The narrow streets of Goduliya Chowk were bursting at the seams yesterday. It was the time of the famous Varanasi aarti at the ghats of the Ganga, a time when the crowd multiplies by several hundreds of people. Narendra Modi was preparing to head out on his triumphant road show through this area, choc-a-bloc full. The BJP’s activists were in a frenzied trance – waving saffron flags, flaunting Modi caps (a tawdry imitation of the original AAP trademark), dancing and chanting: Modi, Modi. As a person with no love lost for Modi, I responded to the exultant mood with some apprehension. My thoughts were straying to the nukkad sabha of the AAP that I attended last evening when a group of 20 young and old AAP volunteers had gone around campaigning for Medha Patkar’s meeting. I found myself thinking about the evening a couple of days ago when I stood with Anand Patwardhan and some activists who were distributing leaflets right there at Goduliya Chowk, and a group of BJP men came surrounded us. I thought about another night spent at Kabir Math Chowk after watching the Dastangoi performance – when a group of young men from Bangalore and Maharashtra were confronted by BJP supporters. I was worried about their safety standing amidst a crowd which appeared dangerous in its swaggering triumph. Yesterday, with Modi’s cavalcade approaching, frictions were reaching fever pitch – encounters one could not possibly see on the images on TV at home.
Standing there amidst the crowd, I spotted an elderly Sikh gentleman walking through the throng of people wearing his AAP topi. Suddenly a roar went up, as Modi sympathisers lunged after him shouting ‘pagal, pagal’ (mad/mad). A little distance ahead I saw another man wearing the AAP cap. The crowd spotted him too, and ran after them both, gesticulating, heckling. As I start walking quickly towards the men I saw them, seemingly unperturbed, walk right through the charging hoard, not a sign of nervousness about their gait. They were walking the confident walk of men who know no fear. Continue reading BJP’s Campaign of Intimidation – A Report from Banaras: Monobina Gupta→
Ayodhya, Faizabad: As our taxi approaches the site of the controversial Ram temple, two young men on motorcycle ride alongside our car. “ We will be your guides. Want to see the temple? Only hundred rupees,” they shout. My unofficial ‘guide’ Vineet Maurya, a fierce crusader against representing the site as the birthplace of Ram, rolls down the window and snaps back,” We are not here to see the temple.” Further down the lane, more young men run behind the car with similar offers. Temple sightseeing has turned into a veritable industry at Ayodhya.
From the narrow alley, the disputed plot, closely barricaded with high yellow railings and watched 24/7 by men from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and Provincial Armed Constabulary(PAC), images a heavily guarded fortress: one that is in danger of imminent attack. This is the holy site over whose ownership Hindus, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had waged such a fierce battle and spilled so much of blood. The manifestations of that unholy battle are overwhelmingly present in the form of deployment of countless security forces guarding Ram Lalla. What is lost in this murky stand-off is the sanctity of a holy place. Ayodhya ranks among the top holy sites of India. Continue reading Despatch from Ayodhya: Monobina Gupta→
I remember a chill running down my spine that early afternoon in 1998. I was standing at Laxmanpur Bathe – the site of a cold-blooded massacre a year ago. Then a reporter with The Telegraph, I was touring Bihar, reporting on the 1998 general elections, less than two years after the United Front government came to power. Bihar was then firmly under the thumb of the redoubtable Lalu Prasad. Tensions between the Maoist Coordination Committee (MCC) and the Ranvir Sena, a private army of upper caste landlords, were running high. Every reporter visiting the area had been advised by the district magistrates concerned not to travel after sundown. Newspapers in Delhi were full of stories about Bihar’s lawlessness, extortions and abductions even in broad daylight.
I had read details of that deadly night in the newspapers; and then of the sudden trips made by VIP cavalcades to the village in the aftermath of the bloodbath. The massacre had pitched the forgotten hamlet of Dalits into the glaring spotlight. Crowds of politicians and media descended on the spot, even as the grief stricken survivors were struggling with the shock of the attack and the terrible loss of their loved ones. Continue reading Laxmanpur Bathe, Then and Now: Monobina Gupta→
Guest post by MONOBINA GUPTA. DelhiUniversity teachers are fighting back to hold on to the fast vanishing autonomy of academics and academia. For me, this is a significant moment. Not just because the teachers are setting an example in their refusal to submit to the destructive moves disguised as ‘reform’, slammed through by well-connected and powerful authorities at the top. I must confess to my own selfish reasons for celebrating this moment. As a journalist, I can’t but think of all that we too could have held on to had only we walked this path of resistance, stalled the first assault on the newsroom, resisted the first strike, shrinking what I would describe as our ‘journalistic territory.’
Had we moved in that difficult yet honourable direction, we too might have guarded our space, not allowed non-journalists to take it over, bit by bit. Is it too late to recover and reclaim what was once an autonomous, if not a radical newsroom? Maybe. Maybe not.
For journalists like me who entered the newsroom in the 1980s, it’s the transformation of that space that I find both fascinating as well as frightening, in equal measure. Tune out the deafening noise of 24×7 news – cut the frills – journalism emerges in all its bare bones as the craft it really is or should be: an incisive tool for chronicling and analysing events. Ring side spectators or distant observers, members of the media, under all circumstances, are supposed to have their ear to the ground. In an ideal world, these couriers of news – mostly nasty and brutish these days – shouldn’t be attuned to corporate boardroom culture or its fiat. Continue reading The Changed Face of the Newsroom: Monobina Gupta→
With the coming assembly elections, West Bengal seems to be poised on the edge of a historic upheaval that will, in all probability, enter the collective memory of its people, much like the momentous 1977 elections. The most palpable moment of this churning will manifest in what looks like an unbelievable denouement – that of the thirty-four year old monolithic rule of the Left Front. Equally stunning might be the image of Mamata Banerjee, bringing the red fortress down – a politician, almost bludgeoned to death by CPI-M cadres on 16th August 1990, now transformed into the emblematic face of this extraordinary hour. The 2011 polls may be billed as the great unraveling of West Bengal, its politics and culture – but also, I think, of gender relations. Banerjee is on the verge of acquiring a unique status, becoming the first woman head of a state well known for its misogynist culture, notwithstanding many claims to the contrary.
An important aspect of Banerjee’s ascendancy may be lost if we fail to locate her persona within this grid of power and gender relations; if we do not contextualize her in Bengal’s thriving culture of male chauvinism. The association of West Bengal and its ruling Marxists with the autonomy and radicalization of women – who are supposedly respected in Bengal unlike in other parts of the country – is a well preserved myth. Bengal respects its women, but only if they belong to the hallowed league of ‘Mothers and Sisters’. Like elsewhere, ‘deviant’ women have little place in the land of the Renaissance.
The first formal discussion on the Radia-Media nexus by a section of top media professionals this Friday revealed the media’s general reluctance to put themselves through the same wringer of criticality that they so love to put others through. Barring Manu Joseph, editor of Open Magazine, which put out in the public domain the tapes which had been lying for days in the ‘safe’ custody of most media organizations, majority of the speakers argued that the controversy was not about Vir Sanghvi and Barkha Dutt; that there was no proof whether Sanghvi had actually written his ‘most read’ column as he had assured Nira Radia; that we do not know if Barkha Dutt had kept her word to Radia and passed on the message of the DMK’s internal dissensions to the Congress; that pressured by the minute-by-minute demands of 24/7 TV channels, journalists have to make random promises (which they do not intend to honour!); that they have to play along with their sources to extract news etc. The list of extenuating circumstances offered by the media, now getting a taste of its own treatment, was quite revolting.
This Friday Dean Baquet, Washington Bureau Chief of the New York Times defended his paper’s publishing of explosive information gathered by WikiLeaks, putting the US intelligence and the military establishment squarely in the dock for the Iraq war. The largest ever classified military leak in history, the WikiLeaks revelations have exposed the complicity of the US military and civil administration in whittling down the number of civilian deaths/casualties as well as ignoring hard information about the torture of US soldiers in the hands of Iraqi forces.
Baquet said that his paper worked on stories culled from nearly 4,00,0000 documents furnished by WikiLeaks as “it would any other journalistic project.” He also pointed out that it is not often that reporters get to scrutinize documents testifying to the largest US intelligence leak ever.
This guest post by MONOBINA GUPTAis the original of the article published in The Times of India today.
Monobina’s book on Left politics, Postcards from the Margins, is in press with Orient Blackswan, forthcoming in 2010.
The Delhi bound Rajdhani Express held up by supposed ‘Maoists’ for seven hours in West Medinipore had emblazoned on its body: Chhatradhar Mahato is a good man. He is not a criminal.
People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA) Chief Mahato was put behind bars in the aftermath of waves of violence lashing West Bengal post 2009 general election results. There was speculation that the PCPA was demanding Mahato’s release. Equally, there was curiosity about Mahato who till a couple of months ago, did not seem to fit the bill of a gun-toting Maoist, a cold-blooded executioner.
When I met Mahato in Lalgarh on the eve of general elections in March earlier this year, he spoke a democratic language far removed from guns and killings. On my arrival that day I found Lalgarh abuzz with news of police picking up three villagers supposedly Maoists, and a murdered PCPA activist. Mahato was in the midst of an organizational meeting under a tree in Lalgarh’s sublime, verdant surroundings. A tall, lanky man, smartly dressed, with a pair of sunglasses to beat the piercing July sun he was sitting with his comrades putting inside envelopes hand-written notices for PCPA’s next public meeting. Brother of Sashadhar Mahato, a Maoist fugitive, Chhatradhar was catapulted to the PCPA leadership virtually overnight, following a brutal police attack on villagers in the aftermath of a Maoist plot targetting Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.
Mahato said he would talk to me after lunch. The PCPA was running a community kitchen inside a mud hut where activists had their meals – rice and vegetable curry. This was where I met Mahato relaxed, lying down on the refreshingly cold mud floor.
[As this report is filed, reports have come in that the CPI-M has finally managed to enter Lalgarh and hold its first public meeting since 2 November 2008, when the police first arrested seven young students from Lalgarh, sparking off a revolt. No machine guns were fired, no mines were blasted – even though we are supposed to believe that the area is a ‘liberated area’ of the Maoists. See our earlier report, written soon after the revolt began. Even as we post this, more reports – mostly from West Bengal government and police sources, are being suddenly being published of ‘unrest’ spreading to ‘more Maoist areas’, and an atmosphere is sought to be created for an eventual justification of government and party sponsored violence.]
Assembly in Lalgarh – Armed Maoists? Photo: courtesy sanhati.com
For five months now Lalgarh has been practicing a unique form of democratic politics. To the ruling CPI-M in West Bengal and the big media however, it has been nothing but a Maoist-sponsored agitation with portents of Maoist style violence. Except Bengal media, national print and television, have by and large kept Lalgarh out of their ambit of coverage. If at all news has trickled in, it has come tagged with ‘Maoists’ and ‘violence’; as if tribals in this forgotten part of Medinipur, the past five months, have been stocking up arms and laying ambushes to wage a war against the state.
A front-page article in the Times of India (TOI) today (April 22, 2009) sticks to this format describing Lalgarh as “Nandigram II, a liberated zone” where an explosive situation is building up with elections scheduled for April 30 and the Pulishi Santrash Birodhi Janashadharaner Committee (People’s Committee against Police Atrocities) refusing to allow the police to enter Lalgarh. “The police can’t enter here. Nor are other government officials welcome. This has been the situation for the last six months.”
It is jarring, to put it mildly, that Times of India, a leading daily, engaged in a high-profile ‘Teach India’ campaign should publish a front page story mocking the unlettered. This story exhibits a strange callousness in its reporting about the very constituency of people the campaign is hoping to address…or ‘uplift’…
The story published in the TOI on December 20, smacks of arrogance as it speaks disdainfully of an unlettered woman legislator recently elected in Rajasthan’s assembly elections. Golma Devi, elected from the Mahuwa constituency is the butt of ridicule and lament in this article authored by P J Joychen. The author, it seems, cannot get over the fact that an unlettered person like Golma Devi has been elevated to the rank of a minister in the Ashok Gehlot government.
No, she is not a history sheeter; nor does she have a scam hot on her heels. She is nevertheless an offender – in the sense of ‘offending’ your ‘sensibilities’ – in the supercilious eye of the media; an object of ridicule. Her offense: her of lack of reading and writing skills.
“The TV business is uglier than most things. It is normally perceived as some kind of a cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the journalistic industry, along plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good die like dogs, for no good reason.”
– Hunter Thompson in Generation of Swine
We, in the business of media, are running a trade in ‘faces;’ swapping ordinary ones for the attractive, distorting news coverage and not really giving a damn about it. But the craft of journalism was not always so warped. We made it so.
Recently Kiran Bedi, the country’s first woman police officer, sought voluntary retirement after being in the eye of a storm following her allegations of gender discrimination in the police force. Bedi, who had transformed Tihar jail from filthy dungeons to a clean and livable place and has had an outstanding career, was superseded for the post of Delhi’s police commissioner. Because she was a woman.
Women in civil service have come up against sexism time and again. Madhu Bhaduri, who joined the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) in 1968, recalls how women IFS officers launched their first protest against blatant gender discrimination in this elite branch of service, which was at that time wrapped up in layers of discriminatory codes.
[As reports started coming in on Wednesday of wanton killings of the local population by a combination of the state’s police forces and that dreaded being called ‘cadre’ in today’s West Bengal, the CPM lie-machine in New Delhi swung into action. Monobina Gupta, a senior journalist who has been covering the Left for almost two decades now, reports on both the press conference and the incidents that brought it forth. Our further information is that two days ago the chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya had called a meeting in Writers’ Building to plan out the offensive. As the report below shows, the Bengali daily, Bartaman had already predicted today’s action almost to the detail – obviously based on information that the CPM finds uncomfortable. We have also been informed that the call went out from the state CPM leadership of “Occupy and Liberate” Nandigram shortly before the cadres swung into action along with the police force. Thirty years of unbroken rule has made the state leadership belief that they can get away with anything. This time they may have miscalculated. It is also worth bearing in mind that faced with feisty women leaders like Medha Patkar and Mamata Banerjee the most disgusting colours of the CPM leadership are coming out. So if Biman Basu had gone on record saying that Mamata is behaving like a spoilt little girl (in Singur), then his comrade-in-arms Benoy Konar had done far better. He announced that women from his party’s women’s wing would “display their buttocks if Medha visited Nandigram”. We will soon be publishing Medha’s recent report after her return from Nandigram where she was actually greeted by a demonstration of buttocks – of about a hundred and fifty little Benoy Konars. Only, the women – even from his party seem to have politely refused. Some hope here – even though the top leadership of the Mahila Samity has been completely silent. Is comrade Brinda Karat listening? – AN]
For the CPM central leadership in Delhi defending police actions in Singur and Nandigram has now become a routine matter. It is left usually to Sitaram Yechury – second in command in the CPM politburo (and Rajya Sabha member) to address the media in Parliament and whitewash the whole incident.
Today was just one more of such press conferences. The CPM politburo member condemned the killings at the same time made it clear that the police had no choice other than to do what they did. “The kiilings are unfortunate. But we condemn such activities that took place even after
the West Bengal state government assured that no land will be acquired without the consent of the people.”