Posted by: Singh Is King | Saturday, August 18, 2007

At 60, India hunts villains, avoids mirror and Sikh nation completely excluded

Image and partition is a forgotten tale

Indian Independence Day celebrations would have played out in myriad colours a few hours before this issue reaches your hands. By all available accounts, the blood and pain of dismembered Punjabis seems to have been decisively left behind as Indian media searched for its heroes and villains.

Not one of the mainstream Indian dailies even referred to the fact that a brave nation of Sikhs went through hell and more and was separated from its beloved Sri Nankana Sahib and other gurughars. Not one news channel even broached the subject that every single day, and several times in a day, every Sikh wants to be reunited with its heritage and legacy left behind due to short-sighted policies and ambitions of small men in the years leading to the August 15, 1947 Partition.

Never has history witnessed so much of blood and shared pain going waste amidst corporate din and crafty politics.

When the WSN team planned a Special Report on the State of the Media in India as it marks 60th anniversary of its Independence (see page 15), it had no idea that a leading English language weekly magazine will rush to vindicate that decision. Outlook magazine, zeal overflowing in presenting the new India, drew up a list of villains and bunged in Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and someone it named “The faceless terrorist” alongwith the likes of Nathu Ram Godse etc.

How seriously should one take this list is clear from the fact that while recounting the difficulties of life in Kashmir for the common people in another story in the same issue, it thought the long queue at the airport is a major problem for the valley residents. Such is the worldview of journalists sitting in Delhi’s cozy magazine offices.

A few years back, it was none other than the Outlook which had a sketch of a donkey on the cover and a story called “Dumbing Down of the Media” to go with it. It might as well have put the Outlook’s thinking brains on the cover of that issue, or perhaps it did.

No serious contemplation of the national or international problems was undertaken before declaring that the unnamed terrorist is a villain and “His existence is symptomatic of India’s hopes gone awry.” Yes, but how? Did Outlook even try to understand what it takes to tie some RDX around your stomach and blow yourself up at a time when the only punishment that the Indian justice dispensing system can think of is capital punishment? In times of Jihad, capital punishment is a temptation. Beant Singh was killed because the Indian state was apathetic to a Chief Minister and a DGP letting loose a regime of fake encounters, and the Centre was actively backing that. You can call Dilawar Singh a terrorist, and hang Jagtar Singh Hawara and Balwant Singh, but the history’s verdiict is still awaited. The little kids in the streets of Gaza throwing but only a small stone at the marauding tanks are the kind of terrorists such thinking is nurturing.

Sant Bhindranwale refused to participate in the politics of falsehood, and with his steadfast stance, exposed not only the Indian establishment’s hollowness but also the falsehoods of some fellow Akalis. Since when has Outlook carried a dispassionate analysis to reach the conclusion that he ordered killings of Hindus? But then its editor Vinod Mehta can’t be blamed in times when world powers went with open eyes to look for WMDs in regions where their best sleuths told them none existed. Oh, by the way, was that Mr Mehta’s sketch on the cover about dumbing down of media?

Outlook’s real face is becoming increasingly visible in recent times. It did a story sometime back saying more than 80 per cent of Sikh youth are getting their hair cut, a clear lie. Then, while painting the Sant as a hero, it says the Sant wanted to reform Sikhs who “had taken to drugs and clipping their beards.” We did not know it was such a villainous aspiration. But this is exactly what Indian establishment had a problem with. A rennaisance among the Sikhs would have been a real problem for New Delhi, and agents of the establishment would paint anyone a villain. Mr Mehta, every son born to a Sikh woman is a ‘Bhujangi’, so there you have all the villains. How many photos can you publish in your magazine? Do look up what ‘Bhujangi’ means in any dictionary, and you won’t be able to get a good night’s sleep.

And if you would just check how many posters of the Sant are sold at every religious fair in Punjab, the Outlook might as well plan its next issue in new light.

Of the 500 plus districts in India, more than 200 are directly affected by naxalite violence, violence at the roots of which is poverty, discrimination, stupid development policies, a stubboorn refusal to understand that other ways of life and living style exist, officialdom’s apathy, and Indian state’s decision that everything can be handled by its security forces. In the north, Kashmir has been in ferment for so long that no Urdu poetry about the Dal Lake brings joy anymore. The north-east has been smouldering for decades. In India’s west, entire swathes of Gujarat and Maharastra are swamped in either rank communalism or parochialism while media focusses on the colour of Sanjay Dutt’s shirt. The combined Indian opposition and sections of the ruling UPA are accusing the Congress of flouting the will of the Parliament and surrendering the sovereignty of the country.

Every single protest is handled now by the police, paramilitary and army. Fake encounters are not stopping. Police custody deaths have stopped making it to front pages. Hundreds of thousands are dying simply because they want to cross rivers in rickety boats; hundreds die because buses roll over into khuds regularly. Millions sleep on hungry stomachs when grain godowns are bursting at the seams. Official India does not hear the cries. It is dumb and deaf and blind but not helpless. New Delhi talks of cell phone density when farmers commit suicide. Landless labourers are unable to understand why every inch of India’s visible skyline suddenly supports huge hoardings asking everyone to buy foreign brands, wear Gucci shoes, sport Channel bags, and ad lib.

This Independence Day, India’s Jana Gana Mana on myriad TV channels was paid for by Airtel, a cellular provider company. The state has turned on against its citizens so that a few can have a good life, the state has obliterated the concept of human rights, the state has given up the idea of welfare state, the state has turned into an oppressor. Official India has taken a side, and it is not in favour of the millions of oppressed, poor, deprived, and discriminated against. If we do have an outlook, any Outlook would have identified it as the villain. Some years ago, at least sections of the media used to do that, but then Delhi’s cozy offices and nice evenings among the Indian power elite do change a magazine man. Some times he looks like the sketch on its cover. 

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