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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 6

The Other India and Media

Saturday 26 January 2008, by Suhas Borker

Recently, the modern epic sculpture on the freedom struggle by Debi Prasad Roy Choudhury, a tribute to the 1931 Dandi March led by Gandhiji in the imposing bronze Gyaran Murti at Willingdon Crescent in New Delhi, was mounted by The Times of India, for an advertising blitz ‘seeking India’s future leaders’ called ‘Lead India’. Gandhiji of the original sculpture was replaced by a morphed graphic figure of a young man braced up in a designer shirt-belt-trouser outfit, having as it were, just stepped out of his centrally air-conditioned India Shining Office to lead the other ten figures representing the Indian masses. This was as good a symbolism as it comes, thought up by some smart alec adman now doubling up, may be, as the editorial advisor to the old lady of Bori Bundar.1 Superimposition of the elite aspirations on the legitimate survival needs of the people by a grand design and interplay of depoliticisation and trivialisation.

This campaign exemplified the dominant current in the Indian media today—symptomatic of the mindset which uses subterfuge to superimpose its own self-serving ‘elite’ voice on the voice of the people as the voice of the people. Never mind that the ‘selection of the leader’ by the public (sms more and more so that the sponsors rake in a bigger fast buck) and a jury of eminent citizens—‘elite’ in the TOI phraseology—all Page 3 regulars from the Capital’s party circuit, is to transcend the great disconnect between the media and the voice of the people. Never mind the temerity of the whole idea, it is an attempt to short-circuit the political process and gain the national escapist mindscape because the media mughals cannot face the mounting and pernicious gap between the ‘elite’ and the Other India. The Other India of the three-fourths—that means 840 million Indians—and their daily gruelling battle to stave off starvation, exposed in a recent report of the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector, based on the National Sample Survey, that shows that 77 per cent of India survives on Rs 20 a day.

The same process can be seen again in the ‘Leadership Summit’ of the Hindustan Times where eminences grace ‘conclaves’ of the glitterati decked up for a fashion ball around a blazing pool of ideas couched in praxis of the politically correct. But these media hyped summits restrict public discourse. Some questions arise here: Can the media pole-vault itself to usurp the power which lies with the people in a democratic system? Can the media take advantage of the crumbling edifice of democratic governance in the country, to hijack and foist itself without any sense of accountability?

There is no point talking of the political economy of the dominant Indian media today and its filters of ownership, advertising and sourcing or how it follows the example of global corporate media oligopoly and attempts to restructure itself to warm up to the global media system, in a Murdoch- like trailblazing trajectory.

BUT there is a point in harking back to the days of the freedom struggle and a Gandhi telling us: “The objective of journalism is service.” He was no journalist, some say. Others say, his English was poor and his vocabulary inadequate. Some also say, the Biblical simplicity attributed to his style is plain myth. But no one can deny that he was very effective in using the written word in all his journalese as a communicator of the message of freedom that shook the Empire.

Remember Gandhiji’s article in Young India, ‘Disaffection a Virtue’, in the issue dated June 15, 1921 which was one of the four articles cited by the British Government, under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code 1860.2 Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi pleaded guilty to the charge of inspiring ‘Disaffection’ and was sentenced to six years of imprisonment in 1922. Twelve years before that Bal Gangadhar Tilak had also been sentenced to six years imprisonment under the same Section of the IPC.

Thousands of newspapers all over the country were part of the freedom saga of India. They gave a voice to the voiceless. They were one with the people. They could identify with their aspirations, their hopes and their future.

How long can the three-fourths of India be kept out of the Indian media scenario today? The destitute and the homeless, the oppressed and the abused have their own logic when their back is against the wall of exclusion. A few days ago, I was covering along with my crew, the 340-kilometre march of 25,000 landless workers from 12 States to Delhi demanding land reform. Enroute near Kosi Kanal, a 100 kms away from Delhi, one of the marchers—a frail woman in her forties—told me: we have nothing to lose now, we have already lost everything; you put us in jail or kill us, we will not return empty handed, we want our jal, jungal aur zameen back. I had never in my life seen such a disciplined march—men and women marching in column after column like an army. Their white and green Janadesh flags emblazoned in the flaming sun. They had already traversed more than 240 kms in 18 days. Only two days before, a truck had run into the marchers’ column and killed three of them but their spirits were very high. They represented the last man and woman of our country. It would have warmed the heart of the most cynical of today’s scribes. On my return to New Delhi I read the following comment in a report on the march in a national weekly: “When the marchers finally hit the streets of Delhi on October 29, they will no doubt attract the attention of irate motorists. But will anyone else care, and will their march lead to any concrete action?”3 The disconnect could not have been more palpable.

We know about BPL—Below Poverty Line—but let us also know about Below Media Line—BML. The poor, oppressed, marginalised millions in this country are Below Media Line. If the media does not look at 840 million Indians who do not have more than Rs 20 a day or is not concerned about their future, it is abetting a “Second Partition”,4 which will burst forth like a tsunami of agony and pain, engulfing the whole country. It will be more dehumanising than the one 60 years ago.

Many see it as a wake-up call to the so-called present National Media to connect with the voiceless. To rise above the glitz and razzmatazz of film stars, fashion shows and elitist gizmos that unwrap on advertising which mocks the poor for their poverty, is a choice now. The people’s movements and grassroots organisations which represent the Other India are anyway going to move on regardless. And with them will be a new emerging media—an inclusive media empowered by new technologies encompassing community press, radio, TV and web. It may take some time to link up. Mainstream media or alternative media? It will be the media of the Other India of 840 million Indians.

[Based on the author’s presentation at the discussion on Media as People’s Voice—Pre- and Post-Independence, organised by the Press Council of India, on the 2007 National Press Day (November 16) at New Delhi]

REFERENCES

1. The Times of India, New Delhi, October 2, 2007, Special Cover pp. 1-2.

2. Mulk Raj Anand (ed.), The Historic Trial of Mahatma Gandhi, NCERT, New Delhi, 1987, p. 15.

3. Outlook magazine, October 29, 2007, p. 34.

4. See Patwant Singh, The Second Partition: Fault-Lines in India’s Democracy, Picus Books, Hay House Publications (India) Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 2007. Patwant Singh argues that India is already in the throes of a Second Partition.

The author is the Executive Director, CFTV News (Citizens First Television News), and the Convenor, Jan Prasar. He can be e-mailed at suhasborker@ gmail.com

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