Karan Thapar of CNBC -TV18 recently presented a half-hour debate on whether Dalits have a better future adopting English rather than one of the so many Indian languages. Some of us followed it keenly because we knew where it was comig from and also the dramatis personae – Chandrabhan Prasad(CP), Yogendra Yadav(YY) and Alok Rai(AR) – all very dear friends, and people who have been deeply engaged with the politics and practice of languages in North India. It was a one-sided debate from the moment it started: clear victory to Chandrabhan Prasad from the word go, first of all, because he had managed to pitchfork his provocative stance into a full scale discussion in the national press and the big media. Think about it: it has taken him just three consecutive annual Macaulay’s birthday parties to friends, to bring it to the attention of a much wider number of intellectuals and a larger public. It was a victory for his own brand of Gandhigiri – that you could very much debate and advance your cause while having fun: ‘chicken, mutton, daaru and daliton ki kuchh samasyayein’ is his style, in his own inimitable words. This is not to say that he does not believe in agitational politics. He does that as well.The debate was also one-sided because CP’s interlocutors did not have convincing answers to his extremist views on language and religion and the coupling of the two, which had to inevitably sneak into the discussion, considering en mass dalit conversions were fresh in media memory. For example, when Karan Thapar probed CP on why he suggested Dalits take flight from Hindi and Hinduism; was it because he hated Hinduism? CP had perhaps an obvious but pithy answer: I did not choose to hate Hinduism, Hinduism never loved me!YY and AR looked aghast and betrayed at the idea of rejecting Indian languages, for Dalits, after all, were communicatively, politically and experientially rooted in these languages, beginning with Marathi, most of the(autobiographical) dalit literature was written in indian languages. They went on, the NRI example of turning away from one’s language is not a healthy one: look how they have all become Hindutva supporters, etc. etc. CP of course rubbished this secular middle class sentimentalism by citing Ambedkar’s example, that he always wrote in English and he did so knowing very well that it is not the Dalits who would read him!
“In a world that is really upside down, the true is a moment of the false,” wrote Guy Debord in “The Society of the Spectacle”, his ground-breaking situationist text on mass-media and reality. Forty years after the text was published, on 15 August 2006, Manoj Mishra, a transport contractor in Gaya, Bihar, died in an attempt to generate the ultimate visual image of protest against the non-payment of his dues. Goaded on by a battery of television news cameras, Mishra doused himself with diesel and set himself on fire as the cameras recorded his death. Reports in national newspapers suggest that camera-persons went to the extent of handing him a diesel-soaked rag, and assuring him of rescue once their footage was complete. In the event, private security guards came to his rescue and rushed him to the Patna Medical College Hospital, but by then it was too late. He succumbed to his burns en-route. Continue reading Manoj Mishra gets his TV spot.
Sometimes only a good old cliché can capture the essence of certain things.
How many times in the past few years, while watching television have we wanted to strangle the anchor (“aap ke saath itna na-insaafi hui hai, aapko is waqt kaisa lag raha hai” or “There has been a gruesome terrorist attack at the IISC in Bangalore, dont go away, we will return to the story immediately after out reporter updates you on Aamir Khan’s wedding which is taking place in the same city). And yet while watching what is perhaps the closest televised strangling of a reporter, it was with a strange sense of pleasure and fear.
The interview that I am referring to is Sagarika Ghose’s of Ram Jethmalani on his decision to defend Manu Sharma. Here is a small sampling
Sagarika Ghose: But as a criminal lawyer, don’t you believe there is a lakshman rekha that even all criminal lawyers have to work under?
Ram Jethmalani: I am sorry. Please don’t talk of this bullshit to me. I know what my lakshman rekha’s are. I have read my rules of the conduct of a lawyer. It will be the saddest day when a lawyer refuses to stand between the state and the final verdict.
Ram Jethmalani: I have told you it’s none of your business—the courts will decide. And for God’s sake, stop becoming judges and Gods. You are over stepping the limits of your duty
Sagarika Ghose: But why don’t you search your own conscience. A young girl was shot in the presence of a hundred people.
Ram Jethmalani: I am searching my own conscience. All this bullshit won’t convince me at all. My conscience is mine and you are not responsible for it. And I don’t sell my conscience either to you or to anybody else nor will I change my professional etiquette because some chit of a girl comes and tells me that something is wrong.
An absolute demolition and indictment of the media, if ever there was one. I guess the fact that the case deals with Manu Sharma of the Jessica Lal case makes us all a little less enthusiastic about this slap in the media’ s face.
But what is really scary however in the interview is the way that the devil of the day-a lustful and loathsome corporate media is pitted against its other- the Courts, the sea of wisdom in which the rule of law sails. So the illegitimacy of the media happens only via the further strengthening of judicial sovereignty; For Jethmalani, the battle for the truth is a battle between the media and the judiciary. Someone has rightly said it is almost impossible to think of battles in the contemporary without being bewildered about where lines are drawn, and what they mean. Stewart Motha for instance accurately describes the battle between Islam and Democracy as a battle between two monotheisms. In India, the battle between the judiciary and the media for the truth takes place at the site of citizenship and the casualties of this battle and its lies are borne by the denizen.
So on the one hand, we have Sagarika Ghosh (self righteous indignance dripping with every syllable) asking “Why me? I am just a voice of the people” and on the other we have Jethmalani’s tirade “You don’t know the rule of the law, you don’t know democracy; you don’t know anything”.
Those who neither have any Faustian contracts, nor can swim very well are in a lot of trouble.
Media is presented as a ‘watchdog of democracy’ in today’s times.
But it was really shocking to see a story on IBN 7 ( Friday, 3 rd Nov 2006 around 3-4 p.m.) which rather communicated that in today’s Corporatized times it is metamorphosing into ‘Watchdog against Democracy’. It is time that friends also know about the manner in which media is appealing (instigating would be a better word) to the powers that be that ‘too much’ democracy will be a disaster.
Punjab as everybody knows has a rich tradition of cultural festivals/ gatherings where people/groups from all over the state come together and hold day long/ nightlong programmes where dramas are staged, action songs are staged, book exhibition is organised etc. Anyone who has attended these programmes can come back replenished with energy. One such cultural festival is held in memory of the Ghadarite martyrs which is called ‘Gadari baba ka Mela’.
I do not remember exactly how it was framed but the IBN story did focus on the recently held festival in memory of these martyrs only. Interestingly, the aim of the story was not to give details of the Mela or the rich tradition which is still alive in Punjab but rather to caution the government about the literature/CDs being sold. It also interviewed one of the activists who was managing the stall. Thereafter, the unbelieving presenter proceeded to ask ” How can one allow public distribution of such literature/CDs which help arouse the masses against the state”. There was even a small byte with the local SSP also where the presenter/reporter asked him “How can you allow such things to happen in your vicinity”. The hardened Policeman was cool enough and just said we will enquire.
I was watching news television a few nights ago – it was a programme on the Afzal death penalty. As the CNN-IBN anchor aggressively postured on screen, the viewers were invited to SMS their vote on the hanging, which was updated constantly on screen. This seemed the most natural thing to do – people are asked to vote instantly on TV contests, social issues, sports etc. Telephone companies make massive profits in this system, which is shared with TV networks. That seems obvious. There is another story here, behind the obscenity of like sending in your votes on the issue of the death penalty. Never mind that many of these polls in news television are often carefully staged, a friend of mine who works at a network told me that when ‘voting’ is low, staffers are asked to reach for their phones or call their friends… Continue reading Exiles from the Republic of Numbers
The Idea of Open Space
The recent years have seen the rise and spread of local, national, regional, thematic and global social forums, inspired directly and indirectly by the World Social Forums (WSF) and its Charter of Principles. Any Social Forum, inspired by the WSF, and the WSF itself is conceived as an open space that facilitates the coming together of people to engage with each other on diverse social-political issues, and to oppose neo-liberalism and the domination of the world by Capital and any form of imperialism. They are committed to building a planetary society directed towards fruitful relationships among Humankind and between it and the Earth. Indian social and political activism has shown tremendous energy for the Forum in these years: Activities of the WSF process in India were initiated in early 2002, and were designed to set up and build a World Social Forum process in the country, towards hosting the Asian Social Forum in Hyderabad in 2003 and subsequently the World Social Forum in Mumbai in 2004. And now, the proposed India Social Forum in Delhi from 9 to 13 November 2006 marks the initiative to further advance the movement against neo-liberal globalisation, sectarian politics, casteism, patriarchy and militarization. Continue reading The Social Forum Phenomenon
Strange tales of the independent media
Recently, after endless rants against the NBA our favourite paper, The Indian Express, finally gave some space to Medha Patkar to set the record straight (November 4 2006). Her blunt and effective challenge to Indian Express common-sense concluded with some record-straightening by the Express Kolkata office.
The supposed response from the newspaper to Medha’s pointed questions, consists SOLELY of information from government sources: “according to the Addl District Magistrate”; “We have verified this from Singur’s block development officer”; and “land compensation rates reported by us are all official figures.” The best part is where they triumphantly say – the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 is the law of the land, much though Ms Patkar may view it as a one-sided process.
Hello – have you missed the point? She and thousands of others all over the country, insist it is an anti-democratic and draconian law and it must be radically changed. So you simply reiterate that it is the law of the land? THIS is a debate? Here are some other Laws of the Land: the Armed Forces Special Powers Act that keeps the North-East under the military jack boot; Section 377 that says if you have sex that the judge thinks is against the order of nature, you’re a criminal; rape laws that say it is not rape but a much lesser crime if someone shoves a finger up an infant’s vagina…
Who ARE these people who get hired to write this stuff? They’d fail a decent BA degree.