As the stories of the DHRM and those of the successful negotiations with which the Chengara land struggle has ended continue to unfurl in the Malayalee media, contradictory messages about Dalit political struggle continue to reverberate in Kerala. Dalits have been markedly reserved about the outcome of the talks with which the land struggle at Chengara has ended. Laha Gopalan, the leader and chief negotiator, has openly declared that the settlement was a hurried one, and that he agreed to it mainly out of fear of violence, given that the divisions have been created among the landless people at Chengara, whose patience has worn thin. Meanwhile, the DHRM’s violence continues to offer opportunities for potshots at Dalit politics. The Kerala Chief Minister, for instance, issued ‘warnings’ against ‘identity politics’ on Gandhi Jayanti, as if ‘identity politics’ were the same as ‘violence’.
There have been different opinions on the left, however – Prof. Chandrachoodan, General Secretary of the RSP, cautioned against treating the issue of the DHRM as one of law and order, pointing out that the left’s neglect of social justice issues raised by Dalit people cannot be ignored (completely the reverse of the RSP State Secretary’s view of things, which are/will be exactly the same as – no prizes for guessing –what Pinarayi Vijayan, our CPM Czar, is, or is likely to be, thinking about them). What is really disturbing about the newspapers’ reporting, apart from the blithe use of newly-coined terms like ‘Dalit terror’, however, is the very manner in which the dominant media is defining violence. Violence, in order to be violence, it seems, must be bloody and public. Acts of violence which do not meet these requirements, it appears, are less glamorous. In fact, the newspapers do not want to focus on those.
I write this from personal experience: from trying to bring into the public news of the award of compensation to a minor girl, Liffina Jose, from Kollam District, by the Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum, Kollam. She had lost her eyesight after being treated by an ophthalmologist in a large private sector hospital in Kollam, run by the all-powerful Catholic Church, who failed to diagnose her condition. The sum is a paltry one, when one thinks of the enormous sums that fill the coffers of these health-care-merchants, and the difficulties that Liffina, whose family is not well-to-do, will have to endure for the rest of her life. Yet it is no mean victory, for medical compensation cases are notoriously difficult to win, given that the medical fraternity is fairly united in its determination to prevent medical litigation from eating into their fattened pockets. In Liffina’s case, evidence provided by doctors from a leading eye hospital in Tamil Nadu confirmed the charge of medical neglect.
I was struck by the determined refusal of most newspapers – except the Indian Express – to publish even a minor, neutral-sounding item on this award, which is certainly an important win, not just for Liffina but also for many others struggling against the extortion of the private sector medical ‘industry’ in Kerala. The family finally approached an English newspaper (which is forever harping on about its commitment to ‘serious journalism’ and mourning the plight of the many oppressed peoples in India but taking relief that things are still hunky-dory in China). The district reporter of this newspaper, who is apparently close to the Catholic Church, turned them away on the pretext that this particular hospital was a major contributor of advertisements! So they approached other, non-Catholic reporters of this newspapers, who too confessed their helplessness –apparently because of the same reason!
I think this excuse is too weak even if it may be true – it fits perfectly the mindsets of the denizens of consumerdom who would perhaps read the offering of advertisements as indirect payments for silence. I think that the media’s reluctance stems from an increasing trend to view violence – and all violation of human rights – as events happening ‘out there’, perpetrated by ‘bad people’ – naturally, ‘bad people’ are those who are less educated, less possessing competitive capabilities in the neoliberal universe of opportunities. The violence done to Liffina is ‘passive’ – she was simply neglected – and more importantly, it was perpetrated by members of one of the wealthiest, most powerful and influential groups in Kerala, medical professionals. But its moral consequences are no less serious than the bloody and messy violence of the ‘quotation’ gang. Violations that happen in civil space are viewed increasingly through the lenses of ‘law and order’; violations in/by the market are tolerated as long as they are perpetrated on the poor and the voiceless! Of course, the logic of the market is certainly at work here that cushions moral outrage– in it Liffina wouldn’t be an aggrieved and wounded victim but merely a dissatisfied consumer seeking redress. But if the Malayalee media cannot work through and past such logic, cannot prevent such logic from engulfing their minds and their journalism, they should simply get off their high moral horses over violence!