‘Satyameva’ Khan, Sunday ke Sunday

Wonder what goes through the minds of perpetrators of abuse and excesses when they watch Amir Khan’s  Satyameva Jayate.  Would they feel guilty ? Would they fathom the  consequences of the  cruelty they perpetrated ?   Short of naming them,  the victims  appearing on the show profiled  their oppressors and their acts in such graphic terms that they should  fall steeply  in their own eyes.

Maybe,  one of these days we get to read in the papers  about one of these guys taking his own life  out of remorse. Maybe someone guilty calls Amir Khan to  apologize on camera. Maybe  I’m daydreaming.

Anyway,  the Sunday 11 a m TV show anchored by film actor/maker Amir Khan is watched by almost everyone I have met.  Having missed the first two episodes,  I found myself conversationally inadequate in any gathering of  friends and neighbours,   who seemed to have  nothing else to talk about for a day or two after an episode.  If you live in a close-knit gated community, as I do, you simply can’t escape  Satyameva chat among residents you run into,  at the clubhouse or the grocery shop in our Chennai apartments complex.

The last straw was my son’s weekly call from California. And he talked about….you guessed it.  When he heard my wife and I  hadn’t watched either of the two episodes   our son promptedly e-mailed the YouTube link to the Amir Khan Shows –  about abuses on women and children.  Now that I have watched them on YouTube I feel updated ;  and  can’t help talking about the  episodes I just watched , while others,  having had their say, are waiting for next  Sunday’s episode.

I don’t know if Amir Khan was inspired by anyone,  but I see a  touch of Oprah in his show.  Both score high marks  on being thorough in their approach to any issue they take up . The format covers  case studies,  victims interview,  relevant research or govt. committee report,  expert comments,  and a summing-up.  At the end of the hour,  I was  left reasonably rattled by the revelations – that 53 percent of our children fall victim to some form of abuse;  that culprits are usually someone known to the victim and trusted by her/his family.  In many cases he is part of family – an uncle,  grandpa or someone so close as that.  There was this case where a schoolgirl falls a prey to indecent advances made by  a teacher who comes home to coach her in maths,  history or whatever.

Girls raped at tender age   by live-in relatives,  and married women forced into abortion for carrying a female in womb suffer in silence.  In rare cases where child victims gather courage to speak,  their accounts are hardly believed or their complaints taken seriously,  more often,  by their own parents.  Victims of abuses get trapped in a  ‘can’t talk, aren’t believed’  syndrome.

Amir Khan has got some of them talking , on camera;  and their gut-wrenching stories prompts  us to  re-define relationships within extended families,  re-draw lines of permissibility. Vulnerable children and,  particularly, their parents can’t be faulted, if  they start   looking over their shoulders,  so to speak ,  at friends and relatives with penchant to get too close to their young ones.

We have had just two weeks of  Satyameva Jayate  (SJ).  It would,  perhaps,  take 20 more episodes for  Satyameva Jayate to become an unfailing  weekly habit . And then,  every  Sunday, 11 a m,  would the  Amir Khan Hour,  nationwide.  Undoubtedly,  Amir Khan is on to a good thing.  My concern is,  if a busy celebrity of his stature would continue to  find the time and energy to sustain the weekly show, at a reasonably high bench-mark he has set for himself in the initial episodes.  Would he re-visit topics he has covered,  in later episodes ? For issues such as female  foeticide and child abuse couldn’t be wished away with a single celebrity show.

As Khan says,  the magic wand that makes things happen is within each of us.  We could do our little bit to put our shoulders to the conversational wheel Amir Khan has set in motion, nationwide. I don’t know  if  Cindrella and Harish Iyer would consider opening  a Facebook page  to encourage others who have been through such hell  to come out of their closets to talk out their past. The Amir Khan Show has got the country talking about issues we have till date  refrained from mentioning even within the confines of our living rooms,  let alone on national television. And bloggers could keep the talk going with their posts,  reviewing what Amir Khan brings up in his weekly episodes.

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Katju bashing won’t fly, Tavleen

It was on TV.  What was billed  ‘The Ramnath Goenka Debate’  turned out to be a media gang-up against Press Council chairman  Justice Markandey Katju.   It was a provocative Katju against a panel of  ‘press freedom’ caretakers,  comprising a media columnist, couple of TV anchors,  an editor, and an academic, who argued newspaper reporters and lesser media persons need not be intellectuals –  ‘you needn’t have read Zola to report on 2G scam’.  His provocation was Justice  Katju’s  Karan Thapar interview  where he expressed an opinion that a majority of media people were of low intellectual level.
It is difficult to quarrel with the professor’s contention, in the manner he put it.  But then the professor may have no reason to know that a newspaper reporter in New Delhi  of the 60’s and 70’s handled assignments as varied as an interview with Neil Armstrong  on goodwill visit after his  moon-landing,  a Rotary Club address by  John Freeman on Indo-British relations, an interaction with Yahudi Menuhin , Army Day reception at  Gen. Manekhshaw’s  place,  a farewell tea party hosted by Mexican envoy and poet  Octavio Paz, and a scholarly lecture on the Nehru’s relevance by  P N Haksar,  who didn’t hand out a prepared text.  I agree with the professor when he says there is nothing intellectual about reporting routine crime,  a court case proceedings or municipal council meeting.

Columnist Tavleen Singh wasn’t  dignified when she chose to be sarcastic at Justice Katju.   And she took on Sharad Yadav becaue he had said something nice  and praiseworthy about journalists of the old school. “it is bakhwas (rubbish),”  said Tavleen,  adding that media reporting those days was nothing but  “a gracious form of clericalism”.

As a has-been reporter, and her senior by some years  I can claim a nodding acquaintence with Tavleen  during her stint with The Statesman in New Delhi. Maybe her reporting in that paper  wasn’t ‘clericalism’ , gracious or otherwise. It was unbecoming of someone who claims to have been a media person for over 30 years to have been so scornfully dismissive,  as Tavleen Singh was, of other people’s opinion. What she said smacked of intellectual arragance,  an accusation that some  panelists, including Tavleen, had  levelled against Justice Katju.

The press council chief  had words put in his mouth – ‘Mr katju thinks we’re intellectual hacks’;  he was taken to task for suggesting that media,  like any other profession,  needs  a regularity mechanism,  and must be made accountable.  And we had Tavleen, once again, hitting out at Justice Katju –  ‘ why don’t you take a look at others, say the judiciary, before you attack hacks like me’. Strong words, these.  And they may get Tavleen a ‘Wow’ and  ‘wah,wahs’  from her peers,  but it  doesn’t take the debate forward.  It was at this stage that  Mr Pratap Bhanu Mehta intervene to say  the conversation was getting embarrassing,  and the level of debate,  pathetic.

At the end of the day,  I don’t suppose  Taveleen’s  TV performance  and her public display of rightuous indignation  help careers, notably,  of   media columnists who live by background briefings and  ‘deep throat’  links with high level govt.  and corporate sources. After all,  isn’t their  talk-show appearances  also about building self-image ?

Tavleen and some other panelists, in order to score debating points,  couldn’t resist taking a cheap shot at Justice Katju’s much publicised  ‘Dev Anand’ remarks.  More than one panelist was heard saying that the press council chief couldn’t dictate to media what to publish, and where. Justice Katju,  they held,  sought to control editorial freedom.  It was for editors to decide if  Dev Anand’s death merited  Page One news.  Mr Mehta justified the front-page display, saying Dev Anand represented, what he called, sociologically important dream and fantasy to millions in India. That Justice Katju made the  Dev Anand remark  to highlight the need for media to excercise of social priority wasn’t lost on  many of us,  although Mr Mehta and Tavleen Singh chose to interpret it as press council diktat to editors,  on  a matter that was   editor’s prerogative.  Most newspaper editors apparantly got his message right,  said Justice Katju –  ‘had I not raised my voice, the recent birth of a filmstar’s child would have been on Page one,  instead of P.7’.

The NDTV talk-show host was generous  to allow Justice Katju the last word. And he signed off reiterating that he was all for press freedom; and that some of his remarks were widely misunderstood.  The press council chief made appropriate noises about the importance of the media. The country looked up to the media to reflect social reality. They should stop giving too much space to news relating to fashion parade, film stars, sports celebrities  – ‘Es gharib mulk mein aap ko film-stars aur fashion parade hi dikhayi detha hai‘. Media needs to get its priorities right, observed Justice Katju.

The debate (38 plus mins) : Are majority of media people of poor intellectual level ?

TargetThe Hindu article

Oprah, Rushdie rob limelight in Jaipur

Ms. Winfrey,  the one and only Oprah Winfrey,  says she was flummoxed to find that India, a country that prides itself on its close-knit families and respect for elders could also need shelters to house widows shunned by their families.  After her visit Oprah called  Maria Shriver,  and both of them  resolved to help fund the organization that runs the widows ‘shelter.

The audience applauded. The audience comprised mainly writers,  critics and other participants at the  Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF).   Ms Winfrey was being interviewed for telecast by  NDTV’s  Barkha Dutt.   Viewership for the show  telecast, prime time,  was  high.  And Oprah  was at her scintillating self;  said a lot of sensible things.  Loved the show.

My issue, however, is with the Jaipur festival folk who hosted the Oprah show.  Someone  with  celebrity status such as Oprah needs no promotion; she commands media attention wherever she goes.  The same cannot be said for many others at the literature  festival who deserve to be heard by a wider audience.  I wish the organisers programmed their proceedings in ways that enable lesser known participants gain much-needed media exposure. I know,  festival organisers can turn around and say they host varied programmes . They can’t be faulted if such festival proceedings  go unnoticed in the media. Organisers cannot tell newspaper reporters  and TV channels whom or what to cover at the festival.

And the media always  goes after celebrities.  The reason why persons of social stature and celebrtiy status are invited to such events is understandable. The festival organisers need participation of the likes of Oprah and Rushdie much more than their need to participate at Jaipur.  In the process  the celebrity invitees take up virtually the entire space, and media attention,  leaving most other  participants  crowded out of the limelight.

The Oprah show at Jaipur took up media time/space that could have otherwise gone to other participants  who could do with some publicity to further their career. The factor that drives lesser known,  but promising,  writers to Jaipur is the possibility it holds for  networking and for media attention.  A person of  Oprah’s calibre and celebrity status has scores of platforms open to her. Ms Dutt could have done her interview in a studio setting.  The festival  organizers could have hosted a round-table format, with Oprah interacting with  a group of writers who deserve to be heard and seen on TV .

What dominates  media coverage at Jaipur is  the protest-reading by four writers , of passages from The  Satanic Verses,  and the controversy over the proposed  visit to Jaipur of author  Salman Rushdie.  And then we had him  announce that he wasn’t coming, after all.   Rushdie’s announcement came with a much publicised statement,  citing intelligence report that held him back from Jaipur. Apparently,  Rushdie  knows  how to gain publicity mileage  even  in absentia.

Is Team Anna a threat to democracy ?

A disgruntled auto driver slapped agriculture minister Sharad Pawar,  brandished a knife, and yelled his head off reflecting aam aadmi’s frustration over price rise and corruption at high places.

Mr Pawar reacted, politically correctly – ‘we should not make much of this’.

Anna Hazare,  politically unwisely,  blurted out impulsively, Ek hee mara ?  (‘Just one slap’). Anna has since been hard put to it,  to put his remark in perspective.

TV news channels made a meal of it, re-playing the action shot right through the 24 hr news cycle,  prompting BJP MP Smriti Irani to take on  the electronic  media that,  she said,  thrived on sensationalism.  Mr Vinod Mehta of Outlook, on a Times Now talk-show,  weighed with his editorial observation   –  ‘it’s the biggest story of the day’

Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, to the media hanging out at Parliament House VIP exit: “where is the country going to”.

Prashant Bhushan-to-Rajdeep Sardesai on CNN-IBN:  “Democracy has to be freed from a  oligarchy of politicians and higher bureaucracy”.  Another Team Anna member Arvind Kejriwal,  at the same talk-show,  dismissed the anchor’s suggestion that the angry young aam admi with penchant for attack on political netas might have been influenced by  strident stance adopted by  Team Anna members .  Kejriwal countered Sardesai – ‘do you want us to have our lips sealed ?’  To protest was one’s democratic right, though he did mention, for the record, that physical violence was not acceptable to Team Anna.

Talk-show host Sardesai wasn’t the only one to have given expression to a thought that Team Anna, in its self-assigned role as a ‘saviour’  in a democracy,  may well become  part of the problem. Britain’s academic and a Labour peer Bhikhu Parekh, in a recent lecture  on the crisis in Indian democracy,  is reported as saying,  a growing public support for Anna Hazare-style protests, led by unelected campaigners, bode ill for Indian democracy.  In his 2011  address – in the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Lecture series – Lord Parekh reckoned that democracy was in danger of losing legitimacy,  if elected politicians failed to meet public expectations,  and people,  in frustration,  started mobilizing around “leaders” who had no democratic mandate,  but could have plenty of self-serving agendas.

I don’t know if any media other than The Hindu  reported Lord Parekh’s address in London recently.  In his thought-provoking talk Lord Parekh raises eminently arguable issues –  the very stuff of which prime time talk-shows are made.  Wish the Kanwal’s,  Goswami’s and Sardesai’s of our media  take note .

MUDA telecast : passing the buck

Telecast of the Mysore Urban Development Authority (MUDA)  meetings has been shelved.  Its members  have passed the buck to Bangalore,  seeking  clear-cut directive from Karnataka government,  on whether or not the proceedings of MUDA should be open to the media via closed-circuit telecast.   MUDA isn’t particularly known for fair dealings when it comes to allotment of residential and other sites to members of the public.

To bring a measure of transparency in its public dealings MUDA chairman P Manivannan thought of opening its periodical meetings to the media.  Some MUDA members felt that presence of news reporters at the meeting hall would cramp their style. Meeting their objection Mr Manivannan  arranged for a  closed-circuit telecast of the proceedings to the MUDA press-room.

Which wasn’t okay with some MUDA members,  notably MLAs   who don’t feel comfortable with anything short of in-camera proceedings.  In the government if someone doesn’t want to get anything done,  the issue is referred to the higher authorities.  Papers are put up for approval. And a file is created,  to move from desk to a bigger desk,  till the file finds itself on CM’ s desk.

The issue whether or not to telecast  MUDA meetings has been referred to the department of law and parliamentary affairs.  The file would then move up the bureaucratic and ministerial ladders.  If the matter pertains to policy direction,  which the telecast issue,  presumably, is,  it goes to  CM.  If he deems the issue is worthy of wider consideration,  he could set up a committee.

My hunch is, a matter needing  ‘clear-cut direction’ would  call for a committee deliberation.  Besides,  if they  okay MUDA ,  you can’t stop  GUDA,  DUDA and BUDA (Bellary)  wanting  to  go  ‘live’ in the interest of transparency .

Sunitha’s TED talk

Name: Dr. Sunitha Krishnan,  40,   mental health worker.

Work :  Giving voice to the voiceless sex-abuse victims ; an identiy to these ‘Anamikas’ ; helping them build up self-confidence  Has  rescued and rehab-ed  3,200 sex-abused females, aged  from three years to 40.

Motivation :  Gang-raped by eight men when she was 16 ; ostricised by society for the next two years.

Job hazard:   Has been beaten up many times by  thugs,  pimps and brothel keepers ; one of her staff members was killed in her effort to  rescue  a sex-abused woman.

Her TED talk:  12.42 mins  indictment of  our society;  scathing commentary on victimisation of victims of sexual abuse.

Her poser:   Would we accept one of these Anamikas  into  our homes as maid, house nurse or nanny ? Would we feel comfortable with  their children playing and moving  with ours ? Till such time there are not enough of us who can say,  ‘Yes, we will’,   Sunitha feels her work wouldn’t be done.

Her wish:  Each of us talks  this through to at least two others in our family and social circle. They,  in turn, could do the same with two of their contacts.

My wish:  All TV channels,  notably,  those dedicated to religious faiths, should telecast Sunitha’s TED talk.

Bhopal, before 24×7 media

Todays’ media people,  fed on 24×7 news channels,   may find it hard  to imagine that there was a  24-hour delay in the Bhopal gas tragedy  making media headlines.   TV those days was limited to a few hours  of evening telecast.  Bhopal 1984 was in B G era (Before Google) ;  and the gas leak that killed over 2000 overnight  happened on a  Sunday night,  well past the  newspaper  deadline (time at which an edition  goes to print) .

I was then The Times of India (TOI) correspondent;  and the English  print media of  that time  meant a  handful of dailies –  Hindustan Times Indian Express and The StatesmanPatriot of Delhi, and  The  Hindu ,  Madras ,  didn’t even post full-time correspondents in Bhopal in the 80s ;  a media outpost,  to which no senior TOI reporter from New Delhi  was happy  to be  posted.  I went to Bhopal, as staff correspondent,  from the Delhi news service desk.

Bhopal  was a city of  ‘stringers’,  in media parlance.  Stringers are locally influential reporters retained by major dailies to file news reports for them.  And then we had carbon-copy hacks, reporting for several media outlets.  They are paid by the column inches they get published. The  complaint some outstation newspapers had was that they got from their stringers  fourth or the fifth carbon-copy  that was barely visible to the naked eye.

Bhopal reporters on media junket to Sagar. The face under the strawhat is Tarun Bhadhuri of The Statesman

This was the media scene in Bhopal 1984.   There was  camaraderie among reporters of major outstation dailies.  We moved together on assignments,  often pooling information,  while respecting  the right to ‘exclusives’  a reporter was obliged to put out now and  then to please their editors.

Reporter at work in back-seat of a car

Barring a few major newspapers that maintained an office with teleprinter connection,  reporters  relied on Post Office telex to send  news reports.  I have once sent a report to New Delhi from a post  office in remote area that still used Morse Code telegraph.

Our teleprinter operator in Bhopal worked four hours daily, from 4 p m ; and stayed beyond 8 p m on request, but rarely more than an  hour or two.  I could phone in  brief reports,  but  you can’t expect to  get too popular with the steno at the news desk  in New Delhi,  if you  phone in your reports too often. Besides, there was STD cost to be
considered.  The phone bills you submit to New Delhi for  reimbursement were liable to be sent back with query as to why and what-for certain phone calls were made,  and if they were  necessary.

Bhopal gas leak happened late on a Sunday night. I was woken up from sleep by a phone call from N Rajan, a media colleague and neighbour who edited local daily Hitavada, and also filed news  reports for Patriot, New Delhi. He had heard from a contact about a  major gas leak from the Union Carbide pesticides factory. The gas  had already drifted our way, though our  Professor Colony residence  was about 5 km from the factory.

As I looked out  from our first-floor balcony I saw residents in our  neighbourhood out on the street, fleeing from the gas spread.  Rajan  and I  – with my wife, son and our dog –  joined the crowd.  It ddidn’t  require a reporter’s nose for news for one to realise that we were amidst a major developing story. Our frustration was we couldn’t report it to our New Delhi offices at that late hour.  No cell phones then.

Our priority was  survival ;  making it  somewhere away from the gas,   which had by then spread to much of Bhopal . We spent the night  with Narasimhan in Arera Colony.  He is a relative and was then a  Bhopal bank official whose house was on  higher ground and unaffected.  On our way up to Narasimhan’s  place we found several gas victims  who collapsed on the street after inhaling the toxic gas  methyl isocyanate.

The morning after the gas leak I started phoning colleagues and contacts, but found them equally in the dark on details. The 8 a m  radio news wasn’t much of a help, by way of hard news. Meanwhile our colleague in The Statesman Tarun Bhadhuri (Jaya Bachchan’s  father) phoned to say he heard from a Union Carbide factory official  that the gas leak was under control and the casualty figure was five deaths.  This was what a Union Carbide official would have us believe that  morning .Anyway we still had the entire day to work on the news report.  That night TOI news desk kept open the Page One lead slot till 11 p m.

At Bhopal, when Rajan and I went to the government hospital – Hamedia – around 10 a m we found a spill-over of gas victims from hospital wards,  to the corridors and scores more were being brought in to the casualty in vans,  three-wheelers and even push-carts. Many of the victims collapsed right on the drive way.

Driving through the town later that day we found dead cattle with bloated belly lying on the street,  waiting to be disposed of.  The army had moved in  and their trucks helped disposal of the dead.  We still  had places to  visit, and contacts to be tapped – at the railway  station (where gas victims, dead and dying, were being taken out of  platforms and waiting halls), at  the police headquarters,  the P R  office,  and the hospitals.  I made a final round of phone calls to other  reporters to exchange notes before filing my news report for the day.

In the absence of an officially declared tally of the gas victims, reporters  worked out a consensus on a figure  –  500 dead .  But then the  headline writers sitting in Delhi  had other   calculations. Upshot was that no two newspaper headlines carried the same figure. We in Bhopal based our guesswork on a  report that all nine cremation grounds in town worked  round the  clock during the  24 hours after the calamity struck.

This was how the Sunday night gas leak in Bhopal made it to  print  on Tuesday morning.

Related write-up –  The night Bhopal turned into a gas chamber