We live in a time where many political commentators would probably be tongue-tied if they didn’t have the option to project George Orwell’s Animal Farm onto the present government.
For most of the mainstream media, Orwellian utterances not only describe the current political scenario but have also become an article of faith that guides their moral compass in the pursuit of non-partisan reportage.
Yet, ironically enough, it’s an oft-repeated phrase from Orwell’s seminal work, “All animals are born equal but some animals are more equal than others” that unfortunately best encapsulates their so-called equality — or lack thereof — when it comes to reporting. One such example that comes to mind is the manner in which both media and, for want of a better expression, the "shaming industry" operated during incidents such as the gruesome rapes of children in both Kathua and Mandsaur.
A protest against the Kathua lawyers agitation. Photo: Reuters
A major portion of mainstream global media positioned itself as a combatant of sexual abuse in the #MeToo era, and rightfully so. Had it not been for the media attention on the cause of #MeToo and #TimesUp, the two movements would probably have met the same fate as many earlier attempts.
Along with the media, liberals too have taken up these causes, which has ensured a certain momentum is maintained — but when it comes to India, there seems to be a different set of rules that are applied, depending on which ideology gives more traction.
Nothing exemplifies this as much as rapes being cynically politicised.
The ease with which both a considerable section of the media and celebrities, who form the outrage brigade, switch talking points in identical rape cases, where the only visible difference seems to be the religion of either the victim or the accused, reveals how the concept of consistency means nothing to so-called "liberals".
When the collective cry for a CBI enquiry in Kathua, Jammu & Kashmir, became louder, both media and celebs pooh-poohed it and also shamed those asking for the enquiry. It was felt that the state police was more than equipped to handle the investigation — in a case that took nearly three months even to come to light.
But the very same quarters that opposed a CBI enquiry in Kathua are now demanding one in Mandsaur — even though the 7-year-old victim is alive and can identify the accused arrested by the Madhya Pradesh police.
Today, be it television news, opinion pieces and other platforms, the "ready-on-cue" Rudali-esque "celeb outragers" (who might not have much expertise to comment but still do, irrespective of how skewed or wrong they may appear) lead this bandwagon to suggest that since 2014, the "right-wing" is running amok, plundering, pillaging, lynching and raping on the streets and trolling everyone on social media.
But while they seem to have an opinion on any and every subject, ranging from defence deals to policy framing areas of the government, for some reason or the other, these outragers refrain from commenting on issues pertaining to their areas of specialty.
Thus, for instance, the Bollywood brigade that shamed "Hindustan" in the Kathua case was at a deafening loss of words to express much outrage over the near-justification of the casting couch reportedly by the likes of Saroj Khan, or the rampant misogyny in their workspace, namely, films.
They chose not to shame "Hindustan" in the Mandsaur case where the perpetrators were not Hindus.
"Hindu-stan" comes into play when the accused is a Hindu, which is shameful as Hindustan is a place of all religions and this kind stigmatisation comes at the cost of the country, and additionally, shames an entire community, i.e. Hindus.
Thus, is it safe to assume that only the religion of the victim and the religion of perpetrators are instead treated as "crimes"? Or, do political leanings and/or personal gains, perhaps, act as a trigger to such outrage and selective placard-carrying moments?
Looking at how these two horrific incidents played out, there is little doubt that the arguments of such outragers defy logic. Yet, such debates, sadly enough, form a perception that does more harm than can be imagined. The placard-wielding populace made the Kathua rape worldwide news — wherein it was also raised in the UK Parliament by a Pakistani-origin peer, Lord Ahmed, a staunch critic of the Indian government, who called on the UK government to intervene in order to bring perpetrators of “human rights abuses in the region to justice”.
Sorry, but the British Empire is over. India will tackle its issues itself. Photo: Reuters
Would it be totally incorrect to then suggest that a report like the recent one by the Thomson Reuters Foundation that labeled India as a place more dangerous for women than anywhere else in the world — including war-torn Syria — is not similarly politically driven? Now that I have suggested such a thing, the chances of the media becoming indignant are quite high — but how else does one explain this deft switching, changing the narrative on otherwise similar issues?
The scoring of political points is not so deft that it misses the public eye.
As there shouldn’t be any lines drawn when it comes to discussing topics that matter to us as a nation, shouldn’t there be at least some semblance of equality on such issues?
The religion of the victim ought not to translate into antithetical narratives. Why do lines get blurred between the rhetoric of mainstream media and celeb outrages, which always tend to marry into a political agenda — hidden or otherwise? Unless it’s shaming "Hindus" and "Hindustan", which appears "liberal" and "progressive" to many, raising any specific religious identity is not considered kosher. It is actually considered to be "demonising" an entire community.
It would be pertinent to mention here that the rise in Islamic State-style beheadings in Kashmir rarely finds any mention in mainstream media. Even if it did, it will never be pegged on any religion, even though these practices are followed by known terror outfits.
To some celebrity eyes, militants look like 'rebels with a cause'. Photo: Indiatoday.in
In contrast, the perception that shaming the majority community would somewhere translate into safeguarding the minorities is an argument skewed beyond reproach. It only sows seeds of discord and disharmony and leads to communal strife.
Honest reportage that is devoid of such orchestrated attempts will, in fact, help strengthen the multicultural social fabric of India — that fabric is our true strength.