Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. What is happening in India is a new historical awakening... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Media and the politics of pub culture

By M.V. Kamath

The post-Independence generation which mostly runs the Congress party and most of the media today may not know much about the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi, often described as Father of the Nation and whose portrait adores our currency notes. The Mahatma was totally opposed to the consumption of liquor and Prohibition was a major item ¬¬on the agenda of the Indian National Congress.

The Post-Independence Generation may not be aware of it, but in the early thirties, picketing of toddy and other liquor shops by Congress volunteers was part of the struggle for Independence. Congress volunteers would picket toddy shops only to be brutally beaten by police constables, when all that the volunteers would be doing was to ask toddy consumers to give up their habit for their own good and the welfare of their families. For years Congress-governed states had Prohibition as part of state policy. It therefore comes as an uncomfortable surprise that Congressmen support not only the contemporary pub cultures but all that is indecently associated with it—and one does not have to specify them.

Against this background it is a daily insult to the Father of the Nation to defend pub culture in the name of Human Rights and Civil Liberties. The best thing that a pusillanimous UPA government can do, in the circumstances, is to remove the Mahatma Gandhi’s portrait from the currency notes, so that he is saved from daily insults. So much has been made of the attack on a pub in Mangalore for strictly political reasons both by an obliging print and broadcast media that one wonders what has gone wrong with both. A paid media has been going all-out to denigrate a group of people for assaulting a pub, ignoring what the pub culture itself has done to wound their sensibilities. So-called ‘modernists’ whose wonky sense of Civil Liberties transgresses all forms of decency and decorum have been demanding punishment of the assaulters.

Admittedly, all is fair in love and war, but if a hired media thinks it can get away by splashing high-sounding women’s rights in the face of hurt traditionalist communities, it has another guess coming. The Mangalore pub incident is symptomatic not of Talibanism, but a clash of culture. On the one hand, we have so-called “modernists” who equate modernism with freedom to break established patterns of social behaviour and we have traditionalists who have high respect for womanhood and find it hard to accept what is going on within their own cultural domain in pubs till late at night. This is not an exercise of Human Rights. It is a denigration of values, the exercise of which, considering the influence of ‘modernists’ over the media, the traditionalists find it hard to fight without resort to violence.

One is ashamed of sections of the media which loudly support pub culture and all attendant vices. One still has to face the fact that there is a lot of cultural churning going on in the country of which few are aware. This has nothing to do with politics, though parties like the Congress may wish to politicise events such as the Mangalore pub incident which is symbolic of changing values. The pub issue is not the only one in the country illustrating a society under pressure. The country has yet to come to terms with the caste system as became evident in Rajasthan. In Mumbai, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena has been demanding exclusivity in employment strictly to locals (Marathi manoos) going to the extent of beating up ‘outsiders’, which is an anamoly.

Within the limits of India, one state cannot object to people from another state settling or finding employment therein. It is an Indian citizen’s right to settle down wherever he pleases in the country. It can’t be denied to him. When that right is openly challenged it is time for not just the government but for all citizens to wake up. The country, as of now, seems unaware of the kind of damage that goons of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena are wreaking on the country, its unity and its essential oneness. The media has very little to say. These developments are symptomatic of a disease that has been affecting minor political parties anxious to capture public attention by their criminal behaviour under the excuse that they are defending the ‘interests’ of so-called ‘locals’. Such anti-national activities are generally taken little notice of.

The media seems scared. It has its own concepts of what should be condemned and what should be ignored. Of late, one has been noticing a significant change in its functioning. Instead of sticking to its traditional role of informing and perchance educating the public, the media—especially the television media—has been indulging in rampant propaganda in favour of one or other party, in the process making truth a casuality. It is not only sickening but it is an assault on our sensibilities. As late as March7, 2006, the Hon’ble Mr Justice G N Ray, chairman of the Press Council of India had made a fervent appeal to the media to show exemplary restraint in its reporting. The Council then had advised the media not to allow itself to be used by divisive forces to create tension in the country and distrust among the communities.

The Council specially warned the electronic media to eschew the repeated telecast of distressing footage available with it—a warning (or a request) answered more in its rejection than in its implementation. In its advisory capacity, the Press Council had provided the government its views on misuse of right to freedom of speech and expression by the electronic media, and in its report, noted that there was no doubt “that the electronic media needed a regulatory”. It certainly does.

There has been some talk in past weeks of a Broadcast Bill but the government is hesitant to introduce it, least it invites strong opposition from the media. Television channels cannot be permitted to slander governments or traditionalist societies at their sweet will and pleasure as some have been doing on the Mangalore pub issue, nor should they be allowed to sensationalise events to get mileage out of them. Profound sociological changes invite resistance from traditionalists.

In such situations what is called for is meaningful dialogue between the so-called ‘modernists’ and the alleged traditionalists. Media pontification in such situations becomes counter-productive. Wisdom is not the monopoly of the media which is frequently given to assume airs of superiority that only calls for resentment. What we have in recent months been witnessing is cultural gangrene which needs to be attended to. By it reckless behaviour, the media has disqualified itself. This country needs social reformers, not pompous lecturers on how shifting core values should be addressed.

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