India’s thought-deficient media
In the wake of the infamous Mumbai (then Bombay) blasts in 1993, then Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Sharad Pawar issued a statement which was deliberately false. In his press release, what Pawar did was to falsely include a ‘Muslim-dense’ area of Bombay as victim of the atrocity in order to paint a picture of indiscriminate targeting by the attackers. The city, like the rest of the nation, was still reeling from the aftermaths of Babri-mosque demolition and hence the ‘white-lie’ on part of Pawar was mostly acclaimed as necessary, if not indispensible, to avoid another devastating communal riot in a city where divisive politics had already spread its tentacles far and wide.
Imagine what would have been the consequence of similar ‘white-lying’ in today’s political scenario; imagine how ineffective any government statement would be to convey a message to the public well versed in the 21st century communication methods; imagine in a social networking site-ridden world when the professional news media seems ever-so tardy and ineffective in its execution, how much disservice it would have made if it were revealed to the people that they were purposefully lied by their leader to manipulate them to remain peaceful. What worked wonders in early nineties when the good people of the good nation were still mostly relying on the nationalised media outlets to have their news, would have been disastrous in a world teeming with fake news-sites and bloggers, ranters and exhorters, fake journalists and self-proclaimed newsmen with the vast array of tools at their dispense.
During the recent Saharanpur riots, none to very little discretion was shown by the media outlets regarding the identification of involved communities. As opposed to the norms of the past, almost all the media outlets chose to reveal the implicated community while reporting the news. The lack of indiscretion was not entirely because of lack of restraints among them, but more so as any such discretion would seem rather preposterous as almost everyone already knew members of which community played what part. The hateful exchanges that erupted in social networking sites following the incident was enough to bring the matter to everyone’s attention where the perpetrators of the heinous act were painted not as individuals but as stereotypical members of a certain community. All the racial and religious profiling and stereotyping were poured into the public sphere in no time and the mutual simmering disdain among the communities towards each other seemed rather obvious.
Yet this is the language that is essentially chosen more and more to convey message: the language not of balance or sanity but of anger and fear mongering. The industry of outrage has indisputably overtrumped the industry of perspicacious journalism. On a more recent incident concerning an alleged gang-rape in Meerut, when the monstrous crime of gang-rape and forced religious conversion of a certain school teacher was revealed, we saw almost the same reaction: the political right-wing deriding the ‘sickularists’ for their selective outcry and the opposition accusing the right-wing of spreading communal violence, however groundless both the claims be. Even though BJP’s involvement in Meerut incident can be described as non-existent; even though the persecution of Hindu minority in neighbouring Bangladesh would only be voiced by the senior M.P. of Communist Party in the Parliament, the convenient selective amnesia on the part of the internet activists would continue to grow until the world is painted in stark contrast.
And yet there is a flip side to it. Since the internet scene has boomed democratising the publication of thoughts, we have seen newer aspects being added to the general political conversation. While it gave space even to the most bigoted members of the society whose rather unlettered posts and video rants would gather most number of ‘likes’ and ‘followers’, the social networking site has also revealed another truth we were too afraid to face. True, the fringe elements of the society have suddenly found resonating voice as well as a bunch of followers, but that did not essentially put general populace on the fringes as many would have anticipated. When Justice Katju talks about how easy it is to create a riot in the streets of New Delhi, we hear the general condescending voice of the makers of the nation prescribing more ‘engineering of consent’ among the unwashed masses to save them from themselves. When the state used to censor voices and enforce anti ‘hate-speech’ legislations, the general idea was that people would be too up-at-arms rioting in the streets throughout the country as soon as their feelings get hurt: hence the largest democracy has to ban a book here and there, hence there has to be rigorous censoring of speech on published form.
The infancy by the state of its own people, not granting them the status of an individual and only seeing them as a face in the hoard, is something our secular state had to grapple with long and hard. Perhaps the state of Indian union was too weak outside the large metropolitan areas to enforce its laws to save its individual citizen from the community, perhaps it still is. Yet at one point or the other it has to wake up to the fact, that secularism does not simply mean similar adoration or indifference to all religion, it means the empowerment of people through state instead of community. And in order to do that, what is required is a state system strong in itself so that it does not have to compromise with community organs like Khap Panchayat to operate. On the occasion of yet another independence day, it is high time our ‘Bharat Bhagya Bidhatas’ realised and faced the obvious.