being brown

Posts tagged “Barkha Dutt

When Sedition became Sexy

Arundhati Roy had a case of sedition filed against her. She is a sexy woman but that didn’t make sedition sexy. It just made the government look silly. Binayak sen, though, was charged with sedition and waging war against the Indian state; he was committed to life in prison for the same and that made sedition sexy.

Victim of national paranoia

Victim of national paranoia

The equanimity with which some people are taking this horrific tale of injustice is mildly unnerving. On Barkha Dutt’s show, We the People, the ‘oh so reasonable’ Swapan Dasgupta, with his impeccable English concedes that even if Sen was guilty of sedition, the penalty is over the top. However, do not lose heart, he says. Because, as another guest points out, the Indian judiciary has a redressal system that is good enough to set wrongs right. Of course, he meant that the case will go on appeal and a higher, saner court will topple this ridiculous ruling. Little regard is given to the fact that the man will, in all probability, lose many years of his life, looking for justice in this remarkable judicial system that has mechanisms of redress. Suffice it to say, the time spent in different courts will amount to his lifetime- the sentence for life is not looking that ridiculous, is it?

Swapan goes on to say, the magistrate has just interpreted the law and there is no need to think that the Chattisgarh court is in some kind of conspiracy with the government to put Binayak Sen in prison. He is trying to remove the political context from the judgment because civil society assumes that context and that’s why it is outraged. But 10-15 minutes in to the discussion, he contradicts himself when he says that the judgment has been taken with a context in mind. The context being that some number of people, police and civilians were killed by the Maoists. Indeed the judge seems to have said something to the effect of how he would normally have been sympathetic had it not been for the larger issue of Maoism. This convenient politicizing and depoliticizing is what makes Swapan the hawk that he is.

Harsh Mander, also on the show, amply illustrates the paranoid context that really is in play in this judgment. He alludes to a POTA-type draconian law that makes the way the evidence has been assessed and evaluated or used questionable. This law is specific to the state. In the commercial break during the Big Fight programme, an ad by the Chatisgadh government was aired. It was an animation advertisement about the terror unleashed by the Naxals and how the Government of Chattisgadh itself is inclined towards ‘jeeney ka haq’ or the ‘right to life’. If it is true that the sessions court judge himself conceded that he might have been more lenient had the situation been ‘normal’, he is himself setting the paranoid tone for the context. His own argument is in line with the Government of Chattisgadh.

This paranoid response of a state, both legislative and judiciary, to an innocent man’s ( forget his service to the less privileged) is eerily reminiscent of that other witch-hunt in another ‘democratic’ country spear headed by McCarthy. And, like in that other case, it just shows the failure of the state.

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A for Ayodhya, B for Barkha

The day the Babri Masjid was demolished in Ayodhya is fairly well etched in my memory. I was about 9, and had woken up to go to school, as usual. I went up to my mother in the kitchen to take my daily dose of milk and to leisurely drink it sitting content on my father’s lap in the hall as he perused the newspaper. But not this day. My mother told me not to go anywhere near my father. She said a masjid had been demolished in Ayodhya and that my father was upset about it and that he was in a rather foul mood. She added that I should be a good girl and do my chores quietly and not make her raise her voice cause that might irk him. I think the last bit was just a ploy to make me behave just this once.

My father was, in general, a mild man. And this state of affairs was quite a novelty in our house. He seldom got angry, though when he did, about once or twice a year, we would all shudder to his bellowing voice. Moreover, his temper hardly lasted a few minutes. But whatever it was that was demolished in Ayodhya left our family with a brooding, unhappy man.

Thus began my political education, quite literally at my father’s knee. That cold winter’s day in Chennai, far away from the sight of the demolition, formed a milestone in my personal life.

Tomorow, the Allahabad High Court decides on the 60 year old title suit in the Ram janma bhoomi – Babri Masjid case. But I am not going to dwell on either the verdict or the controversy. Instead, I am going to talk about a talk show host.

Barkha Dutt, that omniscient journalist of the NDTV, had a program this Sunday on Ayodhya. We The People aired Ayodhya Verdict: Time for Closure? Now, I am not a fan of this talk show or its host. In fact, quite the contrary. But then there is such a dearth of good English talk shows in India, I scout around for one and always seem to end up on this one, not least because Barkha is a skillful wielder of the English language. More importantly, she has some interesting people, some powerful people, some people who can make a difference and some who are just plain stupid on her show and that’s good enough entertainment.

She is politically biased, but then so is every other journalist and that is not an issue. But I think her journalism itself is skewed. So below is a list of my grouses against her from just the one programme on Ayodhya

  1. Towards the beginning of her programme on the Ayodhya Verdict, she asks meaningfully, “ Will there be an appeal in the Supreme Court when the verdict is out or will this become a political issue?” She asks as if one is exclusive of the other.
  2. “The basic question is will all parties accept whatever the high court says?” No, that isn’t, even remotely, the basic question. The basic question could be one of the following, “ What kind of verdict would mean closure or justice to either party?” or “What are the implications of a certain verdict to either party?”
  3. “Is it a bad thing to put an issue like this in the judicial slow cooker?”, “ I don’t Know if anyone is in a hurry to have this matter dealt with” – both rather presumptuous observations. Obviously, there are people to which this is a matter of great significance because there wouldn’t be a much awaited verdict nor a We The People on it, otherwise!
  4. “With such reasonableness around the table, is it fair to say we have moved on”, “Good sense cannot be counted on when it comes to matters of faith”- both implying a certain polarity between rationality and faith that is definitely up for debate. And more importantly, with respect to the particular kind of response she has categorized as rational or reasonable; does it really merit that tag?
  5. “Can a court decide what archaeologists, believers, non-believers, secularists etc have not been able to decide on…can three judges decide this?” Quite obviously, not! The Court is deciding a title deal and its verdict will be within the framework of the Constitution and law of the Indian State. Of course, there was a little uproar at this, but we don’t hear the specifics of peoples objections as their mics are deactivated and we hear only Barkha plaintively screech “No honestly, that’s the question”….seriously, plaintive screeching isn’t cute.
  6. ‘Paraphrasing’ the arguments at one point she says, “…we have spoken about it the way we talk about it now. What does that tell us? Does it tell us that institutional memory fades? Does that tell us that religious polarizations have a shelf life? Or does it tell us that in a sense different things are important to us now?” The three questions give a sense that she has explored the very breadth of possibilities, when actually they all mean the same thing. She is referring to the reasonableness or rationality when she speaks about the way we talk about it now. And she says, “At what point in the lifecycle of a controversy does it run out of its own life force?” Those first three questions were set up to lead to this. Because, all of them implicitly assumed that every controversy had a lifecycle
  7. ‘Paraphrasing’ the arguments at another point she says, “The constitution is above faith and religion should be kept out of politics. All these are idealized paradigms. We live in an India that’s messy, where religion overlaps with culture to the extent that it becomes non-distinct, those lines.” Ok! Again assumptions galore. So what exactly makes religion and faith messy? Whose fault is it if your rational and reasonable law isn’t in tune with your religion and faith? The problem with creating this polarisation is that it assumes everything to do with religion and faith is irrational and not compatible with democracy or the law. Of what use is that kind of democracy or law to a people whose religion forms a major part of their identity? Admittedly, these are rather philosophical issues that are beyond the scope of this debate, but it is possible to steer clear from these issues and still have a debate on what the verdict implies.
  8. And then we come back to “Can the court adjudicate in matters of faith? Because faith after all is not a rational thing”, Poor Soli says time and again, the court is adjudicating on a title suit; he is even forced to fall back on hindi when he says, “faith ki bath kahan sey aagayi” But to no avail, Barkha labours on.

Seriously, someone needs to deactivate her microphone!