Everybody Loves A Good Cause

Posted: June 13, 2012

Those who have read ‘Everybody Loves a Good Drought’ by P Sainath will know that I have tweaked the name of his wonderful book just a little (the book is a must for every activist, especially of the armchair variety- it will give them a lot to think about).

I thought of this book when I saw that some readers of my earlier post ‘Amartya Sen To Aamir Khan’ had lambasted me for criticizing Satyamev Jayate (specifically the episode on female feticide/infanticide), or SMJ as it seems to be called these days. Reader Coomi B Singh asked me, “Why are we always so ready to criticize?”

That exactly is my point. Why are we always so ready to preach, pontificate, and point fingers? It does become easy to do all these things from a pedestal, more so if the preacher is being paid crores to make the right noises, and to shed a crocodile tear or two. I remember Aamir Khan had made a short-lived appearance in support of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, and had made a hasty exit as well, with the Supreme Court of India taking the Narmada Bachao Andolan Committee (NBAC) to task for being irresponsible on various counts.

It was on April 14, 2006, that Mr. Khan participated in the demonstrations put up by the Narmada Bachao Andolan Committee. He had then said, “As a concerned Indian citizen, I have come here to lend my support to these poor Adivasis who will lose their land and will be displaced from their homes if the height of the dam is raised”. Wags in the Gujarat bureaucracy tell me that the logistics of dam-building, rehabilitation, and the whole issue of nature vs. development had completely escaped Mr. Khan, and that he was there simply to reassert his image as an ‘evolved’ actor, without realizing the realities of life outside air-conditioning. And I agree with the wags; Mr. Khan has not been seen near the Narmada or the NBAC ever since.

I have nothing against Mr. Khan; I have everything against people (Mr. Khan included) making money by trampling over the misfortune of others, or by raising issues from a pedestal and converting them into TRPs.

Some readers of my earlier post told me that Mr. Khan’s raising of the issue of female feticide/infanticide (and later, the issues of dowry, etc) has generated a much needed debate. My only question here is why we need to debate crimes that have been rampant for centuries; the perpetrators should be identified and punished swiftly and severely. And why do we need well-heeled celebrities to tell us to debate on what happens in our own backyards?

Well, some other readers tried to tell me that maybe educated, aware people like us do not need Mr. Khan’s SMJ, but it does help to reach out to the illiterate and the rural people. I object here as well- it is ever so easy to deflect the unpleasant towards the poor, the illiterate and those who live in villages. Rinzu Rajan had rightly pointed out in her comment that the worst culprits are the urban middle class and the urban rich, or why should the sex-ratios be among the worst in some of the richest parts of big cities?

Mr. Khan or no Mr. Khan, we all are guilty of silence, of looking the other way and of being in denial. Those who need celebrity crutches to be able to debate are welcome to them; but let the media houses not use these crutches to walk over the dead bodies of unborn and little girls, brides who have been burnt and other victims of mindless violence just for TRPs.

“We act as if the hatred directed at women is something that can be dealt with by a stern talking to, as if the misogyny embedded in our culture is an unruly child rather than systematic oppression.” (From an article by Jessica Valenti in the Washington Post, February 21, 2010)

I am a former bureaucrat, and have worked a lot on gender issues, disaster management

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Comments

7 Comments


  1. The fact that everyone is discussing Aamir Khan and SMJ so much (you just need to check the number of “social awareness” FB posts and tweets to corroborate this fact!) is proof that some impact has been achieved. Crocodile tears, TRP’s, fake oohs and aahs apart, at least the success stories shown might provide some inspiration to the victims to stand up and fight against the injustice being done to them.
    In short, we’ve known about these issues for decades. Have we done anything about them? So what’s the harm if some guy (who does attract a lot of viewership, you cant deny) hosts a show (again for whatever reason) that tells you to get up and fight for what is your right. Can you ensure that you can get to every nook and corner of the country and convey this same message to the victims that are all around us?
    P.S. How many people knew about the Narmada Bachao Andolan before Aamir Khan made his appearance, or Bell Bajao before Boman Irani. 🙂

  2. For a moment, let me assume that there is no impact. Nothing changes. Even then, why should this program be criticized? If it takes that much time away from the truly vicious serials and even more irresponsible reality shows on TV, these days, that is service enough.
    Because what else do you suggest people should watch – Big Boss?

    But if you are saying that SMJ does not have as much impact, as it claims it does, well, I get it. But at least, its not a bad thing that this is running on TV?

    Then, there is this thing called public consciousness and TV does have huge influence on that. When BJP came up with the “India Shining” campaign, the voters called it bluff – which is good. But then the audacity of that campaign itself should have been questioned, right? The middle class was and is comfortable in such notions of the “powerful” India. It is good to have popular shows on the side, that say, all is not well.
    Of course, if there are negative impacts of the show, that needs to be brought out.
    So, my question to you is simple – Do you think, the show has a negative impact?

  3. Atleast, the medican profession is discussing things within their profession 🙂

    http://www.thehindu.com/health/policy-and-issues/article3520828.ece

  4. Thanks Arunima and Preethi, What I have been saying all along is that I will believe the impact a few months or a year down the line, and that why do we need such shows to bring evils such as misogyny at its worst into the realm of public debate when they’ve been happening for centuries. Do you seriously believe there will be a drop in feticide and infanticide just because of SMJ?

  5. Long comment ahead!
    Infanticide still happens. Are we saying that there has been no reduction ever? While we are disgusted that infanticide still happens, should we not acknowledge that some efforts have been made in the direction and that infanticide might have reduced, over a period.
    What might have caused that reduction?

    1. The law? From the book you quoted in one of your posts, “Spend 500 Rs now and save 50,000 for later”. Such advertisements cannot be put anymore. It is legally wrong.
    2. Campaigns – Are you saying that campaigns dont work? There are several kinds of campaign – some that is only about awareness. The thing about these campaigns is repetition. It is not about new knowledge alone. People know smoking is bad. But you keep bombarding them with more and more information about how it is bad for their lungs, how many years they lose because of smoking and so on… You repeat the same old stuff. It is similar to advertising. People say they dont get influenced by advertising. Nothing could be far from the truth. If such sub conscious influences can be used for products, why not for good causes?

    Then there are some grassroots campaigns. I have had the fortune of seeing groups of women, getting together to stop child marriages in their villages. But this group of women did go through some kind of conscious raising through an organization. They did stop some marriages.

    In this case, you would see some direct impact. But in both the cases, if you dont repeat, chances are the issue will continue. In the case of female feticide, I do think the issue is closely linked to the larger issue of gender equality like one of the critics said in the Hindu. You cannot stop feticide, without stopping dowry. But then you cant wait till you solve all the problems in the world before making someone feel guilty. So, I dont think SMJ says anything new or does anything new. But for me, this is not about anything new. It is about saying the same thing over and over again. Like an advertisement. SMJ is a new format and I am glad for the attention.
    I said all these things because you brought the topic of feticide and it is difficult for me to prove impact.
    Lets take the last episode on domestic violence. In ten minutes the program explains the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, which is was implemented as late as 2005. The impact is knowledge. How many women would have known that the legislation exists and that they can be protected by it and that law protects them from being sent out of their homes and so on. They showed a police officer who seemed to suggest his openness in helping such women. He acknowledged the patriarchy in the police force as well. But by showing a police officer, SMJ definitely tells women that they have a choice to approach the police. It is a positive pressure on the police as well. The more number of women approach them, they will be forced to respond.
    Lets talk about the episode on child sex abuse. Believe me. How many middle class parents are open to talk about it. I know of a well educated, well placed manager in an MNC who responds with “ewww” when I mention sex abuse. Aamir did shock people with the statistic that 1 in 2 children are sexually abused. I think the episode ended with a workshop to help parents communicate with their children. Knowledge is the impact.
    I put the comment about how the medical industry is talking about some issues. If SMJ could generate this debate within the medical industry, why should it be any less of an impact? After all, change can be brought only incrementally. Or some changes are brought incrementally. Why expect SMJ to be the magic wand that changes everything through one episode? I don’t expect that from SMJ.

  6. Hi Sir,I might be too young to object your viewpoint but with due respect would still like to state what i feel.
    Firstly i whole heartedly supported SMJ because i believe a big part of the population look upto filmstars & many even follow them so that way it is a plus.
    Secondly,despite of such things being rampant till date lack of publicly stating the point that “These are wrong & serious crimes” people who commit them keep doing them forever because they have nobody to fear.
    Thirdly,irrespective of the fact that any law exists on such issues,most people who commit such crimes are mostly not aware of the laws,or if they are,they dont pay heed.So creating awareness with a strong voice is important so that they think twice before repeating their mistakes.
    Lastly,speaking about generating revenue from the show,even the newspapers,magazines & newschannels generate revenue via circulation when they project such incidents in their medium.In this case at least they are contributing some part of the money to the groups working for the cause.
    According to you if we dont need such shows then we dont even need the dailies & newschannels to project such incidents.

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