Posts Tagged ‘Ashis Nandy’

Free speech gets a major boost (in the a**)

30 January 2013

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So, young Indians cannot tell their friends in what they like on Facebook, without being “pre-screened” by Harvard types (or hauled into a police station by Shiv Sena goons). So, bloggers cannot publish their “online private diaries” without the sword of 66(A) hanging over their heads.

So, tweeters can be blocked and Savita bhabhi‘s enviable lifestyle is subject to some faceless babu’s sense of humour (or voyeurism). So, the Mahatma‘s life is beyond scrutiny in the land of you-know-who. So (oh!), Aamir Khan‘s film will miraculously not be screened, also in the land of you-know-who.

Or his TV show.

So, TV stations cannot show protests without threatened by the information and broadcasting ministry (or corporate titans). So, newspapers cannot report what their reporters see without being told that the tap of government advertisements could be turned off.

So, M.F. Husain cannot die in his own country. So, A.K. Ramanujam‘s interpretation of the Ramayana hurts somebody.

So, Ashis Nandy cannot drop his pearls on corruption without offending Dalits, tribals and OBCs. So, Salman Rushdie cannot go to a lit-fest in Jaipur (or Calcutta) without offending Islamist fundoos. So, Shah Rukh Khan cannot write what’s in his heart without offending.

So, Kamal Hassan‘s new film can be banned by a government run by a former film actor.

Sometimes, you do have to remind yourself it is a free country, don’t you?

Image: courtesy R. Prasad/ Mail Today

How come nobody heard or saw the worm turn?

29 May 2009

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: Hindsight, as the moronic aphorism goes, is always 20/20.

And we have been seeing plenty of hindsight dressed as foresight over the last fortnight following the announcement of the results of the general elections, which bucked the “anti-incumbency” cliche and put the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance back in power.

# Indian Express editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta has said the politics of aspiration trumped the politics of grievance. CNN-IBN editor-in-chief Rajdeep Sardesai writes that it is a vote for decency in public life. Outlook editor-in-chief Vinod Mehta sees it as a vote against hate and abuse.

# Journalists aligned to the BJP like Swapan Dasgupta have said the BJP failed to keep pace with the realities of a new India. The BJP spokesman Sudheendra Kulkarni has said stability won over change. Atanu Dey says the Congress managed the media better.

# Many analysts have seen in the surprise Congress win, a vote for youth. Political psychologist Ashis Nandy detects a vote against arrogance. The economist Bibek Debroy among others has attributed the Congress win to its social welfare programmes. Pratap Bhanu Mehta has said the era of votebank politics is over.

And so on and on.

And on and on.

The grim truth is that all this is post-facto rationalisation by media sages, policy wonks and psephologists, ever so wise, as so many of us usually are, after the event.

Like the blind men who felt the elephant, they touch different parts of the gargantuan electoral animal now that it has come to rest, and they feel different things.

The reality is nobody in our media—television, newspapers, magazines—and nobody at the top, bottom or middle, knew what was going on. And what we were being peddled for days and weeks was drivel as wisdom.

Why?

And how does this happen election after election?

In 2004, the media had “called the election” in favour of the BJP-led alliance and was acting as if “We, the People” should only go to the polling booths and fulfil their prophecy.

Well, “We, the People” decided to spring a surprise and put the Congress-led alliance in office.

In 2009, most media vehicles somewhat got the winning alliance right, but chastened perhaps by the 2004 experience, weren’t willing to stick their neck out beyond giving a wafer-thin margin for the UPA over the NDA.

In reality, the huge gap of over 100 seats between the victor and the vanquished; the surprise showing of the Congress in States like Uttar Pradesh where it had been written off; the number of first-time MPs belowed the age of 40 (58); the number of women elected (59), etc, shows that there is something truly, incredibly, unbelievably wrong in our mass media’s connect with the masses.

Of course, the term “media” is a loose, general one because there is no one, single media oeprating uniformly, homogenously in every part of the land. There are various shades to it, in various languages, in various forms, in various States and regions, etc. And then some more.

Still, how could almost all of them get so much so palpably wrong?

Did the tide turn in the favour of the Congress inside the secrecy of the voting booths preventing our esteemed men and women in the media from knowing what was happening?

Or was it building up slowly but we were too busy or distracted to notice?

If it was the latter, why?

Is there a disconnect between mass media and the masses? Is the undercurrent of democracy too difficult to be spotted? Or are our media houses and personnel not equipped with the equipment and wherewithal to detect these trends?

Given the poor presence and even poorer coverage of the mainstream media in the rural countryside, it is understandable that we were unable to get the rural countryside wrong.

Why, even the one English paper with a “rural affairs editor” was backing the wrong horse which, it turns out, wasn’t even in the race at all, all the while.

Little wonder, the electoral magic being ascribed to the National Rural Employment Guarantee (NREG) scheme and the farm loan waiver—moves which were dismissed as wasteful expenditure by the neoliberals in the “free market” media—went largely unnoticed.

But what about the urban pockets?

The powerhouses of our media pride themselves on being fiercely urban and urbane; serving the aspirations of the middle-class and the wannabes. Yet, the fact that so few of them could detect the ground shifting from underneath the urban, middle-class BJP’s feet shines an unkindly light.

The Congress and its allies (DMK, Trinamool, NCP) won all the metros—Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi, Madras—except Bangalore and Ahmedabad. Why, for example, was it difficult to detect the anger of the urban middle-classes against the BJP’s abuse of prime minister Manmohan Singh before counting day?

Or their thirst for fresh, young faces before they were elected and sworn in?

Certainly, the function of the media is not to serve as a soothsayer. It is not expected to tell us what will happen in the future. Nevertheless, it is expected to have a finger on the pulse. Two successive electoral failures suggest that we are consistently holding the wrong vein and coming to the wrong prognosis.

Indeed, on current record, we seem to be living in an echo chamber, hearing our own voices, and relaying it to the world as gospel truth. Or selling our space and airtime without batting an eyelid.

As a piece on the Satyam scandal on this site asked:

Is journalism that doesn’t shed light journalism?

Or puff?

Or PR?

Or Advertising?

Caveat emptor!

Also read: How come media not spot Satyam fraud?

Media owners, journalists holding democracy ransom

‘If a journalist cannot write, then who else will?’

2 July 2008

A two-judge vacation bench of the Supreme Court of India has restrained the Narendra Modi government in Gujarat from arresting sociologist Ashis Nandy, for an opinion piece titled ‘Blame the middle class’ he wrote in The Times of India in January this year.

Justice Altamas Kabir: “There is no ground for harassing a journalist. Let him live in peace. You [Gujarat] are prosecuting this man for his article. These are worst (sic) things happening in this country. If a journalist cannot write then who else will? I have read the article and I find nothing is objectionable. They look for a soft target to catch but not even a single politician or small municipal councillors are caught. He [petitioner] is 71 years old and is a soft target for you…. What is the grievance of the complainant? How does it [article] bother him? Is he a staunch nationalist?”

Justice G.S. Singhvi: “People coming from the land of Mahatma Gandhiji have become so intolerant that they can’t even tolerate an article.”

Cartoon: courtesy Surendra/ The Hindu

Also read: “A DISGRACEFUL ASSAULT ON MEDIA FREEDOM’

‘Intimidation won’t help restore Gujarati asmita’

Cross-posted on churumuri

170 intellectuals protest case against edit writer

17 June 2008

170 academics, writers, film makers, journalists, activists, and other public intellectuals drawn from several countries have expressed their strong protest against the charges of criminal offence brought against political psychologist and sociologist Ashis Nandy over an editorial page article written by him in The Times of India in January this year, in the aftermath of Narendra Modi‘s victory in the Gujarat elections.

“This is the latest case of harassment of intellectuals, journalists, artists, and public figures by anti-democratic forces that claim to speak on behalf of Hindu values sometimes and patriotism at other times, especially in Gujarat, but who have little understanding of either.

“What is pernicious in this case is that the charge of criminal offence against Nandy levied under Section 153 (A) and (B) for his newspaper article “Blame the Middle Classes,” was brought by the head of the Gujarat Branch of the National Council of Civil Liberties.

The State Government of Gujarat, by giving its permission for filing the case, has shown its own complicity in the case.

“It seems part of the strategy of the most intolerant sections of Indian society today to make a cynical use the language of civil liberties to achieve ends that are the opposite of what the aspirations to civil liberties and the struggles over them represent… We demand that all the charges against Professor Nandy be immediately dropped.

“We understand that there is a great deal of anxiety in Gujarat today about its lost honour. It might help to remind ourselves that this honour or asmita will not be gained by acts of violence and intimidation but by recovering or discovering the humanity of each other. Gujarat can and will regain its own destiny by remembering the politics of nonviolence, as one of its sons by the name of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi once taught the nation and the world.”

Also read: ‘A disgraceful assault on media freedom’

Not the land of the cow, the land of holy cows

5 June 2008

The “sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic” of India is fast becoming, if it has not already become, the “notionally sovereign, chauvinistic, parochial, intolerant republic”.

Especially from a media point of view.

On Sunday, political psychologist Ashis Nandy came under attack from the BJP government of Gujarat for an “opinion” piece blaming the middle class for the thumping return to power of Narendra Modi in the assembly elections last December.

On Thurday, Lok Satta editor Kumar Ketkar (in picture) came under attack from the Nationalist Congress Party for an “opinion” piece criticising the Congress-NCP government for a planned move to install a 309-feet-tall statue of Chatrapati Shivaji in the Arabian Sea, off Marine Drive, a la the Statue of Liberty.

In his piece, published yesterday in the Marathi language paper owned by the Indian Express group, Ketkar had questioned the priorities of the government in erecting the statue at such great expense at a time when debt-ridden farmers were killing themselves and when children were dying due to malnutrition.

In the editorial, Ketkar also opined that the Maharashtra government was trying to gain political mileage by misusing the name of Chhatrapati Shivaji and making it their copyright.

This morning, incensed activists of an organisation headed by an NCP member of the legislative council barged into Ketkar’s house in Thane, broke windows with stones and spears, and attempted to ransack the house. CNN-IBN says that there are reports that there were attempts to burn down the house with petrol and kerosene. And all this while Ketkar and his wife were inside.

But Ketkar stood by his editorial.

“The people who attacked me must not have read the editorial. I never said anything denigrating to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and I stand by my opinion on the proposed statue. I have merely questioned the importance being given to the statue of Shivaji while the state has other problems to tackle,” Ketkar said.

NCP was founded by Union minister Sharad Pawar, who played a lead role in the protests that resulted in the resignation of Vinod Mehta as editor of the Bombay newspaper, The Independent, in the early 1990s for a story that said the late Y.B. Chavan was a CIA spy in the Morarji Desai ministry.

But in a state where Shiv Sena activists ransacked the Bhandarkar Institute in Poona for “helping” American author James Laine who allegedly made some derogatory remarks against Shivaji in a scholarly book, Ketkar and Mehta are small fry as the list of holy cows grows longer.

Photograph: courtesy NDTV

Cross-posted on churumuri

‘A DISGRACEFUL ASSAULT ON MEDIA FREEDOM’

1 June 2008

What is the role of a newspaper in a democratic society?

Is it just supposed to reassure us that the sun rose majestically in the east this morning? Is it committing a cardinal sin in reporting that the big fellow may have strayed off his path while we were groggy?

Is a newspaper wrong in airing views that may be contrary to its own or to those of its readers, or even the government of the day? Are those writing for a newspaper—staffers and freelancers—duty-bound to write what only makes readers “feel good”?

Is a newspaper wrong in throwing a pebble, creating a ripple; in subversively sowing thoughts that hadn’t infiltrated the craniums of readers before?

Is hearing an opinion, howsoever contrarian, howsoever provocative, injurious to our health and of our democracy?

These are fundamental questions editors and publishers face every day. And they come to us again courtesy the “vibrant” Government of Gujarat.

33 years after Indira Gandhi‘s Emergency, 20 years after Rajiv Gandhi‘s Defamation Bill, Narendra Modi‘s BJP government has responded in kind.

It has decided to file a criminal case against the sociologist Ashis Nandy for an opinion piece he wrote on the editorial page of The Times of India on January 8 this year, in the aftermath of Modi’s resounding victory in the assembly elections.

Prof Nandy’s piece “Blame the Middle Class” had this paragraph:

“Recovering Gujarat from its urban middle class will not be easy. The class has found in militant religious nationalism a new self-respect and a new virtual identity as a martial community, the way Bengali babus, Maharashtrian Brahmins and Kashmiri Muslims at different times have sought salvation in violence. In Gujarat this class has smelt blood, for it does not have to do the killings but can plan, finance and coordinate them with impunity. The actual killers are the lowest of the low, mostly tribals and Dalits. The middle class controls the media and education, which have become hate factories in recent times. And they receive spirited support from most non-resident Indians who, at a safe distance from India, can afford to be more nationalist, bloodthirsty, and irresponsible.”

Certainly, the piece contains gross generalisations about the middleclass. It stereotypes communities in different corners of the country and even draws NRIs into the picture. And it makes charges, and it imputes motives and methods that are difficult to prove.

It may be the truth and nothing but the truth.

On the other hand, it may be all lies, through and through.

But it is not news, repeat, not news.

It is an opinion piece by one of the country’s most renowned sociologists, one of six from the country who figured in a global list of the top 100 intellectuals. The Times of India‘s editorial advisor Gautam Adhikari explained as much in a piece a few days after a YouTube video dissecting and lambasting the piece and calling The Times of India “a banana newspaper” began circulating.

“I have been charged with creating animosity between communities for publishing a column. They want to threaten me but they also know that their case has cannot stand against me,” Nandy tells CNN-IBN.

Is a sociologist who has studied societies for decades, not entitled to his views and air them in public, even if they are completely unpalatable to the majority of the public it reaches? Is a political psychologist’s freedom to express bound by what he chooses to express, failing which the might of the state can be invoked to threaten and silence him and the media vehicle which gave him the platform?

Who was it who said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”?

***

The case against Prof. Nandy comes on the same day the police commissioner of Ahmedabad has decided to file charges of sedition against The Times of India, its (Ahmedabad Market) editor Bharat Desai, and a reporter for news reports accusing him of having had underworld connections in the past, and questioning the propriety of such an appointment vide an opinion poll.

The newspaper contends that the news reports were based on a CBI report.

But that is news, not views, and the newspaper must prove that it was serving the public interest in reporting what it did, and that it has the requisite documentation to prove that it was not making it all up. But in filing charges under sedition, not defamation, is the Narendra Modi government justly going on the offensive against the “pseudo-secular” English media?

In April this year, a $100 million lawsuit was filed by the Indian National Overseas Congress against three prominent Hindu activists for defaming Sonia Gandhi during her visit to the United States last October by taking out a provocative advertisement in the New York Times.

Congress first, BJP now, have our parties lost all sense of balance—and achieved a chilling balance of terror?

Cross-posted on churumuri

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