Tuesday, February 10, 2009

CNN-IBN dare to say MNS is Maharashtra’s shame?

Hilarious pub-editorials and pop culture

Renuka Chowdhury has been reported to have condemned "the attack". What has she been doing all these five years to the TV channels that have been guilty of the utmost vulgarity?

This journalist who has been around in the media world for some sixty-five years must confess that he has read nothing more hilarious than some of the editorials in the English language press over the pub incident in Mangalore. It merely shows how ignorant the media is about the traumatic changes that have been taking place in Indian society in just about the last one decade and how people are striving to come to terms with them. The pub attacks has nothing to do with either the RSS or VHP or BJP or even Hinduism, no matter what our silly secularists may say. It has nothing to do with 'Hindu fundamentalism' or 'moral vigilantism' or 'assault on civil right's or 'civil liberties', as newspapers like The Hindu (January 28), The Times of India (January 28) or The Indian Express (January 28) or the People's Union for Civil Liberties have said. Even the so-called Sri Ram Sena is totally irrelevant.

To understand what has happened one has to live, as P Sainath, probably the most knowledgeable journalist of his times did, in rural India to know how the minds of villagers work, what offends them and what enthuses them. The trouble with our media stalwarts is that their minds are urban-centred. Widely travelled, they are knowledgeable about pubs in London, nightclubs in European cities and availability of various and questionable forms of entertainment in Europe and the United States. Mangalore is not Paris. It is one of the most sophisticated towns in India but is surrounded by villages which profess different culture.

Thanks to the setting-up of class universities in the districts of South Kanara and Udupi the urban centres are hosting students from over fifty countries whose presence and demands are becoming cause for concern. There is palpable tension in the surrounding villages. The villagers feel threatened. Incidentally, I am speaking with authority since I live in a place surrounded by villages which I visit regularly to address children in primary classes, students in secondary and higher elementary schools and in high schools. Parents invite me to their homes and they speak freely to me. Most of them have TV sets and a large section among them express their anger at what they have to witness, day in and day out. These are not politically motivated people or people fed with fundamentalist doctrines. One suspects that they have more respect for women then our civil rights and other organisations claim to have. The women especially hate to see urban women smoking because they feel that their own daughters might get affected by this new culture that is thrust on them. They have nothing to do with the Sri Ram Sena. And for long they have been seething with anger because they have no way to protest. Our city-based editors and their dedicated secular flock have no time to live amongst the villagers and understand their concerns. And that maddens them even more.

To say, as did CNN-IBN that what happened in Mangalore is a mater of shame to Karnataka is pure nonsense. There is nothing that either Mangalore or Karnataka has to be ashamed about. What India has to be ashamed about are our TV channels which broadcast programmes of questionable relevance. CNN-IBN will not dare to say that Maharashtra's shame is the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. If it did so the MNS goons will probably break up the CNN-IBN studios. The kind of filthy stuff which we have to witness in our TV channelsis a mater of national shame.

Of course, the Congress will try to get mileage from the Mangalore pub issue and a sycophantic press will support it. But the Congress Party obviously does not know the public mind. The BJP is doing extremely well in Karnataka and cannot easily be shaken. As The Indian Express in a moment of revelation put it, "Such incidents in an election year are fodder for political parties and some have grabbed it gladly." Renuka Chowdhury has been reported to have condemned "the attack". What has she been doing all these five years to the TV channels that have been guilty of the utmost vulgarity? One has even less respect for former Chief Minister of Karnataka, president of Janata Dal (Secular) (whatever that means) who wants the current Home Minister of Karnataka, VS Acharya to "own moral responsibility of the chaotic situation prevailing in the coastal districts and resign".

What, pray, was Kumaraswamy was doing all those years when he was the Chief Minister of Karnataka? There is no chaos in the coastal districts, as he claims. Their problem has arisen from circumstances beyond their control. Perhaps the BJP government should amend existing rules to ensure that women are barred from entering places where liquor is served, whatever the civil rights people may have to say on the subject. Rural India has yet to get accustomed to the changing cultural scene. It takes time. It takes patience.

We have come a long way from the thirties of the 20th century when the Congress was opposed to drinking and had prohibition on its agenda. What, one wonders, would Mahatma Gandhi (if people like Renuka Chowdhury know who is) have said watching girls passing drinks to customers in a pub, late at night. Perhaps Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and all those posing as defending human rights would like to say something on the subject. The arrogance of the Indian media when it itself needs to answer many questions concerning media morality and ethics is best ignored.

There are many questions one would like to ask the media, similar to the ones that The Times of India (January 28) has raised. The tragedy is that our media has no time to study the hows, whys and wherefores of an event before making judgment. News gathering is one-sided. It is easy to get some society women to condemn the violence in the Mangalore pub. "Intolerance is spreading deep and fast in our country", laments The India Express.

It speaks of a "warped sense of Indian tradition and ethos". The Express must send a team to Mangalore to talk to people from various walks of life, especially people from the surrounding villages. The Express might then learn that its own "warped" sense of righteousness needs looking into. All societies changes. But acceptance of change comes easy when it is gradual. When change occurs overnight, as it were, then it gives way to violence. In judging violence one must be wary of overstepping one's limits. By its reckless criticism, the media has lost its right to sit on judgment. It has to be made answerable to the people. For far too long has the public been silent about the multiple shortcomings of the media. It needs to be tamed.


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