Archive for September, 2014

In defence of Rajdeep Sardesai, if some American Indian starts to question me on my patriotism or my right as a journalist to ask uncomfortable questions, my answer would have been pretty much the same. Pretty much, because while I would not have got into a fistfight, I might have said a lot more in lot less polite language. I don’t need anyone living outside my country pushing me around, questioning my patriotism or telling me how I should do my job.

But, I agree that it was foolish of Rajdeep to have reacted the way he did to even the most extreme provocation and more so when there were TV cameras around. I also believe one doesn’t get into a fist fight with people when you’re in their country. It’s very easy for those guys to press charges and for you to land in jail. However, if you tell an Indian, and one whose father represented India at the highest level in cricket, that he is not patriotic and to take his wife and kids to move to Pakistan, you can’t really blame the guy for his reaction. And all this just because he questioned their beloved leader’s past!

So, while I may poke fun at Rajdeep or others on twitter or Facebook because I agree, even they can get a little tiresome at times, I understand where they come from. It’s the most natural thing for a journalist to be anti-establishment because if you aren’t then you’re not being true to the profession. In fact, I am happy, unlike some of the others, he has not quietly switched sides. I know there is an editorial policy in all media houses that decides their views on every new government for the next few years. But I am appalled to see senior journalists, no doubt after some persuasion from their managements, coolly sucking up to a new government – whether this one or any other. I have a very low opinion of such people.

A good example is a well known newspaper which made its name during the Emergency for standing up to the Indira government and rode on that sentiment ever since. A couple of years ago it carried an absurd story about a certain event which looked a plant. I remember reading some very stinging rebukes against the newspaper for the ‘plant’. How quickly the mood changed!

Before some of you protest and think I am a Modi-hater, let me say that I believe, unlike a lot of my friends who can’t stand the man, that unless and until proven in a court of law, Modi is innocent. I am also one of those who believe in giving someone the benefit of doubt. I was as happy as the next guy to hear Modi speaking at the MSG. It was a brilliant speech to the Indian population there.

I also understand that every government has a honeymoon period and after 10 years of UPA rule, it will take time for the new government to undo the mess left behind. Even I was delighted that, finally, we had a non-UPA government in power. So now that Modi is here, let’s give him the chance to govern, but that does not mean we stop asking questions. Then we might as well turn PR professionals.

Post Script

Never mind how the American Gujjus and the bhakts fawn over Narendrabhai in the US, or do the garba at Madison Square Garden, or on the White House lawns, let’s be honest, this was not a State visit by an Indian prime minister. For all the talk about the ‘red carpet’, I did not see a ceremonial guard that is normally given to a visiting head of state either at the airport or at the White House. Normally the prime minister would have been given a ceremonial welcome at the White House by the President. Nothing of that sort happened. Modi fans might not want to see it that way but that’s ok, they anyway only want to see what they want to see.

Please note what the news channels are calling it – summit level talks, not summit talks. This wasn’t even like the “accidental” meeting between George Bush and Manmohan Singh at the White House. So take a reality check, people. Something tells me the Madison Square Garden event was organised by friends of Modi in the US to send a message to the US administration that they can’t afford to ignore or snub Modi anymore. His officials must have realised by now that the Americans have very subtly put them in their place. When, where and how Modi decides to return that favour to the Americans would be interesting to see. He also needs to understand he is dealing with the USA not Nepal. You don’t thumb your nose at the most powerful man in the world and expect him to forget that easily.


Pic Courtesy Hindustan Times

Pic Courtesy Hindustan Times

I think the picture of the day yesterday, horribly so, was the white tiger in the Delhi Zoo staring down a youth crouching in fear, pleading for his life. It said it all. It’s tragic that the young man had to die such a horrible death.

However, even if we treat this as an isolated case of misadventure gone horribly wrong, there is the bigger issue of the way humans behave in zoos and wildlife sanctuaries and the propensity to blame the authorities when something goes wrong – never looking at where we erred. The point is, we really can’t say what an animal will do and when. That is why it is an animal and we as humans are supposed to understand that.  Whether we visit zoos or wildlife sanctuaries we are told to stay within our limits. We are told to respect the privacy and rights of the animals because we are in their territory. Unfortunately, human beings just don’t understand the simple dictum – whether we are in the jungle or we are in a zoo. Sometimes, I think we should be in a cage and not the animals. I’ve seen people sticking their hand through the metal grill of a cage as if the animal is their distant relative they intend to shake hands with! I always wonder how many seconds it would take for a wild animal to react thinking it was being attacked and grab the hand? But then we are Indians, we learn our lessons the hard way – sometimes, not even then.

And of course, our intelligent broadcast media blames the zoo officials for not having security in place. Why don’t we just allow people to climb into the enclosures where the tiger lives along with security and then see what happens? I would understand if the tiger jumped the enclosure and attacked people. Then the question of lax security could be raised. There are signs everywhere warning us not to cross the barriers, not to throw food, not to irritate the animals etc etc, but we never follow those rules do we? Some reports say that the youth was mentally unbalanced others said he was a bhang addict. I guess we can only feel sorry for him and the way he died. One could fault the zoo authorities for not showing up on time to rescue the young man. Whether they really could have done anything to stop an enraged tiger without any tranquilizers is another issue. Some TV channels said that the fencing was too low. Too low for whom man or animal? We all know an animal will attack only if he thinks it is threatened. And it’s obvious the animal felt threatened at the sight of a human in its enclosure.

I saw the video someone sent me. It is taken a little after the youth fell in till he is dragged away by the tiger. The animal seems as surprised to see the youth in his area as the boy seems terrified. First it looks at him and then starts to paw at him, almost playfully. I can’t even imagine the terror the youth must have experienced even if the tiger was just being playful. The caretaker even calls out to the tiger by name (Vijay) and the cat looks up at the caller. It gets enraged only when the people begin shouting and throwing stones at it. It’s a tiger not a dog, who will take to its heels when that happens. Who knows, if the people on top had remained quiet, the youth might have stayed alive long enough to be rescued by the zoo officials. So who’s to blame here? And that is the real problem.

That apart, look at how we behave when we travel on jungle safaris. The forest guide tells us not to disembark from the SUV, but out we go, posing for photographs in the jungle! Funnily, I’ve sat in canters and jeeps with foreigners and I’ve never seen them break the rules. On any jungle safari, we are told time and again by the forest guards that we are intruding into their territory, so we should respect that and stay within our limits. But, no, we have to throw banana peels and bread at monkeys and rush out of the jeep or lean out to take pictures of the deer or any other wild animals in the area. Worse, when we are told to stay quiet, we just cannot keep our mouths shut. So we do the next best thing. We start whispering loudly! I am just thinking who one would have blamed when in Gir, we were charged by a whole pride of lion cubs. And these weren’t babies but pretty huge. We were sitting on our jeeps in a culvert watching the cubs playing when the two of them charged towards us snarling. Thankfully, the driver reversed in quick time. We weren’t even doing anything crazy like getting off the jeep. We were just sitting without making a sound. Would you call that stupid?

However, I’ll give you just two examples of human stupidity. The first was an incident at the Nagzira wildlife reserve a couple of years back. There was this particular watering hole being frequented by a tiger. Thrice it landed up there to drink water only to be disturbed by a horde of screaming tourists who raced towards the spot. We were a little distance away from the spot, but we were told by one of the excited guides that one adventurous young lady thought she could distract the animal so she used her flash. This enraged the tiger so much that it charged at the jeep. It was the screams of other equally frightened tourists that scared the animal away.

The second was at Pench. There was a pair of tigers snoozing in a lake down below where we were parked and as usual, the tourists were calling and hooting to draw the attention of the animals. I guess it is the Indian upbringing – If I’m paying for it it’s my ‘baap ka maal’ – that makes us what we are. After a while, one of the men, a Gujarati, turned to the forest guard in exasperation and said, “Unko hilao na” (Why don’t you shake them up). With pure disgust on his face the guard said, “unko hilaun ga, to woh hum sab ko hila denge” (If I shake them up, they will leave all of us shaking).

It’s a pity, that the youth and onlookers in the Delhi Zoo on Tuesday realised that a little too late.

Tuesday’s (September 10, 2014) edition of a Pune newspaper reports that a father was arrested for molesting his six-year-old daughter. So while (thankfully) they didn’t name the victim, they showed even more consideration by not naming the father. I wonder why. Shouldn’t they have released the name of this monster? Was it because he wasn’t a well-known personality, but just a casual labourer?

Having been a journalist for nearly 25 years, I abhor censorship of any kind when it comes to writing. I believe media should be free to report anything and everything as long as they have the facts and stay within the bounds of propriety, language, journalistic ethics without maligning, defaming or hurting anyone in the process. In other words, we practice some form of self-censorship.

However, there is a huge difference between having the freedom to report anything and everything and still maintaining some sense and sensibility. As of now, the Indian media is straining on the proverbial leash (no pun intended), but it has some way to go before that leash can be taken off. As it is, with the advent of online media and social networking sites news coverage has changed dramatically. Every time one believes they have reached the stage where they can be called responsible, the media shoot itself in the foot. Judging the way the media reported the Shweta Basu Prasad incident, I think they still have a long way to go before they can be called a truly responsible media.

I was waiting for some follow-ups from the ‘professional journalists’. However, there was pin drop silence. I waited for some more time hoping they were getting their facts. There was still nothing. There were the usual condescending, self righteous articles from some journalists. Then one of the newspapers ran an online poll on the subject with the actor’s picture, and that’s what got my goat. Under the garb of meaningful journalism, some people will do anything for a few hundred hits. And this, from the newapaper that I was proud to say I had worked for!

Whether they believed the actress’ story or not; whether she was telling the truth or not, or whether she was doing business are not the issues here. And I am not even defending the woman. Let’s face it. Many of our actors, who often wear a halo, do tend to have more skeletons in their closets than we can possibly imagine. Likewise, Shweta Basu Prasad may have been back in the news for all the wrong reasons, but to be made into a headline the way she had been, was just appalling.

What were the editors thinking when they allowed their news editors to use the name and picture of a 23 year old woman in their publications and the TV channels? Was it just for a few hundred copies and some TRPs? Did they not once consider the fact that she might have had a family somewhere who will have to live with that stigma for the rest of their lives? And if there were so concerned about the prostitution racket this woman was involved in, why was there this almost deathly silence when it came to revealing the identities of the men who were caught with the actor in the prostitution racket in Hyderabad or the kingpins of the racket? Surely, they know who these people are. Or is it because some names are too familiar and too close for comfort for them to print?

As journalists we are often asked not to disclose names of organisations or departments either, if a matter of sexual assault is to be reported. In Prasad’s case not only are we talking about the gross ethical violation in terms of publishing her biography and filmography on every story; but just in case the public’s memory needed to be jogged, newspapers and TV channels went the extra mile to release her picture without bothering to blacken out the eyes or blur the face.

Journalists are taught to exercise caution when reporting even the most insignificant case of sexual assault. For a fraternity that continues to remain cautious when mentioning the December 16 gang-rape episode, what happened when reporting on the present case? Was the fact that we were talking about a National award winning actor and not a college student that the free pass for journalistic ethics went flying out of the window? What followed was even worse. They brought out human interest stories on how the media owed her an apology, without ever offering one.

I remember an incident after the bomb blasts in New Delhi in mid-2000. Some TV channels carried the picture of a young boy who had identified one of the men who had planted the bomb. I was appalled when I saw the child’s picture. Thankfully, it was pulled out soon after. However, the next day I was even more shocked to find that a national newspaper had carried the picture of the boy. Since I happened to know someone there I asked why they had violated the child’s privacy and more importantly since he was the only eyewitness. The reply I got was, “Oh, the TV channels already broke that rule, so why blame us?”

It’s unfortunate that the media, which is quick to pounce on hapless bloggers and writers on social media platforms and threaten them with law suits for publishing something that lampoons them, is now strangely silent. Wouldn’t it be nice if one read a public apology in the newspapers addressed to the young lady and her family? Do they have the guts or the courage to do that? Or do they believe that an apology doesn’t really matter anymore since the damage is already done? Or, even more importantly, do they believe they are above the law?