When media ignored brutal repression

Television news almost censored the heroic action of 4,000 students from 18 States whose agenda too was anti-corruption. ARUNODAY MAJUMDER questions the rationale for this indifference towards “Young India”.
Posted/Updated Tuesday, Aug 28 16:11:41, 2012, The Hoot

Dronacharya (Editor): What do you see through the view-finder of your camera?

Arjuna (Reporter) : I see students.

Dronacharya : Do you see all of them?

Arjuna : No, I see some of them.

Dronacharya : Do you see students fighting for the rights of tribal people and workers?

Arjuna : No, I do not see them.

Dronacharya : Do you see students fighting against land-grab and corporations?

Arjuna : No, I do not see them.

Dronacharya : Do you see students marching to Parliament to raise these issues?

Arjuna : No, I do not see them.

Dronacharya : Do you see blood-soaked students dragged, booted, and lathi-charged?

Arjuna : No, I do not see them.

Dronacharya : What do you see then?

Arjuna : I see boys and girls in trendy outfits dancing to Bollywood hits.

Dronacharya : Zoom in! What do you see now?

Arjuna : I see boys and girls walking the ramp cheered by large numbers.

Dronacharya : Adjust your lens! Focus! What do you see now?

Arjuna : I see Mr. & Ms. Fresh Face 2012! Click! Click! Click! Click! Click!

Dronacharya : Excellent! You are my man.

Arjuna : Thank you sir.
On August 9, 2012, in New Delhi, more than 4,000 students from universities across 18 States were on a protest march to Parliament. They advanced under the banners of All India Students’ Association (AISA) and Revolutionary Youth Association (RYA). Their concerns were corruption--rightly addressed as an issue in which public and private entities are hand in glove, unlike their India Against Corruption (IAC) counterparts; right to equitable education; and, right to dignified employment.

The peaceful march started from Jantar Mantar at around 3 p.m. When it reached the Parliament Street, the students found the road blocked. Barricades had been set up by the Delhi Police and surprisingly by the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB). The latter on its official website restricts its role to (a) promoting sense of security among people living in border areas (b) preventing trans-border crimes and unauthorised entry into or exit from the territory of India (c) preventing smuggling and other illegal activities.

Undeterred, the students broke through two barricades. Neither was a single stone thrown nor was there any incident of arson. In short, defiance was peaceful. And yet the retaliation was brutal. Lathis and blows rained, kicking and dragging were rampant. Dozens of activists suffered severe injuries and were treated at the Ram Manohar Lohia (RML) Hospital.

A little more than a week earlier scribes and television journalists had thronged Jantar Mantar hoping to document another “Anna: 13 Days that Awakened India”. It is a separate matter that they had to be content reporting the elegy of what their astrological senses had foretold would be a revolution. Nevertheless, even during the latest episode of the Kejriwal-Anna-Bedi tango, the pens scribbled relentlessly, the still-cameras clicked furiously, the hand mike transmitted verbal diarrhoea and video cameras swayed from the top of giant cranes to cover a show that barely drew 6,000 people.

Yet, despite the presence of 4,000 students whose agenda too was corruption; despite the use of savage force against them, television news almost censored the event. Among the newspapers, The Hindu carried a descriptive piece on it the following day. Why this love for grandpa but acute indifference towards grandchildren in an often asserted “Young India”? Why this blackout of information when journalism is sparing no effort to conjure a Tehrir Square in the country?

It’s because the political economy of journalism can only afford to delude by manufacturing illusions of social change. Revolution or not, any challenge to the political economy of journalism and of business in general is detrimental to the industry. After all, no one saws the branch on which one is sitting even if it is decadent and debauched. But the students did precisely that. They challenged the myth of public corruption, so carefully weaved by private news corporations. They demanded explanation for minuscule budgetary allocation to education and insisted on dignity for workers. A little later, blood oozed in Parliament Street while coffee did from vending machines in Film City, Noida where most news stations are headquartered.

India, like many other nations, has an illustrious history of student movements-- the Young Bengal Movement of the early 19th century; widespread student participation in the freedom struggle, particularly in the last quarter of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century; the Naxalbari Movement in the late 1960s and the early 1970s; and the Nav Nirman Movement of the mid- 1970s. In most of these instances the energy of rebellion, with which students are often identified, was directed against economic exploitation with the exception of the Young Bengal Movement.

The motivation to confront and struggle, few would disagree, often came from education. The nature of such education was drastically different from what it is over the last two decades. It was more general than specialised and included the study of philosophy, be it through the humanities or the social sciences or even the sciences. Contemporary journalism may cringe at the mention of the word “philosophy” but it should realise that the institutions (example: Parliament) and the concepts (example: democracy) which earn it its muffin came into being following centuries of struggle inspired by philosophy. Anyway, education then allowed students to be educated: equipped with intellectual skills to revise and challenge and not be compulsively turned into “human resource” equipped only with the knowledge “to work hard and party harder”. The flow of funds into engineering and management and the drying up of it from the humanities and the social sciences is indicative of this.

Popular media, the cinema industry for instance, are redefining the political identity of the student and the youth. Challenge and defiance are now associated with thoughtless martyrdom (Rang de Basanti), drinking and driving (Wake Up Sid), individual enterprise (Rocket Singh), or a definite kind of free speech--cuss words (Delhi Belly). Journalism is not any different. By partnering events such as “Mr. & Ms. Fresher”, “Mr. & Ms. Perfect Smile”, “Mr. & Ms. Sexy Eyes’ and the likes; it is fundamentally changing the notion of the student as the fun-loving and hard-working individual: the docile individual who is ready to invest the self in ruthless but indirect exploitation.

Those who take pride in being in journalism may say that they extensively reported the anti-reservation agitation by students only a few years ago. The answer to that is they not only reported but supported that agitation driven by their own upper caste interest. For more, they can read the first chapter, “The Recalcitrance of Caste” in the book “Power and Contestation: India Since 1989” authored by Aditya Nigam and Nivedita Menon.

Hopefully, reading and a bit of courage will make the Arjunas tell their Dronacharyas that through the view-finder they see all students, including those thrashed and battered for supporting the tribal people and the workers as well as those flipping their hats and twirling their skirts.

(The author is a student at the Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, and a former television journalist. He can be reached at arunoday.majumder@gmail.com)


As somebody who has organised protests in Bangalore, I know how difficult it is to "get permission" to express dissent in a peaceful non-disruptive manner. When we did manage to organize the protests - we would have a healthy turn-out with a wide spectrum of participants. The media however, was typically a no-show - despite our attempts to talk to them, drop them a note, send them an email and send them an sms. How section 144 is used by the police to prevent dissent has hardly ever been discussed by the mainstream media. I hope they are able to sort out their TRP issues and corruption in TAM data and find some time to "report on" (not preach from the pulpit) how dissent has become increasingly dangerous.
-- Anand Bala
Date - Tuesday, 28 Aug 2012, 22:04:59


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