Let us face it: There are no ?social reformers? in India. In fact, one wonders whether anyone is even aware of what ?reform? is. And that is the rub. Raja Ram Mohan Roy had no problem: suttee (or sati) was an evil that had to be eradicated from society. And he had the support of Lord Bentinck, even if his contemporaries were uncomfortable with his stated purpose. He was followed by many other similar social reformers who advocated widow re-marriage, higher education for girls and raising the age of marriage to?don'tlaugh!?thirteen years! Such was the interest in social reform, especially among the middle classes, that a distinguished journalist, Kamakshi Natarajan ran a weekly called The Indian Social Reformer. It closed down sometime in the late forties of the 20th century having fulfilled its purpose. One does not remember any contemporary media asking what is meant by ?Indian culture?.
As women came to be employed and started working for long hours, no eyebrows were raised. The female dress code remained substantially the same. The sari may slowly have given place to salwar kamiz but it was accepted as part of ?progress?. In the last one decade there has been a dramatic departure in the ?cultural? scene. We hear of ?pub culture? and the right of women to have drinks in pubs till late at night, to wear shabby jeans, to smoke and to ?live in?. Unmarried young men and women share rooms in rented quarters and thumb their noses at elders. In turn this has roused anger in certain traditional quarters and the reaction has been violent. The media has been cursing the violence but downplaying what caused it. The media ?even the ?language? media?has been attacking what is called ?moral policing? with dailies like The Maharashtra Times, Lokasatta, Saamna and Lokmat joining in. Pratap Bhanu Mehta, witting in The New Indian Express (February 3) criticised the ?goons of the Rama Sena and Shiv Sena? for turning violent at what they considered ?the slightest break in what they think in propriety?. ?We have to defend the freedom of the individual with full vigour? he asserted though adding, somewhat apologetically, that ?no society can escape having a conflict over what constitutes propriety, decorum or aspirational norms?. Mehta made two points. One, that ?it is simply turning a blind eye to social reality not to acknowledge that freedom is manifesting itself often in pathological forms? and two, that ?the norms about drinking amongst the young in Delhi'selite schools will leave even the most liberal, chastened? and that ?we will need an open conversation about what new social values signify and how they can be properly embedded in society without repression and conflict?. That is well said. Mehta made the further point that ?we cannot deny the fact that there is wide-spread social resentment against what are seen as new aspirational norms? and that ?the contest is not seen as one between freedom and repression (but rather) between competing visions of what constitutes decorum and propriety.?
The question of what freedoms people have, does not answer the question what norms are and what should become ?cool?. Instead of raising valid questions, the media talked about ?Talibanisation? of society and other totally irresponsible comments making one feel like throwing up. The so-called ?pub culture? was turned into a political issue, a stick to beat the BJP or RSS with. It was cheap and vulgar journalism. When changes in social values take place slowly and gradually, resentment starts to slow down and the value changes come to be accepted even if reluctantly. When changes take place almost overnight, the reaction can be extreme to the point of violence. Changes, then have to be seen in their context. That calls for a patient but concerned media, not a media ready with its judgment. It is the latter that has poisoned the atmosphere in recent times.
The Free Press Journal (February 5) rightly pointed out ?the media should not go out on a limb to crate a false controversy? and that ?instead, it should educate people?. ?Media? it said, ?can play a positive role if it tempers its TRP obsession, to act also as teacher and educator? and warned ?not to turn a local event into a national calamity?. The hype over Slumdog Millionaire has not disappeared from the print media. Eight Oscars is no mean achievement. The whole country is swinging with ?Jay ho?. Every patriotic Indian is proud of AR Rehman and Rasul Pookutty, Gulzar and the entire Slumdog team. But there are some controversies. The Hindu (February 15) carried a sharp attack on the film from one no less than the well-known filmmaker and director K.Hariharan. As he saw it, Slumdog Millionaire ?should be considered as one of the most gratuitous fantasies to be created about India in the 21st century? ?leaving one completely anaesthetised and incapable of registering the complex layers that make up the garbage dump presented in ?SM? called India?. What the film has done, according to Hariharan, is to provide Americans confirmation of their idea of India as a poor rotting society. As he put it: ?The main problem with Slumdog Millionaire is the disease that infects the majority of Bollywood film-making. It germinates from a pitiable script, overloaded and heavily dependent on caricatures, rather than characters?. Slumdog Millionaire is so insensitive that one wants to ask what the Indian co-director, Lovleen Tandon was doing amidst all this? The film is also unabashedly gender-insensitive.?
Incidentally, Allah Rakha Rehman (A.R.Rehman), the music director of the film, was born a Hindu and his original name is A.S. Dileep Kumar. The only son of R.K. Sekhar, a composer, arranger and conductor for Malayalam films, he became an orphan when his father died when he was barely nine years old. The family ran into bad times. Then one of his three sisters fell seriously ill, and her health began to deteriorate by the day despite all medical help. In desperation the family called on a Muslim saint, Pir Sheikh Abdul Qadir. The story as recounted by the The Hitavada (January 25) is that, thanks to the Pir'sprayers and blessings the sister recovered ?miraculously?. Dilip Kumar'smother hailed from a respected Muslim family and there was no difficulty in his conversion to Islam. So Dilip Kumar became Allah Rakha Rehman. The story of his background is told by the The Hitavada (January 25) in some detail. Rehman was a school drop-out and his tryst with music began as he joined an orchestra that went round the world. That exposure to music helped him earn a scholarship and a degree in western classical music from Trinity College of Music, Oxford University. The rest, as the clich? goes, is history. And thanks to The Hitavada we have come to know a little more about our musical hero. Now he has made history.