THE best criticism of the recent events in Mumbai concerning the Shiv Sena and MNS comes from the Nagpur-based The Hitavada (February7). “It is frustrating to see all the drama without theme,” said the paper, adding: “The whole thing is so juvenile, so much bereft of any substance, and therefore, incapable of seeing anything beyond Mumbai.” The paper had reasons to think so. The issue, as it pointed out, “has come up time and again in India’s public life not just in Mumbai, but all over the country”. In Assam, for instance. In Andhra Pradesh, where Telugu identity created a whole new political culture led by Mr NT Rama Rao. “Decades ago,” the paper continued, “a similar issue came up as a very strong reaction of the people in southern states against the imposition of Hindi”. “This has happened,” said the paper, “because free India’s political culture and leadership failed to address the issue of genuine national integration by taking the consideration beyond narrow walls that impeded our vision into the distance of future”.
The paper blamed “narrow-minded political leaders whose visions do not go beyond the tips of their noses” for not bothering about the issue coming in various other places from time to time. The paper advised ‘outsiders’ who come to Mumbai to identify themselves completely with the city and its “original culture”, so that they meet with no resistance from the locals. On their part, said the paper, the locals should understand that ‘outsiders’ need some time to become one with the city and its culture. “If this is followed to the hilt,” the paper concluded, “the political nautanki will have no value beyond cheap entertainment”.
Unfortunately nobody has ever defined what Mumbai’s ‘original culture’ is. The truth is that Mumbai in the past has absorbed every culture that has ‘invaded’ it. And that is its unique selling point. Thus, the Sri Ram Sena may look resentful, but Valentine Day has also been accepted in Mumbai as part of its culture; one suspects that the Sena has realised this because this year’s Valentine Day passed off peacefully.
The Asian Age (February 11) carried a picture of Sena activists showing mangalsutras they planned to use to “marry off” young unmarried couples sitting close together whether in parks or elsewhere. One can be sure that the couples would happily have accepted the mangalsutra fooling the Sena activists. The acceptance of Valentine Day was not achieved overnight. It has taken years to be recognised. And quite possible, it will get out of fashion in the not-so-distant future. That, too, is part of change. Nothing is constant.
One of the most heart-warming stories in recent times was the re-opening in Srinagar of a Hindu temple which had remained closed for the past 21 years. As reported by Deccan Herald (January 21) some 600 temples are still lying closed in different parts of Kashmir. SK Tickoo, president of the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS), has been quoted as saying that his organisation is in the process of re-opening them, with, obviously the support of Muslims themselves.
At the Sathu Barvershah temple several Muslims were present at its opening. One of them, Abdul Majid is quoted as saying: “Kashmir Muslims are not against Pandits and we are incomplete without them. Now even separatists are asking them to return. The Pandit organisation must initiate a direct dialogue with Muslims for the return of migrants at the earliest.” Changes don’t occur fast; sometimes one doesn’t even realise that the past is past.
Towards the end of October last year The Hitavada reported an event that was missed out by most papers. It said that the 800-year-old tradition at the famous Jagannath Temple in Puri, Orissa, of devadasis performing certain rituals was dying out because presently there were just two of them left. The temple apparently has been trying to get some new devadasis to keep alive a tradition, but hasn’t been successful. Among 36 different services (seva) in the 12th century Vishnu shrine, the rituals performed by devadasis was the only category where women were allowed to serve the Lord. Time was when the temple had “dozens” of devadasis at its command. No more. The times, they are a-changing. In another decade the GenNext surely will perplexedly ask: “What are devadasis?” One wishes that the media will report such stories of how and where Indian culture has been changing unnoticed.
India is not a static society. Fancy Indian intellectuals supporting Maoist terrorists! And yet, according to P Chidambaram, Home Minister, who was addressing the Indian Women’s Press Corps recently, one of the most difficult elements in dealing with Naxalites was the intellectual and moral support being given to them by intellectuals. Said Mr Chidambaram: “The Maoists seduced the media as they unleashed false charges in courts and pulled all strings to activate their frontal organisations, including the unsuspecting non-government organisations, to widen their circle of influence and support.” Mr Chidambaram’s charge against the intellectuals, and especially the media is serious. And yet hardly any paper, except The Hindu reported his speech. Many newspapers did not even report what the sub-committee constituted by the Press Council of India to examine the phenomenon of “paid news” has to say on the subject.
The Hindu (February 11) quoted Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, a sub-committee member, as saying: “The paid news phenomenon is not only eroding the confidence of the people in the media but is hurting and harming democracy itself.” The sub-committee apparently has expressed concern that some media organisations which are expected to set standards have themselves taken the lead in accepting money for the publication of news. Guha Thakurta has been quoted as saying: The managements against whom there is considerable circumstantial evidence are taking the moral high ground when asked about the phenomenon. Some of them apparently didn’t even care to attend to sub-committee’s meeting. The trouble is that evidence of “paid news” is hard to nail down and most reports of such activities are “circumstantial”. No names are mentioned. There is always the fear of legal action. And yet, perhaps, the time has come for an open fight. But who will take the lead? It would be hard for individuals to do so. But what about NGOs? Isn’t it their duty to fight for a good cause?