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'New India' of Hindutva needs Dalit anger and student protests

Amit Sengupta
Amit SenguptaMay 22, 2017 | 09:00

'New India' of Hindutva needs Dalit anger and student protests

If lynching in the name of the cow is the cholera of our times, there are a million mutinies simmering in the fragmented landscape of the "New India" of "achhe din".

As I write this, thousands of Dalits, students, feminists and academics have poured into Delhi's Jantar Mantar - a sea of blue spreads a canvas of mass protest in the citadel of power against the atrocities on Dalits in Saharanpur.

And even as the tyranny of mediocrity performs its relentless circus on majority of the TV channels, the Dalit upsurge is not really "breaking news" or "super exclusive", social media is celebrating this sea of oppressed humanity. This is public interest journalism at its finest.

The proverbial parallel cinema is best exemplified by the Dalit Camera, which is streaming it live "through untouchable eyes" as a logo reads so cryptically - whilst a huge poster of Babasaheb Ambedkar surveys the vast expanse of blue from the top of a tree.

The Dalit Camera had earlier done extraordinary live reporting of the long march at Una after the lynching of Dalits, whose lifetime occupation was the skinning of dead cows, by "gau rakshaks". That lynching too was celebrated live by the cow vigilantes.

New chapter in liberation

A new counter culture is thereby retaliating in the New India of one-dimensional Hindutva, where all contrary opinion is branded as "anti-national", very similar to the blasphemy campaign entrenched in Pakistan, or in the manner the Taliban treated women and children, as has been so graphically described by acclaimed author Khaled Hosseini in his novels.

Herbert Marcuse, of the Frankfurt School, who wrote the famous book of rebellion called One-Dimensional Man in 1964, anticipating the era of eclectic and spontaneous uprising which would grip Sorbonne in France and Berkeley in the US (as in Sri Lanka and India too) in the late '60s, would call this counter culture "a new essay on liberation".

Much of the counter culture in social sciences, cinema, literature and music of those times emerged from this new imagination and rebellion.

Katherine Viner, the current editor of The Guardian of London, in a lecture on "journalism in the age of open web" in October 2013, saw the parallel narrative of alternative news and opinion as "the rise of the reader".

She said: "... Pettitt says that the way we think now is reminiscent of a medieval peasant, based on gossip, rumour and conversation. 'The new world is in some ways the old world, the world before print," he says.

Dick Costolo, the CEO of Twitter, has a similar idea: "If you went back to Ancient Greece, the way that news and information was passed around was, you went to the agora after lunch in the town square. This was unfiltered, multi-directional exchange of information."

It makes me think of this line from The Cluetrain Manifesto, one of the most influential business texts of the internet age, back in 2000: "What if the real attraction of the internet is not its cutting-edge bells and whistles, its jazzy interface, or any of the advanced technology that underlies its pipes and wires? What if, instead, the attraction is an atavistic throwback to the prehistoric human fascination with telling tales?' Medieval, Greek or prehistoric: take your pick..."

Two of the most popular slogans of the Sorbonne students' uprising in May 1968 were metaphorical: "Society is a carnivorous flower", and, "Give flowers to the rebels who failed."

thjc-kalluri_052117103210.jpgThe students also argued that they are not blocking his right to free speech, but considering that he is a cog in the wheel of the repressive state apparatus. Photo: PTI

Indeed, even as the Hindutva juggernaut rolls across this land of lynch mobs, as if a hypnosis is stalking the nation, both Dalits and students in Jantar Mantar and elsewhere are resurrecting the old slogans, even while a new language of protest and emancipation is being rewritten against pro-establishment conformity and organised atrocities of the time.

Winds of protest at IIMC

You could sense this pulsating phenomena outside the gate of the Indian Institute of Mass Communication in Delhi on Saturday, even as legitimate students of the current batch, as much as former students, were banned from entering the campus.

In a non-violent and angry protest by young students of journalism, streamed live on social media, and documented extensively through text and still photographs, the students were successfully able to create an alternative narrative.

They argued thus:

First, the current Director General (DG), formerly with the RSS think-tank, Vivekananda Foundation, is openly toeing the Hindutva line and "saffronising" the institution which should stand for neutrality, objectivity and impartiality, as much as freedom of expression, in terms of the theory and praxis of journalism. News is sacred, opinion is free, as we had learnt as budding journalists. Second, they pointed out that only journalists who are RSS loyalists are invited for special lectures, and all forms of debate, dissent and counter-opinion or analysis have been effectively banned.

Third, that a yagna was being perfomed inside the campus where no religious ritual should be performed, of any religion whatsoever, because IIMC is an educational institute, and religion is private affair.

And, finally, that a notorious top cop from Chhattisgarh was being invited to speak after the yagna, who has been seriously censored by the NHRC, who has a terrible track record of human rights violations and verbal abuse, and, who has been transferred recently by the chief minister of the state due to his controversial public record in office.

The students also argued that they are not blocking his right to free speech, but considering that he is a cog in the wheel of the repressive state apparatus, and a notorious human rights violator who unleashed a reign of terror on adivasis, visiting academics and activists, including journalists, he has no business waxing eloquent on what was branded "nationalistic journalism" - as if all other forms of journalism are anti-national!

They also demanded that they should be allowed entry into the hall, and they should have the right to ask questions; besides, will the DG allow others to exercise their right to free speech in IIMC, say Bela Bhatia, Jean Dreze, or Dr Binayak Sen, or journalists who are not RSS loyalists?

The historic protest, therefore, made perfect sense, even as most of the faculty, as has been the trend on the campus, chose to look the other way.

Indeed, not only objectivity and impartiality in the teaching of journalism, but also media ethics seem to have gone for a toss in this "autonomous" institute controlled by the I&B ministry.

Clearly, the DG, once a PTI journalist who once upon a time claimed to be neutral and unbiased, seems to be celebrating a new metamorphosis, much like Kafka's famous character.

He seems to be revelling in the idea of becoming a tin-pot dictator, turning IIMC, a public institution, into a banana republic. Undoubtedly, most students don't agree, nor would any journalist worth his salt.

In this dog-eat-dog world, either the DG has found this a stepping stone to greener pastures in the Sangh Parivar kaleidoscope, or, he has effectively chosen to dump all that he has learnt as a news agency journalist.

Either way, it is bad news for the campus.

The good news, however, is that the rebels have refused to go down without a fight. In that unique sense, they are young and potential journalists who are rewriting their own version of both journalism and contemporary history.

That, surely, is a sign of hope.

Certainly, they deserve a big thank you from the society for showing us not only the cracked mirror of Hindutva fundamentalism, but also the "shining path" of meaningful and unbiased journalism.

That is why, I say, give flowers to the students and Dalits.

Last updated: May 23, 2017 | 12:06
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