'The Boy in The Bubble'

(Overview of the XIC Seminar on 'Media and Communal Violence' - 10th and 11th Jan, 2003)

“It was a slow day
And the sun was beating
On the soldiers by the side of the road
There was a bright light
A shattering of shop windows
The bomb in the baby carriage
Was wired to the radio

It's a turn-around jump shot
It's everybody jump start…
Staccato signals of constant information…
These are the days of miracle and wonder…
Don't cry.”

Living in the information era and being both current and potential members of the mass media it is essential that we be aware of the ground realities of the fields we are entering. The power vested upon us as members of this fraternity, and the right to exercise our power, must be impressed on us in conjunction with the responsibility we consequently shoulder and the judiciousness integral to the honest application of our borrowed authority. That in my opinion was broadly the purpose of the seminar ‘The Media and Communal Conflict’ conducted by our institution and in the effective realisation of that singular purpose I must give credit to the organisers for achieving a Herculean feat – provoking thought and introspection in us  ‘educated intellectuals’. That statement also roughly sums up my review of the seminar.

When I was asked to write about ‘the seminar and what I got out of it’ I complained and pointed out that giving that task to an advertising student was suicidal for all the concerned parties because we are conditioned to ‘think small’ and restrict copy. I was duly made aware that I was not the only candidate chosen for the task. Keeping this in mind, and leaving the onus of factual and honest reporting to one of my abler co-writers, I chose then to focus on the little things I learnt. My first revelation was the sheer number of students in XIC and I stand gratified now that we have finally given ourselves the opportunity to interact as a whole. I expect that this report will, as most other journalistic pieces, be subject to editorial crucifixion and so realise the risk of stating what I feel may perhaps stand the test of time among the many things I learnt in the course of the last two days – that it is possible to conduct such proceedings within a strict framework of time.

A notable feature, which pervaded through the seminar, was that all that we spoke about with regard to the horrors of communal violence was exemplified by the recent events in Gujarat which have, not exaggeratedly, been cited as being reason to put the whole human race to shame. That Teesta Setalvad is successful in shaking us enough to take seriously the passionate appeal that we “dedicate ourselves to redeem the idea of India” will be proven only by the action we take for the cause. In speaking of Godhra and the events following, I can only agree with Rajdeep Sardesai where he has written in an article last year – “Godhra was a horrific act of savagery… nothing can justify what happened in Godhra on February 27, just as nothing can justify what followed all over Gujarat over the next few days.”

It is also imperative, in light of the last question that was asked in the seminar regarding the seemingly unanimous criticism of certain sections or parties as opposed to others, that we be objective in our criticism and in doing so I must borrow again from Rajdeep where he has pointed out that “if the Congress maintained a facade of secularism in Gujarat, the BJP has completely dismantled it.” It is our duty as members of the media to be critical of any and all anti-secularist activities of the state, irrespective of personal or religious bias which, as Mr. Narasimhan Ram also made clear, has no place in the profession. In this context of objective reporting, and in answer to the same question, Father Myron J. Pereira’s comments were equally pertinent when he stressed on the importance of the words we use in such reporting, such as his case in point on the distinction between ‘Hindutva’ and ‘Hinduism’.

Another pertinent question in relation to Godhra remarked on the similarity our country today seems to share with the fascist ideology of 1930s Germany. The analogy is not one that should be made lightly, but there are admittedly many parallels. It is evident that the Gujarat attacks were not spontaneous expressions of mob rage but were highly organized and brutally efficient. Romila Thapar, whom Mr. N. Ram quoted also with respect to the definition of communalism, has expressed similar fear in his writings where he speaks of Golwalkar’s comments on the Nazis killing the Jews where he goes to the extent of saying that the Europeans have found one solution to the problem and that may be applied in the Indian case as well.

Mr. Ram, who apart from being a resolute anti-communalist is also known to be a loyal communist, commented on the misunderstanding of a broader concept in response to the referral of Marx’s statement ‘religion is the opium of the masses’ by a member of the audience. In his infrequent mentions of religion in his writings, Marx’s critique of religion is largely with regard to its expression of material realities and economic injustice. According to Marx, religion is not the disease, but merely a symptom. It is used by oppressors to make people feel better about the distress of poverty and exploitation. The Marxist society is no less religious any other - the true God being replaced by a humanistic and totalitarian idol, part of an admittedly idealistic philosophy I myself subscribe to.

In conclusion, I must revert to the integral question intrinsically left unanswered which we attempted to touch upon in the course of the seminar, when we spoke of the ethics of reporting – what is our role as individuals and members of the media?

Simone Peres spoke of this when he predicted “Once we belong to a world that makes it’s living from wisdom, there is no reason for more wars. The future resides in University Campuses rather than in military camps. The generations to come are entitled to divorcing themselves from the past and building a new future of understanding and solidarity”.  The erstwhile characteristic idealism of youth is threatened by the same predominance of materialism that is eroding the sincerity and integrity of an honourable profession and risks by implication the very redundancy of our right to freedom of expression. As members of both fraternities there is much that we must demand of ourselves. There is much that we must do to be able to look in the mirror without cringing and it is up to us to act now.