Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Inherent conflicts - I

“There are two tragedies in life. One is to loose your heart’s desire. The other is to gain it"

- George Bernard Shaw

Journalism ensures that a person is subjected to both of these divergent life experiences and often at the same time. The crux of the paradox is the functioning of the institution itself, which demands compliance and rebellion in unison. A feat uncannily achieved by stalwarts of the field or as I like to call them ‘survivors’.

As I explore my own sensibilities, perceived truths and judgment about many a “facts” I feel ill-equipped to understand them. Not due to lack of initiative or interest but solely because of the mistrust in what is being disseminated as relevant information. The act of reading, with time morphs into an exercise in extreme skepticism, following which one feels even more distraught than before.

Media is a unilateral institution, a corporate enterprise in the current context. The agenda of a media company is set by the benefactors and collaborators, which is quite obvious. The advertisers, corporate compulsions, the publisher’s personal beliefs, political affiliations et al are vital to what is presented before the unassuming public. The product that is sold in media is not the medium but the ‘audience’. If you look closely at the structural organization of this entity, it is very clear who the buyers and sellers are in this trade. And the commodity, the audience is certainly at a loss, as it is completely alienated from realizing what is perceptual as against what is real.

The establishment of these co-conspirators, if I may, makes it increasingly difficult for any of the units to deviate from the determined agenda. Now this is truly the disturbing part of the profession. The institution mandates that one must conform to the values of the ‘interests’ on which it depends, else your survival is unlikely. But, the perceived success in “true reporting” is in being anti-establishment, going beyond the generic and routine. The likely clash of interests here can be verified in those numerous worthwhile stories and ideas that go uncovered as they are not within the ideals upheld by the organization.

Also, the system ensures that those who reach a point of relevance in the social order to take decisions and determine opinion of the institution have imbibed those principles that are plausible and acceptable. It acts as a filtering mechanism, where a voice of dissent against its own is castrated to a point of submission. Hence, the editors and the news makers which are considered to be the key-opinionators have reached those positions because they choose to and have eventually conformed to the system. (As ably argued by Noam Chomsky)

Herein lays my predicament, the fact that I have to internalize the values of an institution to “succeed” in the traditional sense of the word, despite it incapacitating those very instincts which make it possible to function in this field. This logically extends to the widely held belief that one can be a good journalist or a successful journalist, not both.

At this point I do not know which one I aspire to be.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Khairlangi protest - A reflection

As a protest rally is underway at Azad Maidaan today, 20 Nov, by the Dalit community to protest against the gruesome khairlangi massacre, and demand Deputy CM, R.R.Patil’s resignation, I am compelled to reflect on the recent agitation that I was a part of on Thursday. Especially when political parties are trying to derive maximum mileage out of the situation, the significance of that apolitical platform is now apparent.

On 16th Nov, under the banner of “Khairlangi Hatyakaand Virodhi Sarva Dharmiya Ekta Samiti” social activists, citizens, young professionals from diverse fields came together to condemn the Khairlangi massacre. A one day fast was observed by a courageous few disturbed by the lax and casual attitude of the authorities towards such a heinous crime.

This inter-religious, multi cultural inclusive agitation served as an apt opportunity to understand the importance of voicing one’s dissent in a society to condemn a crime against humanity. The purpose was to focus on the core issue of ensuring speedy justice for the sole survivor of the Bhotmange family, Bhaiyyalal. Also, to urge the administration to formulate long-term policies to ensure such atrocities do not take place in the future.

Although I was acutely aware about the concept of 'people' being the primary institution in a polity, capable of initiating change, the practicality of the notion eluded me. So, this premise was a little unknown and hence a novel experience.

Initial skepticism aside and driven by my derision towards such ghastly acts, I decided to be a part of this cause.My friend Behzad Mulla, a quiet fun loving Parsi employed in Merchant Navy and my designated photographer for the day, agreed to join me. It is necessary that every person must be aware of the on goings in one’s immediate society, however disconnected we may feel.

I met Ronald Rebello, a social activist who was the key motivator of the agitation, at the ground. As we were conversing about the various aspects of the issue and how we can effectively mobilize people and create awareness among them, a lot of questions crept in my mind. The most obvious one was the motivation that urged these young and talented individuals to be actively involved in social work. As the day progressed, the answer slowly but unwaveringly revealed itself.

In the FIR filed by the local police the fact that the two women were mercilessly raped is not even mentioned. The case is noted as a simple murder case, with post mortem reports aptly "cleaned" to suit vested interests. The possibility of liberal gun license policy for protection of Dalits, as suggested by certain leaders was discussed. But the probability of misuse of this freedom by trigger happy citizens and anarchist naxalities is immense for such a blanket dictum to be adopted. Also, it may lead to further marginalization of the community due to harboured mistrust.

The folk songs were one of the interesting aspects of the day, sung in harmony and one voice. A reflection of the contemporary the socio-political scenario, it was the glue that bound people gathered together, reminding them of the task ahead. Their rustic charm coupled with sharp lyrical content has an appeal which one cannot ignore. They compel you to think, look within and eventually be in unison with the rhythm that captivates your mind and spirit.

The people from different social groups and causes had converged to demand justice in this case. As the day was reached its conclusion, notably none of the major broadcasters or even main stream print reporters chose to give voice to the cause. Local and regional newspapers acknowledged the importance of the protests. The DCM and his principal Under Secretary were away, apparently dealing with the violent protests in Amaravati. So, a letter which staunchly condemned this act along with other suggestions and demands (see below) was sent to the DCM via the police present there. Also, a meeting with the DCM was scheduled at a later date for follow up.

Initially I was a bit disheartened that no major authority took cognizance of the fact that a multi-religious demonstration, a first in this case, was held. But then again as Ronald put it “In a democracy it is important that one’s voice is heard. We have made our point and will monitor the progress of the case.”

At the end of the day, we formed a circle, to take stock of what we have achieved and learnt from the day’s protest. A senior activist affirmed the necessity to adhere to “ahimsa” and not get carried away. The media and the administration, by ignoring such non-violent protests are giving credence to the notion that to receive justice or merely be heard one has to resort to jingoism and violence. To awaken the lethargic and indifferent government, the people must come together and demand answers.


The demands / suggestions made by Khairlangi Hatyakaand Virodhi Sarva Dharmiya Ekta Samiti in a official letter to the Deputy CM R.R.Patil, also the Home Minister of Maharashtra:

  1. Speedy justice to Bhaiyalal Bhotmange. The case must be moved to a fast track court.
  2. Due to a lack of witnesses in this case, the indicted persons must be subjected to a Norco-Analysis test to determine the truth.
  3. The ‘status report’ of the case, which has now been given to the CBI, must be made public.
  4. Awareness should be created about The Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989, which empowers the under privileged sections of societies and helps them fight social evils, via media platforms like radio, T.V., newspapers etc. The district officials, tehsildars, police officers and other local authorities should be educated in this context.
  5. A policy devising a concrete witness protection programme for the safety of witnesses like Surekha Bhotmange (who was brutally murdered), to avert such situations should be formulated.


Ronald Rebello ; Muskaan Shiekh ; Gorkhnath Avaadh

Rajendra Laxman Kathkar ; Archana Pale; Shoobha Sutar

Naseem Banu; Hemant Morajkar; Ganesh Sodaye

Shaheen Shiekh; Shabaana Shiekh; Maneek Prabahvati

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Solidarity rally at Azad Maidaan

At 11 am tomorrow [16 November 2006] a solidarity rally is being held at AZAD MAIDAN, CHURCHGATE, MUMBAI, in protest of the brutal massacre at Khairlangi.

It is an apolitical rally of students, social activists and professionals who refuse to be oblivious to such heinous acts.

A one day fast is being observed tomorrow at the rally by a courageous few in order to express solidarity with those who were wronged.

The perpetrators of this act must be prosecuted.

Be a part of the peace rally. Be heard.


If you do not have an idea as to what this rally is about read the previous post. Also please go through the links at the bottom [Tehelka.com, for comprehensive information] to get a fair idea of what has happened in Khairlangi.

The question that comes to mind is that a majority would have a fair idea about 'justice for Jessica' and the Priyadarshini Mattoo case. Has the media played its role in this event. Where are the candle light marches, where is the public angst?

In the same breath I would also like to add that a lot of negative connotations are being associated with the people who genuinely feel wronged and want to voice their protest. I do concede that certain elements do want to create chaos and generate political momentum out of this brutal murder. But that does not by any means should take away from the core issue here that four people were murdered in cold blood. And such acts of cowardice must be vociferously condemned.

It has been a month and a half since the incident. Two women were wronged in the most gruesome sense of the word.

"(On sept 29, 2006) By now, men allegedly from the entire village of about 150 Powar and Kalar families had collected. Some shouted to the sarpanch to allow them to sexually assault the women. They raped the women and killed all four, even as their womenfolk looked on, mute spectators to a form of justice reserved for castes lower than theirs.

Surekha and Priyanka were stripped, paraded naked, beaten black and blue with bicycle chains, axes and bullock cart pokers. They were publicly gang raped until they died. Some raped them even after that, and finally, sticks and rods were shoved into their genitals. In the meantime, Sudhir managed to contact the police from his mobile phone, but his phone had been smashed. Its pieces are now circumstantial evidence. Roshan and Sudhir were beaten up, their genitals mutilated, faces disfigured and their bodies tossed in the air, before they lay dead on the ground. Hiding behind a hut, Bhaiyyalal helplessly watched his family’s gruesome end. There was no one to call for help. Kherlanji had only two Mahar families; the rest were either perpetrators or spectators. An hour later, a village meeting was called and a diktat issued: no one was to say a word about the massacre."

Why are the women empowerment groups not speaking out against this atrocity? Are women rights only for a representable few?

Also, a competent witness protection program must be in place. The prime reason for this act was the fact that Surekha Bhotmange who dared to protect her land and voiced dissent against the upper caste hegemony was a witness in a case. The laxity in this dimension lead to her becoming an easy mob target.

Khairlangi Massacre - Justice denied

“The city police today foiled the bid by Khailangi Action Committee to stage their ‘Nagpur-Khairlangi’ protest march…over 224 people were detained…..”

Indian Express, Nov. 13, 2006

The brutal massacre of the Bhotmange family in the sleepy village of Kherlangi has exposed the deep rooted social dilemmas that we as a society have not been able to address. Vociferous protests to expedite the judicial probe and prosecute the responsible parties for this heinous crime seems to have fallen of deaf ears.

Many theories have been floated recently indicating political motives behind the recent protests, the so called 'dalit offensive', to regain lost political ground. Also there is a perception that the issue will soon be engulf by a enthusiastic apolitical but equally hyper social activism. To add insult to injury the State home minister, R.R. Patil insinuated that the violent agitations have been perpetrated by naxalites and that some leftists and naxalites were fanning the incident after a month. These allegations not only lack credibility, but threaten to trivialize the fact that a four people were murdered by a seemingly all pervasive majority.

There are many issues which need to be resolved. The government has assured that all the demands made by social organisations will be considered. But the govt. noble intentions must manifest in actual action and not just on paper. The protests against this massacre have brought to light the little faith that people have in the government machinery.

The complete details of the incident can be read at the following links:

  • Dalits like flies to feudal lords

  • Times of India:
  • Just another rape case

  • Indian Express:
  • IG probe says cops at fault