Ostrich Syndrome!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A note on Ramdev's Protest and Govt. Response

Post Ram Lila ground atrocity, there are two distinct aspects to the anti-corruption protests in the country (who manufactured this distinction and why can be anyones guess). Manufactured or spontaneous, the distinction is a reality whether we like it or not; whether we accept it or not.
The two aspects are : One, whether we accept the blatant, cruel, "police-state mentality" of the state in curbing any sort of protest and secondly do we accept babas, fakirs, mullahs, sadhus, pastors et al to run the campaign against corruption with a tinge of white, saffron, green or any damn color of religion?
I think majority of Indians are on the same page as far as the first question is concerned. There is no room for justifying whatever happened at the Ram Lila Grounds on that fateful night. This time it was Ramdev, another day it could be you or me. Police state is not an option in a democracy. Protests form the basis of dialogue in a democracy. We know whats happening in neighbouring Pakistan in the absence of any thoughtful dialogue.
As far as religious color to anti-corruption protests go, this is where the contradiction becomes obvious. We all know that Ramdev's campaign, how so ever pure and vital, was being fuelled by the Sangh Parivar with an agenda which was different than what appeared on stage. Corruption and need to fight it is by no means debatable. What is debatable in this context is the communalisation of corruption. Communalising corruption is dangerous as the the common Indian is a deeply religious being, ready to digest what ever is offered in a holy wrapping. Ironically one of the agenda of the rabid Talibanis is to establish a corrupt free (Islamic) rule in Pakistan....not very different from the establishment of RSS's (or can I say Ramdev's) Ram Raj in a Hindu rashtraya.
It's time to see the difference between the hawks and the doves in this unfolding power struggle. The Monty-Man Syndrome through which the duo of Montek & Manmohan Singh have put this country is here to stay. Protests to cure any part of this syndrome will be throttled by all available force. Whether we want to fight this as a unified, secular camaraderie or leave it in the hands of agenda setting godmen is our choice.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Media and Protests: Who Manufactures What?

In April this year the media went into a loud and vulgar rapture as Anna Hazare continued his four-day fast against corruption at Jantar Mantar in the capital. Hyperventilating newscasters repeatedly declared that the issue of corruption has “touched a cord” with the middle class. The circus at Jantar Mantar ended on a happy note with an amazing display of rhapsody for millions of urban, educated, elite Indians as they saw the government kneel to the demands of Anna in re-formulating the Lok Pal bill. But this was more than a month back. In Indian politics, one month is a long period. With a short public memory and an equally uncaring public attitude, it is easy to comprehend why another fast in another corner of the country has evoked minimal response. Social activist and Gandhian, Medha Patkar has been on an indefinite fast since last seven days at Mumbai in protest against the land grab at the Golibar slum, next to the Mumbai airport.
The contrast is striking. No high profile players, no well known public figures, no lavish tents, no Bharatmata cut outs, no mineral water bottles for the attendees and of course minimal media glare. All the goodies of Anna Hazare’s protest are missing from Medha Patkar’s remonstration. What is most conspicuous is the “wretched” clientele for whom Medha is fasting. Medha’s indefinite fast is for the basic rights of 26,000 families, which dwell the Golibar slum. Slum dwellers! People who are a road block in the conversion of Mumbai to Shanghai.
Medha is protesting the blatant callousness of the Maharashtra government and its nefarious Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA). SRA is the by-product of the political-land mafia nexus aimed at usurping those living in the slums of Mumbai. This futuristic Shanghai has more than 60 percent of its population living in slums with Golibar being the second largest slum of the city. The SRA aims to authorize private builders to redevelop slum land. The result can be anyone’s guess. Private builders take up the slum land by force, forgery or on cheap rates. The resale value of these prime locations brings phenomenal wealth in the general property market. Even more despicable is the Clause 3K of the SRA, which gives a single builder right to redevelop a slum without inviting any tenders.
What is most deafening in this protest is the silence of the media (electronic, paper and alternative) which stood with Anna Hazare in his high profile fight against corruption. No facebook pages, no twitter messages, no hourly news updates. Surely something is amiss “now” as compared to “then”. Was it the personal charisma of Anna Hazare, who was largely unknown to elite Indians till April this year, which drew the masses and the media? Or was it a will of the media to suddenly awaken to the reality of corruption in this country? It baffles me.
Surely, Anna Hazare’s well-orchestrated (and hence well funded) fight against corruption was more appealing to the urban middle class Indian then a fight for the slum dwellers of a small locality of Mumbai. Although to evaluate the efficacy of a protest on the basis of number of people benefited by it is not only dangerous but purely foolhardiness par excellence! Protests represent the core values for which a society stands, not the number of people affected by its success. May be it is for this very reason that our very conscientious media fails to represent decisively the issues raised by Irom Sharmila, who has been on fast for the last ten years against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Having said this, it may be noted that media has played a significant role in “individualistic protests” like those demanding justice for Jessica Lall or Priyadarshani Mattoo. Although it is easy to find instances of media manufactured struggles in India if the victims are elite, educated or middle class but to say the same for this very media taking up the causes of the underprivileged, oppressed or rural masses is difficult. No wonder there is hardly any coverage of Vidharba farmer suicides or of atrocities on dalits across the length and breadth of the country.
In India the amalgam of forces that drive a protest are also an important determinant for its adoption by the media. In Anna’s case high caste, elitist composition with a cosmetic supplementation by commoner Indians and fuelled by well-funded corporate driven NGOs, formed an ideal diet for high TRPs. A ready meal for media digestion! Unfortunately these ingredients of manufactured protest are lacking when it comes to core issues of human survival as in Medha Patkar’s ongoing demonstration in Mumbai.
The role of media in a democratic set-up cannot be over emphasized. But with more corporate control it is not difficult to discern what this integral pillar of democracy will support or rather avoid to support. With economic liberalization the media has become an important tool to formulate, channelize and direct popular protest; and there lies the danger for an unequal and unjust society like ours. Highlighting the correct story is a morally responsible task that has to be done without fear or favor. Medha Patkar and Irom Sharmila need an equal share of bytes & columns as Anna Hazare or Jessica Lall’s sister. Injustices cannot be compared, weighed and then sold to the general public wrapped in a piquant newspaper or an exciting television show. Discriminations cannot have different colors. Biases cannot be silent or loud. Inequality can never be less or more.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Verdict on Binayak Sen: Protest to show we are alive

Dr. Binayak Sen’s life sentence by a lower Raipur Court couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. The New Year is beginning. The Indian economy is projected to grow at a rate of 8%. The real estate prices in the country are booming to an all time high. Indian stake at symbols of power like the permanent UN Security Council seat appears more justified than ever before. The nuclear deal, the memorandums of understanding, the new dams, special economic zones….every block is falling in place. It seems India Inc has arrived at the party. But unfortunately every party has the so called party-spoilers, who create ruckus to dampen the spirit of fun and festivity. It is the prime duty of the party host to keep such nuisances at bay.
Dr Binayak Sen has emerged as one of the most prominent spoiler for this celebration of neo-liberal loot and pilferage. His work in the tribal areas of Chattisgarh has been treated as an act of sedition by a judiciary which stinks of grubby political bias. He and two others have been sentenced for rigorous life imprisonment and shorter prison terms, to run concurrently under Sections 124A read with Section 120B of the Indian Penal Code, Sections 8(1), 8(2), 8(3) and 8(5) of the Chhattisgarh Vishesh Jan Suraksha Adhiniyam, 2005 (Chhattisgarh Special Public Safety Act) and Section 39(2) of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967. It is important to realize that this half baked verdict is a clear message for those who dare to challenge the new order of India Inc…..the order which displaces the local aboriginal population in the name of development, growth and other such illogical jargon of adjectives which are common use by the state machinery. The tribal districts of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Karnataka and Maharasthra are the destination of some US $ 85 bn of promised investments, mostly in steel and iron plants, and mining projects. In Chhattisgarh itself 9,620 acres of land is already under process of acquisition. The juggernaut of development is puffing on all cylinders and anyone who attempts to question the validity, logic and benefits of this capitalist expansion is in serious danger of being eliminated in the name of sedition, Naxalism, Maoism or treason.
The malicious and seriously dangerous agenda of the Chattisgarh government is highlighted in the blatant lacunae within the verdict delivered on Dr Sen by B.P. Verma, the Second Additional District and Sessions Judge of Raipur. For example associating Dr Binayak Sen to the seditious Maoist cause is based on an important testimony given by Deepak Chaubey, the so called landlord who rented his accommodation to the Maoist leader Narayan Sanyal on the recommendation of Dr Sen. This assertion of Chaubey came on direct questioning by the Public Prosecutor, a fact overlooked by Sh Verma. It was also ignored that Chaubey was acting on duress of the police who threatened to implicate him in the case. Reading the 92 page judgement it can also be concluded that Judge Verma has based Dr Sen’s implication with the CPI Maoists largely on police hearsay and planted evidence. He has conveniently overlooked the thirty odd years of selfless service by Dr Sen not only as a reputed doctor but as a human right activist.
It is high time that the civil society of our country wakes up to the nefarious agenda of development and the concomitant “collateral damage” in its wake. Courageous people like Dr. Binayak Sen who send ripples of hope in vast masses of humanity, need to be defended at all costs. Our Hon. Home Minister has said that this verdict might be unsatisfactory for some people (italics are mine). It’s laughable to hear this from a Harvard educated lawyer, even if the statement was made under executive compulsions. Judicial verdicts can never be satisfactory or unsatisfactory; they are either just or unjust. And why some people? Probably because the state wants to undermine the numbers of those who are hungry, poor and deprived?
In a country which ignores hunger deaths, genocide criminals, millions of malnourished children (more than Sub Saharan Africa) and a defunct political class, people like Dr Binayak Sen are the only hope and a selfish state has no right to take these symbols of hope from us. Scream, shout, protest and wriggle out of the iron grip of injustice. As common people we need to show signs of life…..we have been dead long enough. Remonstration and disapproval of this injustice is the way ahead. I am reminded of a saying by the Romanian American Nobel Peace Laureate, Elie Weisel, he said “there may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”