.

“Can you confirm this? We can offer you an anonymous interview.

“Additionally, we understand that some graduate students stand to lose research opportunities in India from being on the petition and would like to have their name removed at least from the DP version. We can work with any students in question to do this.”

We are struck by this very careless description of a professionally endangering rumor about professor Loomba. Some of us who are journalists know that confirming allegations like these would require a reporter to establish a certain level of trust with her sources — which clearly the reporter failed to do. That trust was further broken when she implied that some students will lose research opportunities unless they remove their names from the petition — without specifying what those research opportunities are or which group of students stand to lose them.

When we expressed our concerns to her editor, we received this response:

“In regards to our reporter’s email, we understand your concerns and will speak to her about them. She pursued this line of questioning on the basis of hearsay from an anonymous source. We did not mean for this to offend and certainly do not mean to make an accusation against the professor. This is simply a fact that we wanted to check.”

Since the editor claims to be interested in facts, here they are: In early March, several faculty, students and other concerned citizens began contacting colleagues and friends about WIEF’s invitation, using a Facebook page as our main space to inform and communicate with one another. Each of us affirmatively signed the petition either by posting a comment indicating our support on the page, or by sending an e-mail to the coordinators. The petition was sent, WIEF rescinded its invite — this we all know.

What really was news to us was the reporter’s insinuation that we may have jeopardized our research careers by having signed the petition. Of course, we cannot be so easily intimidated, and thus we are asking that the DP publically identify the source of such hearsay. Our political acuity moves us to suspect that certain interests continue to underlie the vast propaganda seeking to deter us from exercising our right to free speech.

It is our understanding that what is really at stake here is not the voice of Modi but, rather, the silencing of those of us who refuse to forget the thousands of people silenced in 2002 under his watch. It is our indignation about these violent events that prevent us from uncritically appropriating the language of “free speech,” which runs rampant in DP reporting.

In our view, this is the true mark of ethical journalism: reports which understand the historical peculiarities of free speech and do not wield it without researching specificities of the issue in question. From its meaningless references to supposedly imperiled free speech rights of leaders of the ostensibly free world to its blatant reproduction of intimidating allegations, the DP, it seems, has yet to learn that lesson.

Nantina Vgontzas *is a 2011 College graduate. *Monika Bhagat-Kennedy and Divya Nair are English doctoral students. Chris Taylor is a doctoral alumnus from the School of Arts and Sciences. Erica Zaveloff is a graduate student in the School of Social Policy & Practice.

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