Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Notes from the Neighbourhood

On the eight day of the Tarai Bandh, wanted to share some vignettes of Kathmandu. The long, long, long queues for petrol and diesel, waiting all night long for about 3-5 litres of fuel, are ubiquitous in all parts of the city. In any other city, it would have been mayhem and a near-riot situation at the mismanagement of the situation. But here, people are patient, taking inconvenience in their stride, shaming the impatient and edgy into thinking of larger processes at play. Instead, they soak in the sun, or play cards during the long wait. The elections to the Constituent Assembly, now scheduled for April 10th, have been postponed twice – from June and November last year. This time round too, the hold of the Seven Party Alliance government is tenuous. The Madhesi movement in the Tarai has gained momentum, and the bandh has paralysed life in the Tarai, and also choked the Kathmandu Valley, the seat of power, dominated by the pahadiya, or hill people. The grievances of the Madhesis (people of plains origin) are real – in terms of under-representation in governance, discrimination in language, among others.

While the turmoil, near-crisis, on-the-brink situation of Nepal is sporadically reported in the Indian media, what is under-reported, or completely ignored, is the resilience, the hope in the future, the optimism of the woman and man on the street. The highly politicised public, well-up on news – mostly through the radio, and the several Nepali newspapers – are positive in the face of extreme personal inconvenience. Where else would people be willing to walk long distances to get to work and school, endure eight hours of power-cuts, cooking-gas scarcity, and sundry other shortages? Where else would all this be viewed as merely a small hurdle on the path to democracy? It is the mood of a young nation-in-the-making, a mood that the media in the neighbourhood fails to capture. The Indian media is also unquestioning in the dominant attitude to Nepal, treated almost like a province of India. For instance, in the recent “kidney racket”, the infamous Dr Amit Kumar was arrested by Nepali police, and “handed over” to the Indian authorities. I wonder if any sections of the Indian media questioned (like the Nepali media did), what legal process was followed, since he was not legally extradited, and whether he should not be prosecuted in Nepal for violations of certain laws in Nepal itself. It’s high time the Indian media shed some of it’s patronising attitude to the country’s neighbours.

Saffron-hued Akbar

Why all the fuss about Jodha Akbar? Why are Rajputs protesting a against a film that presents Hinduism/Rajputism, rather, as conquering a Mughal emperor? The historical inaccuracies apart (Ashutosh Gowarikar doesn’t claim to be making an episode for the History channel, after all), even what has been hyped as “just a love story”, is disturbing in its blatant Hindu promotion. Throughout, Aishwarya-Jodha-Rai-Bachchan is decked up like a mannequin from Rajasthan Emporium (and as lacking in expression), complete with bindi, red ghagras and backless cholis. She is minus kajal apparently to convey an ethereal look – but ends up looking even more vapid and blank. But what is more unreal, and troubling, is the Hindu propaganda – she makes the setting up of a puja room in Fatehpur Sikri (or wherever that set is supposed to be) a condition precedent to marrying Akbar, and does Krishna puja everyday, getting Akbar to eat prashad and do aarti. As a “special” gesture, she cooks Rajasthani vegetarian food (without onions and garlic) in the Agra Fort kitchens, and Akbar is so overcome with appreciation for dal-bati-churma and besan ki sabzi, that he orders she cooks it for him at regular intervals. When she is sulking in her maika, she agrees to return only after she is charmed by Akbar’s decision to abolish the tax on Hindu teerth-yatras/pilgrimages. This last – a result of Akbar’s forays into Agra’s bazaar disguised as a commoner, when he tries to understand the people’s problems. Apparently, the rising price of onions or dal apart, the major grievance seems to be the teerth yatra tax!

Throughout, Jodha spouts clisht Sanskritised Hindi, while Akbar talks in Hindostani. The one and only concession to mughal/Muslim culture the stubborn Jodha makes, is to learn Persian calligraphy. And there too she is one up on Akbar, who, according to the film, was not literate. Jodha is shown as a strong woman – literally too, since she is equal to Akbar in fencing – who does not compromise. But all her “conditions” and demands, revolve around religion – Hinduism. Surely, to portray Akbar’s legendary tolerance, Gowarikar could have done without having to make him submit to everything Hindu. The only reason I could endure this three and a half hour long overdose of religion, colour and sound, was to wait out the eight-hour daily power-cut in Kathmandu. If the film does well in Nepal, that will be the secret behind its “success”.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Report on N-E girls sparks anger

I am just posting a story I did about the North Eastern girls who have been wrongly portrayed in a report. Thought it might not have been read by all so I put it on the blog.

Report on N-E girls sparks anger
New Delhi, Feb. 12: People of the Northeast are angry and agitated that a media report labelled north-eastern girls as "drug peddlers" and also "sex workers".
This was also reinforced by the Delhi police, which had even earlier issued guidelines to north-eastern people on "how to behave in Delhi" which also created resentment among them.
The matter caused so much of anguish that it was taken up in the Manipur Assembly by MLA O. Joy who moved a calling attention motion on the issue last week.
The MLA was angered by the appearance of a report that made sweeping slurs on north-eastern girls, expressed his extreme concern over the biased and predatory attitude towards women from the Northeast that appears to be prevailing in the national capital.
Mr Joy reportedly pointed out that only recently, there had been a case of sexual abuse and harassment of two girls from Manipur at Gandhi Vihar in Delhi by over two dozen people.
Many north-eastern groups and organisations both in Delhi and in the Northeast have taken up the matter and have asked for an apology both from the police and the media. Northeast Indians and others have posted their views on several blog sites angered by the very poor depiction of the north-eastern girls in the report, which said that now north-eastern girls are "peddling drugs" and they also "throw in sex as a bonus for a few thousand rupees more". It also depicted Africans as "drug peddlers".
The Northeast Support Centre and Helpline has, in its statement, asked for an apology to all Indians, Indian women in particular, and to African people for depicting them poorly.
Opposing the way north-eastern girls were depicted, the sixth conference of the just-concluded National Conference of Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI), expressed deep concern over the portrayal of north-eastern girls as "drug peddlers" and "prostitutes" by a media report.
The statement said, "The report has not only shocked the people of Northeast India, but also raised serious questions about media ethics. Such irresponsible reportage will not only reinforce the already existing gap between the people of the Northeast and the rest of the country, but it will also divide the country further on the lines of ethnicity, community and sex."

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Azera Rahman gets Anupama Jayraman Memorial Award

This is to inform you all that Delhi-based journalist, Azera Rahman has been declared the winner of the Anupama Jayraman Memorial Award for Promising Young Woman Journalist for this year.
Azera, 23, employed with the Delhi branch of Indo-Asian News Service, has had an opportunity to write on human rights issues, particularly those concerned with children and women within a year of joining the global news service wire.
Mr R Shankar, Former Editor of the New Indian Express, Bangalore, who headed the jury that looked through the nominations, said Azera's stories and the topics she has chosen for being highlighted, show promise, especially the one on the plight of children in the carpet industry.
Azera will receive the award and citation on the 8th of February, at a special function at Pune to mark the annual meet of the Network of Women in Media, India.


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