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Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 21, May 16, 2015

Nepal: Indian Media: Cause for Embarrassment

Saturday 16 May 2015, by Vidya Bhushan Rawat


The self-respecting people of Nepal need to be congratulated for compelling the jingoist brahmanical Indian media to ponder over its follies and idiocies in reporting the painful stories of earthquake from Nepal. The thing is that the reportage of TRP-hungry TV channels is not new to us when they market our emotions and sentiments as these are the most ‘saleable’ products in our market apart from sex, rape, babas, tantra, cricket, corporates and Bollywood. It is not unusual for the Indian media to have reported a tragedy in such a way; we have seen their reports else-where, particularly in Kashmir and Uttarakhand last year, when both the States suffered from high-decibel flooding and cloud-bursting. It is definitely wonderful to see the reporters on the ground immediately after an incident take place and we appreciate it. It helps to put a break on the rumours which run thick and fast during such periods in the absence of any alternative mechanism. It is equally important that such stories go into our bedrooms and raise the sensitivity of the issue.

The Indian media was the first to reach Nepal like the Indian forces and other members of the National Disaster Relief Teams who worked incredibly well. The Indian response to the crisis was appreciated very much because of its appropriate timing. The first day we had reporters of a news channel but by the second day a huge contingent of reporters landed in Kathmandu. Many of those who reached earlier actually went there by road but the later group flew in the Indian Air Force planes. In these times of ‘advertisement’ and visibility every country is proud of its ‘forces’ and ‘claim’ that they are the ‘best’; hence it is not India-specific when we claim that our forces are the ‘most valiant’ and ‘uncorrupt’ in the world. Pakistanis feel the same way and so do Nepal and China. The Western world also does the same and advertise their ‘equipment’ and other military hardware which they want to sell. The BBC reported the war on Libya with the same projection. When the Americans and their allied forces attacked Iraq the CNN was broadcasting the war ‘live’ and brought it to our living rooms. But we also need to see one big difference between the Western world’s reporting of the tragedies in their own countries in comparison to their reporting of such tragedies in the Third World. You just have to see and compare the reporting. During any such cases of incidents we have never seen their cameras focus on the ‘dead’ and ‘mutilated’ bodies in their societies. While reporting from the Third World they do show all the stuff which is unacceptable in their societies. The Western media is very careful about the privacies and sensibilities of individuals and society; so they walk their path carefully when they report from India or any other country.

Of course, we are talking of the Western media, we are speaking of the TV channels where reporting is taken seriously such as the BBC, Al-Jazeera and to a certain extent the CNN. There is the Fox News which converts every debate into a big joke. India is fast following the path of Fox News where contents do not matter as the newsrooms are fast becoming ‘slaughter-houses’ and everyday there is a ‘Bakra’ to be slaughtered by the lynch-mob sitting in these newsrooms. This slaughtering of ‘guests’ in the newsrooms, where anchors and participants shout at each other without listening and even not allowing others to complete their sentences, has given rise to TRPs as the battered middle classes enjoy this immensely. The attempt is to ‘shape’ their opinion through distortion of facts and creation of fictitious images. The ‘fourth estate’ of ‘democracy’ is in fact a clever ploy to derail democratic processes and impose planted stories on the people in the name of ‘people’s opinion’. In India this ‘people’s opinion’ is quintessentially brahmanical in nature and have deep-rooted prejudices against the minorities, Dalits, Adivasis and other marginalised segments of our society. During the Mandal age the media promoted caste hierarchy and campaigned as a party against the job reservation meant for the OBCs in the Central Government services. The media reporting on the Ayodhya issue indicated clearly which class of people the media not just represent but also vehemently propagate to maintain the status quo.

During the height of the anti-Mandal agitation, I had the opportunity to meet many journalists, columnists and editors as I was writing a dissertation on media reporting on the same. Shockingly, most of them raised the issue of merit and efficiency as if I was talking to them about that. Mandal compelled the urban elite to understand the importance of identities and be a bit accommodative though they continue to show their resentment. We found that a few of the Hindi newspapers gave some space for Dalit writers and novelists and carried out stories and articles written by them. Suddenly those who hated the ‘identity’ issues began to realise the ‘importance’ of the ‘identities’ to get a ‘stamp’ of ‘approval’ on their ‘agenda’. It resulted in the flourishing of writings of a number of people who would target people according to the ‘agenda’ but don’t look part of that sinister campaign. Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar was portrayed as if he was a diehard Hindu and supporter of capitalism.

The focus of today’s ‘Foxified’ media is on the ‘feel-good’ factor and anything that is related to ‘poverty’, hunger, rural development and talks about the state’s responsibility has to be rejected as ‘old-fashioned’ ‘jhollawalah’ stuff. Dalits, who are urbanised and articulate, are to be used where their thinking ‘match’ with those in power and even if they may not be supporters of Hindutva, their economic views could be used to discredit others who are struggling for basic rights. Hence a Dalit journalist like Nagaraju in Hyderabad died of cancer without any support from his newspaper management and the journalist fraternity in the New Indian Express. His case was not just the exploitation of persons who hail from a particular background and become nondescript when they come out from their village. There were not many who stood with Nagaraju except for his close Dalit friends in Hyderabad. In fact, the entire issue could not even raise eyebrows and war cries among the Dalit themselves. None of the ‘known’ columnists or writers from the fraternity outside Hyderabad thought it fit to write a note on him in their ‘columns’. There are dedicated websites and yet not much came out of those. Indian newsrooms have no respect for ‘diversity’ and ‘dissent’ and they are unashamedly promoting brahmanical nationalism which means glorifi-cation of its past, its superiority, the ‘values’, ‘cultural heritage’, ‘military might’ of India. Any kind of debate on ‘secularism’, Islamic heritage in India, assertion of Dalits and their questioning the brahmanical myths, OBC reservation, represent-ation for Muslims, autonomy of Kashmir, relations with Pakistan are to be shunned and objected, if raised.

Powerful nations always feel that natural calamities are the best opportunity to market their products in the name of ‘aid’ for the ‘affected’ people apart from establishing your people in the ‘think-tank’ of those societies which are affected as well as popularisation of ‘religion’ which the ‘donors’ bring with them. It is clear that the Indian electronic media is in the business of doing such things going to absolute absurdities in India itself when the victims or affected people are virtually ‘projected’ as if they were nothing and the focus of the media campaign is more on the activities of the Indian Army on the ground.

 There is a special case with Nepal. It is a secular nation today though many in India wanted it to be a Hindu Rashtra. Due to the Indo-Nepal friendship treaty which remains unequal between the two nations, India and Nepal have a visa-free border and Nepalese and Indian citizens can cross over to each other’s side and work there. The Indian Army has a special battalion named Gurkha Regiment whose stories of valour are well known. The Hindu cultural similarities with Nepal make the Indian elite to ‘disrespect’ Nepal’s sovereignty. Thousands of Nepalese migrants live in India to earn their livelihood. Their conditions are not great but they migrate because of the prevailing distressful conditions in their own country. With such a large number of people, a majority of whom work as security guards, cooks, domestic servants etc. in Indian cities, an image is built in the minds of the common Indian as if all the Nepalese people are the same.

The NC-IC (Nepalese Currency-Indian Currency) exchange rate favouring India and visa-free regime here have made India the ‘big’ brother of Nepal who doesn’t care about the sentiments and emotions of the younger brother. It is not that Nepal does not like India but the problem is that Nepal is a self-respecting nation and the patronising attitude of Indians has always hurt the Nepalese self-respect and pride. Indians think that Nepal is their colony and the entire theme line is developed afterward. Many feel it is the ‘only’ Hindu country in the world, a statement of helplessness as to why isn’t India the other one while a large number of others who have Chottus, and Bahadurs in their families consider every Nepali like that and in that they forget that all Nepalese are not their ‘domestic’ servants. Then there are other ideologues of various varieties who too present a sorry picture of their parochial and patronising attitude towards Nepal. So, this mindset actually holds that every Nepali must understand Hindi and respond to their questions in the same language.

Let us not forget that Nepal is an independent country, a sovereign one and can take its own decisions. Language, no doubt, is a medium of communication; yet it is also true that it is a means to subjugate the people culturally and decimate their culture. War in today’s time is fought through language to control the comm-unities and whip up their emotional links. India can only win over Nepal by addressing emotional issues of common culture. Deliberately, Nepal was presented as a Hindu Rashtra so that the Hindu link is strengthened compelling Nepal to look towards India for assistance. Indians understood well if they take time in responding, the Chinese will be there before them and that would have become difficult to curtail them. So, the military on the ground was thoroughly and wholeheartedly supported by the ever-obliging media.

Amidst this background when Indian reporters descended in Kathmandu to cover the growing tragedy of earthquake then we should have understood what was in store in terms of reporting. A reporter goes and describes the tragedy and focuses most of the time on the ‘Dhardhara Minar’, Singh Darbar and at the end Swayambhu. The focus is more on ‘destruction’ of ‘Hindu-Buddhist’ symbols and less on people. There are no reports from other parts of Nepal and efforts to understand that there are difficult terrains to reach. More importantly, not much was reported about international aid. Once the Indian Air Force planes started landing the focus then shifted to the ‘Indian’ people. I was watching ‘news’ in the morning when a reporter was standing on a road showing some portion of a building about to collapse. He spoke to people about Ramdev and his programme there; slowly he come towards the Indian side where some of them were standing and complaining that the ‘Nepal Government is not doing enough and that they are without any kind of aid’. ‘We want to go back to India as soon as possible as things are getting worse here,’ they said contemptuously. So, the reporter then focused on the ‘Indian’ people and ‘nothing has been done’ for them. In that period when the country was desperate and people were dying, our reporters were focusing on the ‘inability’ of ‘Nepal’ to ‘help’ the Indian people! The sad part is that once they saw Indian reporters, their behaviour changed and all kind of complaints started coming in. Many of the reporters were entering into the homes of the people where they were moaning and asking them all kinds of questions like ‘how it happened’ and ‘what did you do’. When will we respect the personal pains and agonies of people?

A reporter wanted to file a report attempting to sensationalise the issue of ‘exodus’ of the Nepalese people from Kathmandu. So he went to Kathmandu’s new bus stand and started asking questions to a few of them who were standing at the bus station as to whether they were leaving Kathmandu forever due to the fear of quake. ‘Are you leaving Kathmandu?’ asked the reporter. ‘No, sir, why should I leave, it is my place as I have grown up here.’ With this negative answer the reporter moved further and asked another person, ’Are you leaving Kathmandu?’ and he got the same answer again. Frustrated, the reporter now pushed his mike on to a bus leaving from Kathmandu to Dhangarhi asking the people on board whether they were ‘leaving’ Kathmandu. Now you can understand the ‘knowledge’ and ‘common sense’ of these reporters!

The commercial media have ‘experts’ of each country and they depute those people who have understanding of that country. As when you report international issues, it is not merely a quake but a lot of other things, including your relations with that country, but unfortunately Indian television channels deputed cub reporters for the Nepal tragedy; they did not have much understanding of Nepal’s sentiments and political situation and were reporting the tragedy like a soap-opera of the Hindi film.

One of the most offensive points was seeking answers for everything from the Nepalese friends. ‘What do they say about Indian aid’ or ‘how is the Indian Army doing’, or asking stupid questions about Narendra Modi and his ‘quick- fix’ solutions. Should each Nepali know and respond to Indian questions about India’s politics, Narendra Modi and the ‘great’ work done by the Indian Army? The entire focus of the media therefore was not on the people and their problems but the ‘great’ work being done by the Indian Government. It is not surprising that during the Uttarakhand crisis two years back the same media appreciated role of the Indian Air Force but refused to give credit to the government suggesting as if the Army was working independent of the government but in Nepal they not only were disproportionately reporting about the ‘success’ but giving the credit to Narendra Modi! So it was clear that the Indian media had descended in Kathmandu to actively propagate the BJP’s poll campaign and ensure to make other countries look petty in terms of contri-butions to the quake-hit people.

Slowly, things were clear and the Nepalese people were disturbed at the attempt to make them look small and ‘helpless’. But is the media responsible for it or were they reporting under the ‘influence’ of the ruling party? If we see the Narendra Modi brand of ‘charities’, then we will realise that ‘chest-thumping’ is the biggest style today. It was not long ago that Narendra Modi produced a Nepali friend from Gujarat who he ‘educated’ and he was in campaign mood when he spoke to the Nepali Congress asking Nepal how to make its ‘Constitution’ and how it can ‘develop’ and that ‘big brother’ India will do everything to ‘support’ ‘chhotabhai’ Nepal.

 India’s Nepal actions were actually aimed at countering the influence of China and any Western country. As a neighbouring country, we have a right to make our policy and take a decision and the way the government acted was definitely appreciable but the ignorance of our reporters and their reporting of the quake actually exposed the Indian intentions. If India wanted to make noise about its help in Nepal then such a step was wrong and discredited the entire effort. The Indian establishment must realise that it cannot treat Nepal as the 30th State of India and behave that way. The irony in the entire exercise is that the media, which is the fourth estate of democracy and work as a vanguard to protect the people’s right and warn the government of its mistakes, became an eager partner in ‘embedded’ journalism. It would be good if the armed forces remain out of the temptation of the media glitz and their TRPs as these would do no good to their professionalism. The media today has corporate interests and in India it is furthering the Hindutva corporate agenda too and therefore there is every danger of discrediting the institutions of the armed forces, which have remained neutral and absolutely focused on their national services.

India is aspiring to be a ‘world power’ but cannot maintain good relations with any of its neighbours and the reason for that is our ‘big brotherly’ attitude. We need to understand that such attitudinal issues will not bring laurels to India as it needs to first learn the lessons of charity: remain humble and not indulge in chest thumping. Secondly, we are a deeply class and caste-conscious society and therefore did not feel how people would react to when we send our old clothes to the people living in trouble. We are never a society which donates huge money for social causes though our business and corporate houses and individuals will pump millions to religious charities and other programmes for the promotion of religious values. It was good that Nepal understood that its people were taken for granted and that we would be sending all our ‘dirt’ that we needed to remove from our homes as ‘charity’ for the ‘poor’ people of Nepal. No self-respecting society will accept ‘degrading’ ‘charities’, which humiliate them and their dignity. It is good that Nepal realised it and sent all the ‘international’ players back to their home as Kathmandu would have become the ‘war zone’ of different ‘stakeholders’.

It is a tough time for Nepal but given the nature of the hard-working people there, the country will recover soon. Nepal, though poor, is yet much better than any other South Asian society where the people are hospitable and warm. Walking in the streets of Kathmandu is safer than in Delhi, Karachi or Dhaka. It’s a country that has abundance of love and beautiful natural resources, which need to be protected. The calamity has provided an opportunity to rebuild their nation and we hope Nepal will emerge stronger and greater after this. It definitely needs international support and solidarity but not by disrespecting people’s sentiments and values of life. As far as the Indian media is concerned, it would be good for them to learn a few things about reporting from a foreign nation and follow the basic norms of that country and not bulldoze every one through their obsessive self-projecting propaganda which is self-defeating and embarrassing for this nation of one billion people.

The author is a human rights activist quite active in the Radical Humanist circles in the country.

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