‘Media only bothers about elite, middle-class’


SHAH ALAM KHAN writes from New Delhi: 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 TV 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 for 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 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 favour.

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.

(Dr Shah Alam Khan is an orthopaedic surgeon at the nation’s premier medical college and hospital, the all India institute of medical sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi. Visit his blog: India and Bharat)

Also read: Why Ram Pyari couldn’t take her daughter home

IPL’s thugs are no better than Maoists and Naxals

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19 Responses to “‘Media only bothers about elite, middle-class’”

  1. Alfred Jones Says:

    While I sympathize with the underlying egalitarian sentiment of this piece, I find it baffling in where it apportions blame/responsibility.

    Anna Hazare’s protest drew the media attention it did because of the chord it struck in the tens of millions of Indians who live, breathe and endure the corruption he is targeting. While the media probably contributed to that popularity in some part I think it would be overstating it to say they manufactured it in it’s entirety. I can’t think of another issue in recent memory (except, of course, WC 2011) where I’ve been bombarded w/ emails, FB posts and phone calls from friends like I have in this instance. The degree of popular resonance, regardless of media coverage, is stunning and very real. And the media goes where they see their audience’s attention going. Simple economic self interest at work.

    Which is not to say that the land grab issue is any less important. It just hasn’t struck a chord to the same degree that’s all. Which I’m guessing is because most Indians experience corruption individually in their personal lives. Not so much the iniquity of the slum dwellers Unser threat in Mimbai.

    It’s the way of the world everywhere and is not the by product of a myopic media. You might as well protest gravity.

    ~alfred

  2. alakh.niran Says:

    If I were to believe whatever is said in the videos in the following links, then I better stop worrying about corruption. There is no solution to the problems being faced by our country at all.

  3. Anonymous Guy Says:

    It is articles like this which make you wonder what these ‘Gandhians’ want.

    Setting aside the merit of Hazare’s fast, the support from the middle class and the media is a good thing. If changes happen due to it, it will benefit everyone. Maybe the middle classes will benefit more, but anyone below that will also benefit. At the worst, no harm is done.

    The drama against corruption and asking for the laws to be changed improve things is in keeping with democracy and the constitution on which our country was founded.

    The people who make up the media may have a more personal stake in this matter and could be giving it a greater share of their time. So what? Is that bad?

    Fasting for a group of slum dwellers (yes 26000 is a well small number in a country of 1 billion) cannot be in any way be compared to a movement which is trying to fundamentally improve our thinking and actions as a nation.

    What does the author want? That everyone has to live in slums and then things will be all good?

    It can even be argued that slum dwellers are law breakers who occupied the land illegally. If we used the constitution and went to court, they would actually have to be evicted from the land they occupied and sent back to wherever they came from. And Medha Patkar would just be someone who is supporting a very large bunch of law breakers.

    She is then creating nuisance and supporting law breakers and using strength in numbers and the fact that politicians are afraid and will prevent the right thing to be done once a large number of slum dwellers (i.e. votes are involved).

    I am saying this just to show how different this particular case is from Hazare’s corruption thing. There must be a very good reason for her protest against the builders and authorities.

    But to compare her fast with Hazare’s and expect media to give the support does not make sense.

    Also trying to bring down the anti-corruption idea by comparing it with some specific protest for a group of people is meaningless. It is like saying, I will not let anyone prosper. This is the type of argument which gives some Indian ‘Gandhians’, communists and socialists a bad name.

  4. Sai Ram Shetty Says:

    Instead of getting all intellectual about “lack of support / Facebook pages for Medha”, how about trying to answer a simple question:

    What if Medha is actually wrong in this case? May be that explains lack of Twitteratti and Facebook support to her?

    New India is tired of these jholwallas blocking every development project.

    Medha’s earlier pet project Narmada dam – we all know how it has benefitted Gujarat now making it #1 State in India. If only project had not been delayed because of Medha like eco terrorists whole region would have reaped more benefits even earlier.

    As a regular Mumbai airport user, I am all for expansion of this airport. Every recent trip has been bogged down by “Air traffic congestion” resulting in burning hundreds of gallons of fuel while waiting for landing clearance.

    So, for one, I will not be supporting Medha on her terror hunger strikes.

  5. Objectivist Mantra Says:

    Medha Patkar is the ELITE. Her NGOs get millions of dollars in donations. She was able to delay the construction of Narmada Dam for many years. She is a very powerful lady.

    So by what criteria are calling her an “aam admi.” In fact, our NGOs are as corrupt as our political parties. They misuse the funds received as donation and they have a leftist political agenda.

    In any case, Medha Patkar is a serial protestor. She will do anything for publicity. For 450 days a year she is on fast. Yeah, her year has more days than the year of the aam admi.

    If any TV channel show her fasting, then people will simply use their remote to move to some other TV channel. No one has the time to watch the drama of these high flying NGO leaders.

    Their credibility is worse than that of our political parties. It is time we had some reforms in the NGO sector. The NGOs must declare how they receive their funds, and from where.

    They must make names of the donars public. They must present a complete balance sheet of income and expenses.

  6. voyeur Says:

    Well there apparently have been hunger strikes against this hunger strike. Why has that not gotten any media attention?

  7. JVachani Says:

    Worth reading this as well. How the slum dwellers themselves protested against Medha Patkar asking her to move on….

    http://expressbuzz.com/opinion/columnists/how-to-win-friends-and-influence-poor-people/278837.html

  8. Yaaralli Says:

    Nation is busy with IPL. Medha should time her protests. I am ashamed to be an Indian. I really want to quit this country.

  9. Vinay Says:

    Yaaralli:

    Did you bother to read the comments by others on this page, or did you simply read the first few lines of the article, and like a typical keyboard middle-class warrior, issue your online condemnation with the standard “ashamed to be Indian” cliche?

    You can move out if you want to btw, no one’s going to stop you.

  10. chanakya Says:

    Media runs behind the news like anything when a software engineer commits suicide or dies in a accident…etc. But the same media never heeds to the screams of poor and downtrodden ones.

  11. asha Says:

    My all sympathies with the writer. If somebody is fighting against corruption in Delhi, why an incident that is happening in Mumbai should be linked? What’s the crime committed by Anna and his team? Let this corrupt country have hazar Hazares and laksh Medhapatkar. Nothing wrong in it.
    What’s the crime in drinking mineral water (it should be bottled water or packaged water)? If the Delhi government was in a position to supply potable water, then people who had assembled at Jantar Mantar probably would not have purchased packaged water.
    Instead of finding fault with every good intended citizen, why not think positively? Why not we make best use of the people who are supporting Anna and trying to bring in some positive changes?
    Let us give up cynicism by sending mails.

  12. Yaaralli Says:

    @vinay:
    why do you want me to get in sync with popular belief? popular is not always correct , it may be right as in right wing.
    Now why does your PM so reluctant to bring in transparent legislation -like publishing white paper before uprooting slums.

    why cannot Medha be as powerful as a Krittika Biswas when your PM makes a monthly visit to united states while forgetting his own country’s states?
    why is he unable to reinstate citizen’s rights while he is JaaNa kuruda when it comes to Ambanis and Tatas and DMKs and publishing Nehru ads in newspapers?

    I dont know if I am a warrior or a King but definitely I dont care about economic categorization of being middle class. what takes out of me if I am a middle classer. The sperm count? or the fertility quotient?
    All citizens are endangered today. If you want to classify them as middle class and keep Nehru family , celebrities and businessmen as upper class that’s your smrithi like a Manu smrithi.

    If your PM is unable to maintain 100 crores let him dissolve center. No one in the universe collects taxes of 100 crore people and can govern them with equal rights.
    Not in history and never in coming days man can evolve to be such a God.
    He is trying to subdue local sentiments and paint them with his civilizational virtues which are limited to Nehruvian socialism and commonwealth prejudice to accept Queen’s descent and colonization.

    100 crores and 20 odd provinces. Just a spark is enough. Get a break dude.

    Satyagraha is not meant for economists or class makers. It’s not meant to be timed like after WorldCup and after IPL and after cheergirls are shagged over by rolling cameras and fucked by gentlemen.

    It’s meant to take out the truth whenever and wherever. Be happy there are still visible truths which are not illusionary.

  13. twistleton Says:

    Way to go Yaralli.

    People can protest anything they want. It would be preferable if they didn’t do it with a holier-than-thou air, though people are entitiled to be saint-like as well.

    Is Anna Hazare’s protest justified and Medha Patkar’s not? Does a protest become unjustified just because you don’t agree with it; does it take away from the right of people to protest?

    It is time to get off our high and noble horse and accept that at the end of the day, we only protest against that which affects us directly- call it survival or selfishness.

    Whatever the complexities, the internal disagreements, movements must be allowed to occur. Do you think everybody agrees with what Hazare did? No. Does that take away from what he accomplished? Well that’s debatable, but i’d like to say no.

    Everyone knows there is a particular supply-chain in corruption that involves all of us, as willing or unwilling participants; deny it however much you may. More people with power are involved in maintaining status-quo than we realize. Why not make people understand how and why corruption occurs? Probably because as the writer has said our media likes to dole out only pre-digested mental food, and people have gotten used to the same.

    The mainstream media also likes to allay the fears of its target audience and assure them that their conduct, at any rate, is above and beyond reproach. It is all either the fault of the politicians or the bureaucrats. Always.

    Personally i appreciate protests that aim at achieving something tangible and physical, rather than vague notions of ‘honesty’ and ‘morality’ and taking on as nebulous a concept as ‘corruption’. Really, are there clear cut definitions about what constitutes corruption and what doesn’t? Where is the institution that is the starting point and the ending point of this debate? Where are the physical manifestations of this problem that can later be extrapolated on to deduce systemic societal issues? Why not take up a single issue/instance of corruption and publicly conduct an enquiry? Like Gandhi and salt.

    The slum issue is one such manifestation of corruption and bad governance. It is an ideal place to start your fight against corruption. But maybe certain sections would start getting uncomfortable at such direct action and prefer to listen to prosy and grandiloquent statements about big, bad corruption. They are happy to start and stop with drawing ‘us and them’ lines…

  14. Kitapati Says:

    Indefinite fast and fast unto death are big drama events. Started and perfected by Gandhi and followed blindly by other drama artists like anna and medha. Does anyone here beleive that these people will really fast unto death and really die. no way.
    I will be convinced if and only if social activitists can really give their life for a cause. They should jump from skyscrapers or take potassium cynide or hang themselves from the nearby tree for the cause they are fight for.

  15. Jagadish Says:

    Anna Hazare’s actions touched one inescapable facet of every Indian’s life – corruption. Show me one single person in India who has not been touched by corruption, either directly or indirectly.

    We are some of the most innovative, vibrant and creative people on the planet, we have the brain power and man power to do anything. Corruption is the cancer that is holding back this country from achieving its potential, hell, even 10% of its potential.

    Why else do you see our brightest and ablest people leaving the country in the hundreds of thousands every year, even to countries like Malaysia, Fiji and South Africa for a better life? This is a shame. I am sure most Indians would love to come back and stay here if we had a clean government that manages the country well.

    As for Medha, her actions once had meaning and integrity, now I have no good words about her so I will remain silent.

  16. Anonymous Guy Says:

    Kitapati,

    The linguistic reorganization of states were in a way (however small) influenced by Potti Sriramulu’s fast onto death.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potti_Sreeramulu

    He was a follower of Gandhi too. So what do you have to say?

  17. Bhamy V Shenoy Says:

    It would be useful to know the background of the author to appreciate the sentiments expressed. When eviction was on the national agenda, Medha got as much media support as Anna is getting today. It is not the person who is getting the media attention though the “sacrifice” of the person fasting also counts. If a corrupt political leader fasts, media is unlikely to pay attention unless it is backed by crores of rupees paid.

    I was surprised by the caste factor mentioned by the author. What caste has to do. Looks like no article is complete without paying obeisance to caste even by those who dislike caste.

    In my views both Anna Hazare and Medha are heroes of our society. Trying to compare them based (though might not have been intended by the author) does not contribute to useful result. Protesting against eviction is not justifying their illegal acts. It is just that it has to be handled in a humane way. There are thousands of political leaders whom we know to be corrupt and have broken laws, why has law failed to take action against them the way the society seems to be handling these slum dwellers.

  18. Doddi ionBuddi Says:

    Medha wants to perpetuate poverty! Frankly she could be having a lie down after a heavy meal. I don’t care. Anna H is a simple bumpkin who has woken up and now riding the anti-corruption horse. Babe R Dev is a freak–wtf does he know about who should be in Lokpal bill or who shouldn’t be?

  19. Pulikeshi the Last Says:

    In my primary school Kannada textbook there used to be a story about an old woman who thought it was her rooster’s crowing that was the direct cause of sunrise.

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