Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Hindu Must apologise for insensitive Remarks

The insensitivity of a sensitive paper

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

The Hindu has been termed as one of the most sensitive dailies in India. Despite all provocations, its editors have tried to be non provocative. On many occasions when the Delhi’s dailies went berserk, the Hindu had a wisdom to control things. And such sanity on parts of the Hindu was highly appreciable particularly during the anti Mandal imbroglio in Delhi or the Ayodhya’s shameful demolition of Babari mosque or unearthing the Bofors scandal or reporting on Bombay riots and then the blasts that ripped the city last year.

Ofcourse, during this course, Hindus reporting on many areas was questionable particularly on Nandigram and Singur violence. It was shocking but those who are the students of media understand its compulsions.

A few years back your sister publication ‘Frontline’ brought out a cover story on the horrible and shameful traditions of manual scavenging. That was definitely a praise worthy thing but unfortunately again the clean chit given to West Bengal government on manual scavenging without ever caring to speak to thousands of the people belonging to scavenging community at the Belilius Park who were mercilessly displaced. Today, nothing happened to them. They were neither rehabilitated nor got any other place to live as most of them were the people from various scavenging communities like Balmikis, Helas, Rawats from different north Indian states. Most of them were employed as sweepers at Howarh Municipal Corporation where people were still doing manual scavenging long back.

However, despite all this, it never felt that Hindu is offending the sentiments of the people though your claims that Gandhi fought for untouchable while completely ignoring the heroic struggle of Ambedkar is example how selective you can be. But, November 27th write up by Praveen Swamy on Mumbai’s horrific incidents under headline ‘ where style has trumped substance’ has unnecessarily compared the issue of scavengers with police men.

In his article Swamy shamelessly argues,’ ‘Working upwards of fourteen hours a day — not counting the typically three hours spent commuting — constable Kamble earns a basic pay of Rs. 5,200 a month. Sanitation workers employed by the Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation are paid less — Rs. 4,440 a month — but end up taking home similar wages, because of overtime. Indeed, until the Sixth Pay Commission recently upgraded the categorisation of police work as semi-skilled from skilled, sanitation workers actually made more money. Little has been done to upgrade the police’s living standards and training.’

Swamy does not know that those who scavenge or are involved in sanitary work do not have any holidays. Even when they might get relatively better salary in Mumbai, yet there is no holidays for them and why is it that most of them come from one particular community. Swamy has forgotten about the racial nature of the sanitation work in India.It is worst then that as these workers may not get a home in a normal location, they do not drink tea at a common place and might get it in a dhaba when nobody know their identity.

Yes, today, people like Praveen Swamy might feel that the sweepers are getting over time and the policemen are getting it. Will Praveen Swamy ever visit to those untouchable women who clean shit and do not get paid up. Can you send your reporters to find out how many of the people from scavenging communities are getting two meals a day despite involved in this heinous occupation. Despite all claims and works done by not only Gandhi but various governments, manual scavenging is still prevalent and going high. In the villages it is faminised as most of the men go to the urban areas for work and women continue to do it. The reason the lowest salaries for them and mostly they are contract labors who never get their salaries on time. In Uttar-Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, there are thousands of people from scavenging communities who are working on contract yet have not got their salaries for past six months. And this is a regular features yet our newspapers have no time for the same. Even when government claim that manual scavenging has been eliminated from cities ( it is a false claim and we can still get the same in Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai), yet if we see the unfortunate deaths of the people from the same community in sewage pipe lines. Who are the people dying in these sewage pipe lines without any protective gears? Have you ever asked how much money they get for dying for cleaning our wastes?

We have no complain against your supporting the cause of policemen who are lowly paid but to compare their work with that of sanitation workers is utterly disgraceful. It has shown the insensitivity of the author coming from upper caste background and thinking he and his community have sole property right over patriotism. Should we think that Hindu’s editors remain highly insensitive to the issue of untouchables in the country by publishing Praveen Swamy’s article without editing?

Even when policemen are dying for the ‘country’, most of the countrymen will never have sympathy with them as long as they think themselves above the law. We can understand the threat of terrorism but we must not ignore the fact that police system is created by the government where their Jawans are just hated not by the terrorists but Aadivasis and Dalits where they become state’s main torturing agency to extract money and rob them of their resources. On the contrary, whether it was British or Indians, the scavenging work is done by same community and all efforts by politicians and governments have been far below satisfaction. In such situation, if a seasoned writer compares the work of sanitation workers as ‘free lunch’, he must be made to apologize.

Untouchability is a blot on face of India. Despite all claims of our progress, it still remains. It is hidden apartheid. Much bigger then the issue of terrorism which grows out of victim mindset. As long as the caste Hindus refuse to accept this heinous crime done on humanity, they will have to live with the biggest shame of civilization. The biggest untouchability and racial prejudice is manual scavenging and Balmikis face is daily in their work. The indignity heaped on them can not be erased by paying them a few thousand rupees. Praveen Swamy deserve condemnation from civil society. The Hindu must apologize for its publication and desist publishing such insensitive pieces in future. Let it lead a campaign against untouchability and manual scavenging for erase its serious lap in the publication of such a sinister article.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Role of media during Mumbai attack

Media’s Revivalist Agenda
Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Mumbai’s blasts have shocked many but those of us who have been following the self serving political class in India know well that such things will continue to happen as never in the history of India the report of investigations are made public and guilty prosecuted. Of course, these days, the guilty are being pronounced by the loud mouthed anchors of the television channels and ‘public’ at large, the same public that are invited in the TV studios and phone their relatives and friends to ‘watch’ the programmes or read the ‘newspapers’ to publicize their name.

In the post liberalization scenario, two things are clearly emerging in India. One the enormous power of the media and second the powerful cocktail of media-corporate-hindutva to rule over the country and destroy its cultural resources. And therefore Mumbai’s incidents have to be seen in a broader framework and not what is being made visible to us. Mumbai’s ugly incident has given media a tool to justify its jingoism and spread lies and rumors to fix up an agenda which is anti poor and anti Dalit-Adivasis-Bahujan.

It is no doubt that those Islamic Jihadis or Hindu fundamentalists or fanatics who are at war with each other in India are poor cousins of each others. They strengthen each other. Both of them have no love for democracy and democratic values. At both the sides of the story, whether it is Muslim Jehadis or Hindutva fundamentalists, there is ample number of patrons who will come out and speak for the community. Unless people, come out openly against such ‘patrons’, the fight against terror can not be won.

What perturbed me most about the Mumbai coverage is that when on the next day of the attack on Taj, V P Singh, the former P.M of India, who changed the course of the Indian politics and history, none of these news channels and news papers bothered to talk or write about him.. Taj continued to remain the ‘symbol’ of India and ‘Indians’ were ‘outraged’ continued the commentators. Mr. Bachhan’s sleepless nights, Shahrukh’s and Amir’s open criticism of terrorism, and C.M visit to Taj along with the film director Ram Gopal Verma and actor son Ritesh continued to remain the headlines. It was no coincident that over hype of attack on Taj was in away media’s clever attempt to hijack things and decide an agenda of its own. On the eve of new year, it is the debate on ‘war on terror’. ‘We must now ‘do or die’ said some of them. People like us who have been working on the people’s issues are concerned with this fixation of agenda by the media in these circumstances where each one of us needs to ponder. That Muslim community is now under tremendous pressure to ‘show’ its faithfulness and ‘condemn’ terrorism is the new media hype around the issue.

It is not complicated why media made Taj such an issue. The shaheeds whom we witnessed at hotel Taj reflect media’s mind which will discredit our leadership (though I too have no love for them) and glorify the armed forces. Its like what George Bernad Shah wrote in his famous drama ‘Arms and the man’. During those days every English woman would aspire to marry a military man fighting against the enemy. But we live in strange time today. The glorification of the death of a soldier comes from those who would in no way send their children to army or armed forces. Indian army need good officers and this is a well known truth that we seriously need young dynamic youths in the army who can lead. Yet, despite the glory, how many of these ‘candle wallahs’ masses would opt for the army.

Secondly, the media has been projecting that they only believe in India shining story which was actually rejected by the people of this country many time. But ‘people’, for media, means those who eat at Taj. The concerned media became so enraged after the event of Taj that they started instigating people against the entire political system as they were not part of it. And in doing so they started claiming (read miss-claiming) that now the ‘middle class is in danger’. They failed to understand the very basic reality that middle class has always been on the target of terrorists, it is not because of this attack on Taj as how many of the middle classes would afford to eat and sleep at Taj.

Denigrating democracy and glorifying military power is part of a brahmanical culture which is worried about growing challenge to its hegemony. Today, knowledge and power is not its only domain. It controlled Indian power structure and the man who shook this in the 1990s coincidently passed away in the same period. Thanks to media’s over hyped coverage of terror strike, all his work went unnoticed for the entire brahmanical class. This man had challenged the hegemony of the ruling brahminical class and created a new set of the rulers like Mayawati, Lalu Yadav, Ramvilas Paswan and many such others. He made us realize that this rule of the new ruling class is going to stay here as a matter of fact. Thus the brahmanical forces started working on the politics of cooption. Though they agreed to some extent at the later stage on the agenda of social justice but they never condone any one who dares to change their agenda. The current war on terror is clearly an exercise of shifting the agenda of the politics in past 20 years from social justice to ‘terrorism’ which in Indian situation is bound to help the brahmanical ruling elite. That only those will get the title of Shaheed who will die at Taj and the policemen and army people who fight against the insurgency operations and against the Naxals are not Shaheeds. Why didn’t our media stalwarts like Barkha Dutt, Rajdeep Saardesai, Ashutosh, Praveen Swami and their look likes ever visit Kandhamaal or Khairlanjee to share and show the pain of those suffered in the massacre. How can those people who still eat rats say ‘Mera Bharat Mahan’ as people like Arnab Goswami would make all believe. The way the word shaheed was being used by these news channels, it looked as if they are not independent media organizations but government’s spokes person. On the contrary, in the past few years, if you agree, DD News as well as DD Bharati and Lok Sabha TV seems to be the best news and current affairs channels, as they do not cry and exhibit their nationalism in public. Their debates are impressive, unlike those organized by the ‘mathadhishs’ in the paid channels where the anchors want all to speak their language.

There is no doubt that the events in Mumbai were traumatic, but they were over played by an overzealous media which wanted to project that only terror is the issue before the country. The media made us believed that they ‘represent’ the nation and therefore none had the decency to speak about a former prime minister who passed away during this period. Was it pressure of the Mumbai news that forced media to ignore this news or was it their inherent bias against the forces of social justice that they did not want to speak on the subject which had taken most of the space during the past 20 years. Yes, the media could not have ignored had any other political leader passed away during this period as Kancha Illaiah rightly said in his tribute to V.P.Singh in Deccan Herald, comparing the latter with Abraham Lincoln.

Communalization of media
The problem lies in the people who head our media institutions. There is a stark change in the perceptions of the editors these days. Once upon a time, media was a watch dog and voices of dissent were part of their struggle. During the dark days of emergency when the Akashwani was termed as ‘Indirawani’, the ‘Indian Express’ lonely under Ram Nath Goenka became the voice of the masses. In 1986-87 when V.P.Singh was exposing various deals of the government, the entire media fraternity was united in discrediting him. Except for newspapers like Indian Express, the Hindu and the Statesman, the papers provided their space to government agents masquerading as journalists write reports which were totally fabricated and fictitious. Veteran editors were used in this regard to defame the man who challenged the Congress. Making a clever move, the government of the day, also learnt how to censor media without officially censoring it and hence journalists were lured into becoming party spokespersons. Today this trend has been well taken by almost all the political parties which have rootless paratroopers whose only quality is ‘connections’ with media.

However, in the last decade of the 20th century, the course of the history of Indian media was changed by three important events. In 1990, we entered into an era where international warfare was directly being broadcast by CNN. It was amazing to see bombs being hurled on Iraq. India soon became a party to it, thanks to an indecisive Prime Minister Narsimha Rao whose lonely commitment to the people was through open market economy. Manmohan Singh, the then Finance Minister of India allowed all the doors wide open for foreign direct investment. Hundreds of private TV companies were allowed to have their space in the Door Darshan.

The second important event was the acceptance of the recommendations of Mandal Commission by Prime Minister V.P.Singh. This sparked off the violence in the entire north India. The violence was not spontaneous but was sparked off by the goons of Sangh parivar pretending to be journalist. Since they had visualized in advance that opening of the levers of powers for the shudras would endanger the brahmanical hegemony hence they were hell bent to oppose it. So much was the hatred among the upper caste that students immolated themselves in the streets of Delhi. Every bad news is good news and hence media used this opportunity. The beating of students by an insensitive police in the streets of Delhi was actually the high point of India today brand of journalism (please clearify it). Editors of several newspapers exposed their dirt openly and shamelessly that they stand for an upper caste India with no rights for the dalits. Articles were published against reservation granted for the dalits too who were outside the ambit of Mandal Commission report. Arun Shourie in particular, who was then heading the Indian Express group remained more shameless using his newspaper to spread lies, falsehood and rumors. Shourie felt that he was the sole proprietor of truth but the fact is that he spoke truth which was useful for the Hindu upper castes.

The third important event of the decade was the demolition of Babri Maszid. However, Shourie’s campaign did not end only with opposing the legitimate rights to Shudras. He went on to support demolition of the Babari Mosque and attacks on Chrisitans and Muslims also. Later on he wrote a book on Ambedkar terming him as a British stooge. He is the best example of how a journalist who claims to be torch bearer uses ‘truth of convenience’ for his constituency. He knew it very well that the communalization of the middle classes was easy and anything written against the Muslims, Dalits and OBCs would be sold as hot cakes. And it did happen. The Mandal reccomondation saw the worst ever protests of the upper caste youths all over the country and in turn completely and unjustifiably communalized them. With more and more media men getting into politics, the Hindutva fundamentalists were the first to understand the wide power of media and benefits of communalization of the middle classes which is basically opinion maker. It started with a number of editors joining the bandwagon of the Hindutva followed by political reporters. Hence when Lal Krishna Advani said that Ram Mandir Movement was a movement equivalent to 1942’s quit India movement, several editors cum owners of the newpapers jumped into the fray. Dainik Jagaran was the biggest example. The newspaper is the highest circulated Hindi daily from UP became an avid Hindutva protagonist and its editor cum owner Narendra Mohan felt that nothing could be greater than dying for the cause of Ram Mandir.

Thus, most of the Hindi media then turned into Hindu media and the cause of the Ram Mandir became a national cause. At the same time every Muslim became a suspect and every Muslim criminal who was arrested became an ISI agent. Those supporting the demand of a court settlement or who were seen to be with Muslims were termed as Maulana. Both the mandal and mandir issue in 1990 exposed two important myths of Indian media and and their ethos. The liberal media or a tolerant and respecting dissent got exposed the way media became a party in the entire anti mandal charade. Editors became preachers and their gospel forced students to commit suicide. V.P.Singh and other leaders of National Front became the villain. Later when Advani started his rath yatra, a large number of the media men became party to it. The reporting of the event was done at a grand scale. When Advani was arrested in Samastipur Bihar, various states went for communal disturbances instigated by the Sangh Parivar and their elements. But the India media had no regret as it was determined to destroy the greater unity of the Dalit Bahujan communities in the aftermath of the mandal. Thus media’s corruption came in open.
The language of media became aggressive and abusive. The so called saffron saints and sanyasis who were supposed to be very polite got wide publicity in the media spewing venom on the highest political leadership. The Prime Minister and the Chief Minister became the figures highly abused. Awards were put at their heads and newspapers were reporting from every where. Different editions of one newspaper published one report of a reporter in different edition in different ways, often in highly outrageous headlines. In fact, the Press Council of India censored many of them but then how many of media barons respect press council.

In fact, when Justice P.B.Sawant became chief of press council and censored many of the news papers, majority of the media barons turned against him. None ever bothered about the rebuke of the press council. Media gets worried only when an authority asks them do so. Every suggestion is countered under the guise of ‘freedom of expression’. They feel uncomfortable if they are asked to remain unbiased and unprejudiced. After the Gujarat riots (read Sangh Parivar engineered riots), the entire Gujrati media turned highly against Muslims and every report that was asking for justice to Muslims in the state was considered an assault to ‘Gujarati Asmita’ as if Gujrati Muslims do not have a Gujarati identity, as if they do not have right to live in Gujarat and get justice. The vernacular press too was very loud in spreading the message of the ruling political class all over the state. Those who tried to remain rational was banned by the Narendra Modi government of flimsy ground. While none of us would ever recommend the prohibition measures, media events expose their own positions.

Dalits and Media
In the 1990s, the Hindi media had become Hindu media on the issue of Ayodhya question, the English media, with some eceptions, had opposed the demolition of the Babari mosque. The leading luminaries of the media decried demolition of the mosque as an assault on the constitution. But nevertheless, when the political movement for the Ramjanambhoomi was build up, the English media too did not remain behind in carefully crafting the image of Lal Krishna Advani as a national leader. No one felt that the forces of the destruction of India should be given the space they deserved. In fact, media research showed that the Hindutva and its frontal organizations had become household names. Their strength was displayed in such a way as if the entire nation wanted them.

In the post 1990s when the Dalit assertion grew diametrically higher in India, an Indian journalist B.K.Uninyal wrote an article in the Pioneer about the presence of dalits in the Indian media. It became a ‘hallmark’ for the dalit writing activism in the media. The Pioneer which was one of the finest newspapers under Vinod Mehta in the 1990 championing secular cause became the mouthpiece of Sangh Parivar once Chandan Mitra purchased it. Later it was understood that it was a tactic adopted by him to make his way to Rajya Sabha. Mitra degraded a people’s news-daily into a bundle of calumny, lies and propaganda of the hindu right wing through his editorialized news reports. The circulation of the daily was virtually nothing yet Chandan Mitra, was a brand himself. Earlier in his position as an assistant editor of Hindustan Times, he expressed his anti mandal views during his caste aspersion reports on some of the judges of Supreme Court for which he was indicted by the Supreme Court and later shunted out by the management of Hindustan Times. As BJP led NDA took power in Centre under Atal Bihri Vajpayee, the Sangh parivar and its sympathizers in the media grew and so were their greed to extract mileage to power. Hence even person like Aruh Shourie, who once condemned Ambedkar, RSS and its sympathizers worked hard to bring the Dalit ‘intellectuals’ to its fold (its not clear and it contradicts the earlier statements on Shourie). Of course, they know it well that it would be suicidal for any so-called dalit intellectuals to side with the Sangh Parivar and Hindutva forces directly so the media provided them space. Uniyal, a Brahmin actually paved the way of some of the dalits intellectuals to write in Pioneer. A separate column was granted in Sunday Pioneer for this purpose. The careful scanning of these columns easily reflect that the target of these writings were so-called communists and socialists.

In the present scenario, it is interesting to note that maximum glorification of Mayawati comes from the brahmanical media when she started reviving the bramins in Uttar-Pradesh. When she along with Kanshiram was talking about ‘Tilak Taraju aur Talwar, Maro Inko Jute Char (it means throw shoes on Brahmins, Vaishyas and Kshatriyas), the media disowned them and rebuked them. Rightly or wrongly, BSP was always portrayed itself in a much negative fashion. But later Maywati realized that her dream to gain power could not become a reality without the support of other communities, especially the brahmin in particular. However, the upper caste dominated media saw it as an opportunity. Giving tickets to Brahmins for assembly in excess to their proportion was termed by them as ‘social engineering’. They forgot that when VP Singh did the same for OBCs under mandal recommendations, they had termed it as ‘casteism’ and they did the same during the recommendation of reservation in higher education for OBC by the central government in 2006.

Media, therefore, is keeping its caste interest ahead of anything else. When Arun Shourie writes abuses against the Dalits, Muslims and other minorities in his self-proclaimed ‘research’, the media jumps into it and starts debating it without involving others who can ‘expose’ Shourie in his own ‘web’. The Chandan Mitras and Shouries know well how to use the upper caste dishonesty towards dalits and Muslims for their nefarious purposes and the rest of the media follows quietly. It is this that the BJP and Hindutva exploit very well. When Shourie writes, Vasant Sathe would not disagree with him in his final analysis. All together feel that Hinduism is the most tolerant religion.

Media uses and misuses its right to ‘freedom of expression’ when the history is being analyzed from the dalit bahujan view point. Hence writings of Periyar and Ambedkar are highly intolerable. When Shourie was writing against Ambedkar, it was this intolerance of the upper caste which did not allow any dissent in our social cultural life. However, Ms Mayawati making a strange move in Uttar-Pradesh has deleted Periyar from BSP’s list of icons. It is said that Behenji was worried about the Brahmin votes and Periyar, being the staunch anti Brahmin and anti Ram was therefore replaced by Ravidas.

But the biggest surprise is that when Ms. Mayawati banned ‘Sachchi Ramayan’, (true Ramayan) in Uttar-Pradesh, none in the brahmanical media defended the book. On the contrary when Teesari Azadi, a docu-drama made by some Dalit Bahujan activists, was getting very popular in among the community people, IBN -7 , a news channel in Hindi started a campaign against it, asking for its ban. Ashutosh, another loud mouth anchor from the channel termed it as a ‘Jehrili CD’ (poisonous CD). He said that it was spreading social discord and the channel broadcasted the news several times. Those in the Dalit Bahujan movement know well that this is nothing but an upper caste intolerance to accept fair criticism.

Rather it is media’s double standard that is creating discord among the people. Their selective criticism to serve their interest is a great hindrance in Dalit people’s right to information. It can make a Lalu Yadav great when he protect the business interest of the private parties dominated by the upper castes and lumpunise him when he talks of the rights of backward classes. The media negligence and apathy towards V.P.Singh is yet another example. While the foreign media wrote him in terms of Indian Mandela or a person in the category of Abrahom Lincoln, the Indian media not only ignored his death but asked people like Megnath Desai to analyse him. It is the travesty of truth that persons like Megnath Desai, who remain stooge to British interest in India, are allowed to judge a person who remain most relevant in today’s politics. It seems that the brahmanical media continued to feel threatened with even the ghost of V.P.Singh.

Media’s tactic of making and unmaking of leader has resulted in its disprortionate respect for itself. It was important for it to remain as a watch dog of the civil society and fight for people’s right. It should not have hesitated in defending human rights and boycotting social evils, but unfortunately, no one does so. A death due to hunger does not get reflection in our media and violence against dalits only reflects when it serves either the political interest of a party or the market interest of the news channels and news papers.

When Mayawati, after becoming the Chief Minister of UP, expressed her desire to become the Prime Minister of India, Jug Surraiya, well know humourist yet anti reservationists wrote a piece comparing her with Barrack Obama, the first black US President, asking when India can have its Obama. His colleague Swaminathan Aiyer also appreciated Maya’s aspirations. How did this sudden change happen! The basic fact is that Maywati’s ‘social engineering’ (as proclaimed by Brahmins) is nothing but brahmanical revivalism. It has fascinated the upper caste intellectuals as well as those who find greatness in clubbing with the new global capitalist agenda and if any appreciation of the new global order comes from the Dalits intellectual then it legitmise the anti people stand of the votaries of this system.

When media reported the anti mandal agitation in 1990, the basic question raised was why the government do not take steps in supporting the OBCs in education. It was often remarked that supporting the dalits and OBCs in education would help the ultimate cause and not through providing separate quota for them in jobs. But in 2007 when the government wanted to reserve seats in the higher education, all the hell was let loose. AIIMS castiest doctors went on strike against the government order. Purely and openly supported by K.Venugopal, the dalit students became victim of their vicious campaign.
Newspaper gave disproportionate representation to anti reservation news while supporters of the pro reservation got little space in their channels. The Times of India reported it as ‘Apartheid’. Does Times of India mean that providing reservation to the marginalized sections of society is tantamount to be equal to apartheid in South Africa? If a newspaper which claims to be more progressive and represent the voice of the middle classes write such an obnoxious story and claim that the affirmative action programme are apartheid in reverse order, one can understand their mindset and their appreciation for the dalit writers and dalit activism.

Media and market
Octavio Paz, who got Nobel Prize in 1990 said in his acceptance speech,
[T]he market economy can not be simply a cause for joy. As a mechanism, the market is efficient, but like all mechanism, it lacks both conscience and compassion. We must find a way of integrating it into society so that it expresses the social contact and become an instrument for justice and fairness.

The advanced democratic societies have reached an enviable level of prosperity and at the same point of time they are islands of abundance in an ocean of universal misery. A society possessed by the frantic need to produce more in order to consume more tends to reduce ideas, feeling, art, love, friendship and people themselves to consumer good. Everything becomes an item to be bought, used and then thrown on the rubbish dump.

Today, media’s commitment to the people’s cause is reflection of what Paz predicted 15 years before. Unfortunately, it has degenerated into a vulgar act of glorification of market world and superstitious mindset that exists in India. We can estimate where media stands when even sophisticated channels are producing ‘tarot reading’ every day and NDTV in its entertainment section is forced to produce ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Shani Ki Mahima’. The surge of religious programme on the Indian silver screen, i.e. television is a new phenomenon of religious revivalism in the country. Hundreds of channels have come up which are broadcasting religious discourse of semiliterate Babas who have targeted the ignorant middle classes which have no social concern yet want to adhere to its age old taboos and traditions in the name of identity. This identity is being carefully crafted in the silver coated pills of religiosity added with a new flavor of ‘art of living’ style morality and keeping yourself fit with yoga. Hence both yoga guru Ramdev and Art of Living champion Ravi Shankar are the most sought after Gurus apart from morality preacher of the middle classes like Shiv Khera and Deepak Chopra. All these and others represent religious revivalism of Hindus, particularly of the upper caste variety. Most of them have their anti backward, anti Dalit stand open and hence come handy to media to use them as a tool against these sections of society. So in a debate for reservation people like Shiv Khera and Ravi shankar are a part for TV news room.

Danger is not just with these kind of religious revivalism. What we are witnessing today is the dose of religiosity added with hardcore superstition is being displayed by the TV channels. The cut throat competition and the fight for TRPs have forced them to bring more such stories such as miracles and extraordinary happenings around us. India TV of Rajat Sharma is notorious for bringing such news. One day it brings out sensational story that the statue of Sai Baba in Sirdi is ‘weeping’ and tears coming out from his eyes. The explanation given to the people was that the Sai is deeply hurt and unhappy on the condition of the society at large. The channel played this news the whole day as the only story. However, the other channel Aaj Tak jumped into the fray to debunk the theory of India TV, suggesting that the said story is fabricated and edited carefully by a software engineer and there is no such news and the management of Sirdi also condemned the channel for broadcasting the ‘fabricated’ news.

Every day we are witnessing such glorious news. Some claims that it has gone to the place where ‘Ravana’ was killed and where his ‘mummies’ are kept, the other finds ‘Ashoka Vatika’. There seems to be more interest in religious revivalism particularly of the Hindutva variety. The Setu Samudram Controversy was also raked up by these channels, each one of them following and allowing hardcore anti rationalist and anti Dravidian politician like Subrahmanyam Swamy and others to fulminate against the Tamilnadu government.

Why the Channels are doing so?

It seems today that the news channels have become more important than news. And with enormous growth of the middle classes in India, the growth of the semi literate people craving for Masala news has increased. The news channels have created new experts who are inherently biased in their opinion. Of course, in the name of putting the other view point, the channels also invite some ‘dissenters’ but the priority is given to those who speak as if they only have the monopoly over patriotism. The anchors are becoming aggressive and they do not allow any dissenting voice to dominate. They always like to have their voice at the end. Whenever any dissenting voice dominates the discussion, the anchor would cut it short.

Arundhati Roy recently commented on them how they were challenging every one who disagreed with the idea of ‘government as responsible for the Mumbai incident’, as if the Mumbai incident happened because of absent of laws.
These anchors are habitual of putting their words into Indian ‘experts’ but when they interview the foreign experts, they forget they are not interviewing an Indian hence we have seen how they fight with experts other than Indians, who do not agree with their view point. For our media, a Pakistani or Bangladeshi or an English expert is supposed to speak our voice. How would it be possible? If journalism is nationalism then the same is true for the journalists in other countries. We can not and should not expect them to speak our language. But then our pundits in the media are the same as happening to American media. I call it is as CNNisation process in Indian media which is embedded media. We do not really follow the BBC and its credibility as a news channel but the commercial CNN which is embedded to American establishment and that is one reason why Al-jejira was born.

The sermonisation of the Indian media is worst as they do not even pretend to have a dissenting voice in them. Eric Alterman has wonderfully narrated the entire sequence of Punditocracy in American media in his book ‘What Liberal Media’ in the following words;
[B]ut where journalism adopts the pretense of reporting only ‘the facts maam’ , the need for ‘opinion writers’ dedicated to placing the news in a larger and more useful context for readers, rises accordingly.

Pundits can be particularly influential in the United states owning to amazing degree of ignorance and or apathy many Americans share regarding politics and public affairs. In a nation where six of ten high school students lack what the department of educaton term ‘even basic knowledge of US history and where more people can give pollsters name of all the three stooges than any three members of the Surpreme Court, the importance of some one helping out with a reasoned and intelligent contextual view of events hardly be overstated.

Going through the Indian media and the lack of indepth analysis in it, one does not wonder why it has happened. A Newspaper like Indian Express which used to the voice of middle classes and under privileged once upon a time, today, represents the voice of the elite Indians. It’s conspicuously denigrated everything that is pro-people and anti American as if the people do not have a right to speak and express themselves. The Times of India, which often represented voice of the liberal India today talks of tougher laws against terror.

Media’s Ethical Failures

After the Mumbai incident, the media has disproportionately shunned every kind of criticism and dissent. I have been witness to many communal disturbances and investigated role of media and its bipartisan nature. We know how Gujarat incidents were reported and justification was sought. The regional media became the campaign manager of BJP and the Hindutva elements. As I write this analysis amidst my Padyatra (foot march) on the issue of the land ceiling and land redistribution in the Tarai region of Uttar-Pradesh and Uttarakhand, the shocking events have forced me to share this with all. The Padyatra was in its 12th day, since it entered Uttarakhand through Nepal border. The issue of the land ceiling and land redistribution are of immense importance for the empowerment of the dalits and other marginalized sections of society, but the intelligence agencies had launched an operation against us. No governments in the world can ignore the issue of land redistribution as it is a way to secure social justice to those who have been denied for long. A way to understand the social inequities in our social system. One is amazed that despite a strong anti ceiling law as well as Zamindar abolition Act in UP and Uttarakhand, the government has not been able to provide justice to the rural poor and now the situation has come to a stage where the government and its authorities are in the process of protecting the interest of the powerful land mafia. Hence any voice to support the cause of the rural poor and their voices are scuttled in the name of nationalism. The governments have failed to protect the lives of the poor. On the contrary those who raise the issue of this fundamental right of the people are termed as anti national. People like us who are raising this issue can be termed as Maoists, while those who are Muslims with us, may be linked to ISI-Maoists set up. Without understanding the ideological perceptive, every one who is raising the voice, is a terrorist here.

Coming to our main focus, during this trip what I could observe was that media has totally lost its ethical responsibilities. The journalists were acting as a tool to the intelligence agencies. Our programme was primarily focused on public awareness, social audits and marching through the street. We had also decided to keep this trip a low profile and march `without mush slogan shouting, due to the prevailing tension in the region. As a precaution we selected to cover villages from only those areas where the land problem really existed. However, what disturbed us was that the media leakages to authorities and their combine network questioning us in different ways to find out our ideology. They kept interviewing us in front of few members whose names and identity they disclosed. Fact of the matter is they were Local Intelligence Unit (LIU) of the Intelligence Bureau. The government of the day has made up an impression that issues related to land rights are just raised by Maoists only, and therefore they wanted to have an eye on us. But why the media sided with them, is highly questionable.

It is strange that media has become a party to government’s (primarily of the upper caste) propaganda. This is dangerous not only for democracy but our fundamental rights too. How can a journalist disclose his sources of information to the police authorities and make the lives of those endangered who might disagree with the functioning of governance. It is not necessary that a dissenter has to be a Maoist. I still remember former Prime Minister V.P.Singh’s interview to a magazine where he said that he would like to become a Maoist if the rights of the people continue to be defied. Unfortunately, our authorities and now the media too feel that all the dissenters are Maoists.

This all sufficiently shows media’s aggressively anti people campaign. It is carefully carving its corporate agenda which are openly anti poor and anti dalit-Adivasi. Hence all the campaign for the dalits and Adivasis are considered to be anti national. In this hour when the nation should remain united and work for poor and the marginalized, the media does not want to miss any opportunity to turn it upside down. Can there be anything more irresponsible than indulged in war mongering when the world is facing a global meltdown and when the rural poor of India are facing uncertainty of their lives. Actually, their main agenda is to push the developmental agenda into the backburner. It is shocking that saner voices are no longer visible in the media. Though the government itself denied that there is any war effort, yet the way all the dissenters including Arundhati Roy was chided by the popular channels and rebuked, makes us believe that media in this country has lost its senses and has completely sold its conscience. It may force people now to resort to internet gimmickries if it continues to present such ideas, voices and opinions. Nevertheless, with the growing availability of internet, blogs and various web groups have come up for discussions, and slowly and steadily media seems to be a gone case. People suspect newspapers for any in-depth analysis; however, they continue reading them for ‘news’, which again are edited carefully to suit certain interests.

Concluding Remarks

Looking at this biasness of the mainstream media, the dalits and other marginalized groups have now come up with their own medium of mass communication. This silver lining is growing as alternative media resources by the dalit-bahujan communities. Whatever claims all these ‘pundits’ might make; they are under vigilance by the people and thankfully to the growth of internet in the world. The Barkhas, Rajdeeps and Arnabs will not go unchallenged today.

The dalit-bahujan groups and their web logs fought valiantly against the misinformation campaign of the brahmanical news channels and their newspapers against reservation as a whole when the government allowed reservation in the higher educational institutions. One is optimist that two years from now when the second or third generations of these communities will emerges and become a strong middle classes, the media and their tarps will find it more difficult to ignore their voices. The writing is on the wall. A new middle classes of dalit-bahujans and Muslims is emerging and the mainstream media will have to change according to aspirations and emotions of these communities.

There is still time that mainstream media provide voice and representations of dalits and minorities, otherwise the days are not far when the mainstream media would turn like mainstream parties which have become almost defunct and non existence. The marginalization of our mainstream political forces and the mainstreamification of our regional parties are the prime example of the growing nature of new dynamics of our socio-political system. The media must reflect them if it wants to survive. It should keep a check on the business of creating ‘suvidha ka satya’ (truth of convenience). It must allow deserved space for those living on the margins, if it wants to remain credible and purposeful.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Prabhash Joshi : An uncomrpomising person

Tribute to An uncompromising media institution: Prabhash Joshi

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

1980s were the most turbulent days in the history of Independent India. Indira Gandhi’s return of power after emergency was not great. Her grip over power was slipping. Sanjay Gandhi had died in a tragic air crash leaving a vacuum for the youth Congress leaders. The separatist Khalistan movement was growing in Punjab. Delhi had probably turn into a unsafe place with bomb blasts in buses, trains and other places became a regular feature. The issue of Kashmir was growing and in Assam we had seen he worst ever massacre where thousands of Muslims were butchered to death in Nellie, with state just witnessing it helplessly. In between, some happy moments happened like the Asian Games in Delhi in 1982 which changed the city and the historic moment of 1983 world cup triumph under Kapil Dev at Lords. Amidst this was one more happening in the Hindi heartland. It was the emergence of a new daily ‘ Jansatta’ under Prabhash Joshi. I know buying a paper was out of reach for me hence I used to sit at a chai-shop to wait for my turn to read it. The two papers that would come there was Navbharat Times and Jansatta. And NBT which was the flagship of Times group under the veteran Rajendra Mathur while Jansatta was the new beginning made by unstoppable Ramnath Goenka, the owner of Indian Express group of newspapers.

But with in a very short span of time, Jansatta became the hot issue itself and it left behind the other papers in the market for its contents and news items. The lay out was wonderful and the most important thing was a complete change in the language of journalism. It was not a language which we all were habitual of listening to All India Radio and Doordarshan. It was refreshingly a language which we call ‘vox-populi’ and Prabhash Joshi was a master in it. Whether writing on cricket or politics, Joshi’s idioms and terms had the reader wondering and asking for more.

In 1984 Indira Gandhi was assassinated and Delhi witnessed the worst ever massacre of Sikhs in the street. It was a horrific moment for all of us who thought whether India as a nation would survive or not. In far away places, people developed a frenzy against Sikhs and the state were all supporting it. The newspapers were not able to do justice except that Indian Express and Jansatta carried stories about these ghastly murders. In 1984 Rajiv Gandhi came to power with a massive mandate, unimaginable now. It uprooted many opposition stalwarts and made him think that nothing is beyond his reach. He started with a good intention but was highly uncomfortable with uncomfortable questions. His friendship circle was of charming Doon school friends which became a problem for him later. Corruption was growing in his government and VP Singh’s campaign for clean polity was getting wider support. On the other side, human rights groups were asking for justice to Sikh families killed in the massacre in Delhi. And in this Indian Express group provided them the platform. Indian Express started a series of article to save Kehar Singh and Balwant Singh from hanging. Efforts were also made by the paper to raise the issue of Sikhs. On October 31st, 1985, Rajiv addressed the first gathering to commemorate Indira’s death anniversary saying,’ jab bada ped girta hai to dharati hilti hai..’ when a big tree falls the earth shakes.

The Indian Express group had launched a campaign for probity in public life and wholeheartedly supported the Income Tax raids in the Industrial houses. Soon, V.P.Singh was shunted out of finance ministry and income tax sleuths raided Indian Express offices all over the country. Rajiv’s advisers asked him to bring a ‘defamation bill’. Unlike the unity in emergency, this time only a few editors were against it. Indian Express, Hindu, the Statesman were some of the groups which went against it. Most of the other caved in, though the government had to withdraw the bill. One may remember Rajiv Gandhi’s famous statement ‘ hamare dushmano ko hum nani yaad kar denge’.

Along with Arun Shourie, Prabhash Joshi spearheaded the campaign against Rajiv’s government but unlike Arun Shourie, he was not really ready to write Fatwas guiding the political leaders. In the post Boforse situation in India, media was used by congress party to the best of its knowledge for character assassination of the opponent particular VP Singh who was posing a threat to Rajiv Gandhi. Senior Journalists like M.J.Akbar, who was editor of Telegraph, Kolkata, were misused their positions and actually brought ‘breaking news’ of VP Singh’s account in St Kitts. Notorious Chandraswamy was the henchmen who brought such information in connivance with country’s top journalists. It is the peak time to see how Indian media caves in under government pressure. How news was being created in Delhi with country’s journalists sitting in the headquarter of Congress party and writing stories. In fact later the Sangh Parivar used the same tactics in communalizing the media and today a number of those who could not find favor with Congress are with the Sangh Parivar.

In 1990, a decision by the National Front government to implement Mandal Commission report exposed Arun Shourie and his racist ideas. Arun Shourie became a ring leader of anti mandal forces in the media and tried his best to scuttle the implementation of the government. Indian Express became vehicle to support Adwani and his vicious propaganda with Arun Shourie actively promoting the hate campaign against Muslims, much against the policy of the group. Soon, when the Hindutva’s forces started their w(rath) Yatra, Arun Shourie wrote some of the worst pieces in the Express forcing his expulsion from the paper.

In the mean while Jansatta continued to be the voice of intelligentsia. Prabhash Joshi was writing on politics, cricket and all the major issues. Unlike Arun Shourie and his highly self promoting individualistic style, Prabhash created a team of youngsters. Though Joshi himself was anti mandal once upon a time, he had the courage to publish article in support of Mandal as a majority of writers in Jansatta came from socialist leaning. I still remember his series of article against it. A large number of readers wrote angry mail to him condemning his position yet he got them published in the form of an article named as ‘ jaat pe naa jao meri baat pe aao’. I read that piece and got annoyed since I felt Joshi was making a debating issue with young readers and in any news paper it is the editor’s word which are final so what is new if Prabhash Joshi criticize his readers who criticized his position. I wrote a letter to him criticizing his position and his inability to listen to criticism. It was quite surprised that after a few days, I got a neatly hand written letter asking me to meet him and telling me that we should speak on the issues and not on individual’s identity. He said when he was raising the issue of Devi Lal or V.P.Singh, nobody said whose caste they were ? After all, they were not Brahmins.

Prabhash Joshi was actually a die hard Brahmin, who was very proud of his association with Vinoba, JP and Ramnath Goyanka. We all know his peculiar views on Sati after Rupkunwar was forced to commit Sati, he supported. Perhaps getting influence by the argument of Vijaya Raje Scindia who had openly supported Sati as the best tradition of sacrifice of Bharatiya Naari i.e Indian woman.

But Joshi’s finest hours in the journalism came after 1992. Actually, in 1983 when Jansatta was launched and after which the whole campaign against government and Ambani brothers, it was Arun Shourie who was leading the campaign. Joshi remain a pale shadow that time. Yet, after the demolition of Babari Mosque on December 6th, 1992, Jansatta was perhaps the only paper which became the biggest voices of the secular forces apart from Vinod Mehta’s Pioneer. Most of the other news papers including Indian Express had turned saffron as they might have seen the change in the wind and growth of Hindutva in India. Editors were singing praise of Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee but Prabhash Joshi became more vocal. He wrote against Sangh Parivar and all those journalists who went to the brigade for green pasture. None had the capacity to call those who demolished the Babari Mosque as ‘terrorists’.

One may disagree with his arguments as coming from a Gandhian view point, he felt that RSS and other members of the Parivar do not represent the Hindu view of life. He wrote ‘ Hindu hone ka dard’ which many of the media friends describe as one of the finest book in recent years on the growth of Hindu fundamentalism and what should we do. He got numerous hate mail from the Hindutva’s professional letter writers but Joshi was powerful enough to respond them in their own language.

In the recent year, Prabhash Joshi was more and more interacting with communities. He had closely associated with late prime minister VP Singh and social movements against WTO, SEZs, land acquisitions and media manipulations by the industrial houses. He had been travelling a lot and his voice mattered a lot in these matters. Among the current day journalists he was the only one who could write with authority on the issue of land acquisition. In fact, despite Jansatta’s shrinking market, it never compromised with quality of contents in it while its counterpart Indian Express was busy in glorification of business interest and open loot of the land.

As I wrote earlier, Prabhash Joshi considered himself a puritan Brahmin who was concerned about the growing communal situation in the country and continuous assault on our natural resources. You may disagree with his view. I never liked his preaching of Sanatan dharma and boasting of ‘Hindu’ ‘liberal’ values which I felt imposing the brahmanical values on us but definitely as an editor he was extraordinary. In his thoughts he did not come close to his contemporary Rajendra Mathur who was highly talented and much stronger on ideological side yet Prabhash Joshi was far more ahead in interaction with people and making a people friendly Jansatta. He was a journalist with a mission. Many of his contemporaries adjusted with those in power, never speak of people ( Arun Shourie is best example who talk of Hindutva yet never really raised people’s issues, supported disinvestment and globalization, went to Ambanis and forgot his vicious campaign against the brothers in 1985 and never ever promoted any youngster in the organisation). While Shourie’s hatred grew against Dalits, Christians and Muslims, Prabhash Joshi never used such vulgar language and that is why the Hindustan’s high priests found it difficult to counter him.

In his last important intervention, Prabhash Joshi wrote against selling of space in media. He has been touring all over the country. He would always write his column in Jansatta and every Sunday people would wait for his column. And definitely he changed how cricket was reported. His narration of cricket matches were the finest as the description had the sweet fragrance of ‘Malwa’. He was always in touch with his roots and felt proud of it. Whether you subscribe to his views, I dare to say that the biggest contribution of Prabhash Joshi to Indian media is its secular character, its freedom of ideas, creation of a few professionals who are now everywhere in media and developing a language which changed the spectrum of Hindi media and forced those in power to give respect to vernacular view points and most importantly in the age of marketing where everything is a product fixed by the market, Prabhash Joshi remained an unpurchaseable brand of Indian media.