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Do we need a celebrity to help us debate social causes? Or are programs like Satyameva Jayate only meant to increase TRPs?
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 and good governance. I am also the proud father of two lovely daughters. read more...
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