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Sunday, March 21, 2010

'Very serious' issues

A young man was chatting with me and mentioned how terrorism, he thinks, is a 'very serious' problem facing India. I fell a-musing about this... how the mass media decide which issues will be uppermost on people's minds, and which will permanently stay in obscurity. A few hundred people killed yearly by terrorists is a 'very serious' issue; several hundred thousand killed or crippled by reckless or drunk drivers is not! IPL cheerleaders are an item, good teachers and doctors who work quietly, day and night, for the common good are not. A new BMW model introduced in the country is hot news, millions permanently malnourished is not. More shopping malls is development, more people who can spell correctly (with or without college degrees) is not. Millionaire footballers are heroes, highly-decorated soldiers are not (be honest - how many Param Veer Chakra winners can you name?)

Funny country, India.

Or is it like that with all humankind, more or less?

22 comments:

Shilpi said...

Suvro da - I have wondered and wondered about this too...and it's not just celebrities that are created by the media but it's this aspect of 'news' and what is a problem, and what can be brushed under the carpet.

Some days ago, I heard a big racket about how scientists are talking about "creating sustainable life on the moon'....not a bad idea. No, indeed. Quite noble, one might say. But it might not be a bad idea to talk about why there doesn't seem to be enough food to go around on Earth, or why the food that's there doesn't go around, and what might promote sustainability on Earth. Unless of course they're planning to ship off humans to the moon...

There were some people who piped up with somewhat saner commentary in the midst of the 'terrorism' madness saying exactly what you've mentioned. That there are more people who die every year in car crashes and malnutrition. But it's not proper to talk about such things....

I read in a rather interesting book that when 'child sex abuse' had become something of a national mania in the United States through the 70s - among many of the other things that happened - at an international conference, an Indian scientist from the Calcutta Medical School of Tropical medicine had tried to talk about the 'malnutritioned' child. But nobody was interested in that.

India is a funnier country than most possibly...I can't help but be reminded of that mass delusion that gripped so-called sane human beings - of Ganesha drinking milk - that was in no small measure promoted by the media. Good grief.

I'd better end my comment here for the time being...it's already become longer than your post, I think.
Take care.
Shilpi

Ankit ( Sameer_c28@yahoo.com) said...

Sir,

I completely agree with you that swanky cars and launch of new gizmos is 'breaking news' today as compared to tales of Paramvir Chakra recepient or a story of starvation and hunger which is so common across corners of the country. I guess it has more to do with the shifting priorities of middle class, who have become increasingly self-centered. And end of day, they drive the TRPs... So a new Nokia of a Apple phone becomes more important than a national event affecting lives of millions..
However I guess this is prevalent everywhere , maybe in a diluted form in developed countries.. Even in Europe a insignifant Carla Bruni act gets more publicity than thousands losing job in lock-outs or a CERN reactor going live.. Maybe its slightly different in US where a football(rugby game) still does not get more popular than a health care debate..
One of the reasons of this heightened level of insanity might be to do with the pace of rate-of-change in living styles compared to now and 90s. It has been so fast and furious that this has not yet given people a chance to come out of illusions and ostentations. It will, maybe, after India middle class faces a credit crisis for disproportionate spending on non-essential items.. Maybe that is 20 years down the line.

However, may I beg to differ that terrosim is not as serious a problem as compared to "drunken driving" just because statistically the latter has claimed more victims. I think, the statistic is not that is all important, but more which has greater disruptive potential to peace and stability of the nation. You can have stringent laws on 'drunken driving' and a honest implementation of the same will curb it to a good extent.. But which law can u enact to curb terrorism? The organised and networked terrorism poses a threat to the countries of the world in a manner no event ever did( not even the cold war)after the two world wars. So, allow me to disagree, if you may please, but I view terrorism as the most serious challenge facing our country at this time..

A partial answer might lie in middle class getting more cognizant of the needs of the country, shedding the self -centered attitude and 'giving back' what is due to our motherland..

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thanks for commenting, Ankit.

Of course you can differ with me on any point: it's a free country, and besides, I welcome debate. All I ask from commentators is that they read my posts carefully, and buttress their opinions with solid facts and arguments. In this context, allow me to point out that

a) Nowhere did I say that terrorism is not a serious issue, I was only reflecting upon the relative importance that the public ascribes to different issues;
b) My question rests - would terrorism have been considered a serious issue in a country that faces so many other dire problems if the media had not fuelled the excitement and the well-fed middle class with lots of leisure time in their hands had lapped it up (I have found from direct experience that the very poor are either in sympathy with many kinds of terrorists or completely unbothered about them!);
c) It is easy to say that stringent laws can remove a serious problem - why don't those laws get passed (or, as is more the case with India, not implemented)? It is facile to put all the blame on 'corrupt' politicians and bureaucrats...;
d) You ask 'what law can you (not 'u') enact to curb terrorism?' Just as one possible suggestion, consider passing a law making it a Fundamental Right of every citizen to be provided a minimum decent living (I am talking of universal social security, such as you have in Scandinavian countries. Notice that there is no terrorist threat in those countries at all. At the same time, billionaires are forced to pay the highest taxes in the world before they can buy their luxury villas and private jets...);
e) The worst kind of terrorism is state terrorism - the kind that prevailed for a short while in Nazi Germany, for a very long time in Soviet Russia, in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, currently in China (ask the Tibetans and Uighurs about it), in Myanmar for the last twenty odd years, and in many other places around the world. Both in terms of power wielded and the scale of harm done, the worst excesses of the private terrorists you have in mind, whether it is the Maoists in India or the Lashkar e Toiba, pale into insignificance in comparison.

Now these are opinions based on a very close reading of contemporary history. I could cite a thousand books, documents and movies to support them if you are interested. Think about it.

devdas said...

Hello Suvro-da,

http://www.esnips.com/doc/fb7db8bb-4225-42a0-91cc-9560a463ba47/Kazi-Sabysachi---Udbastu-(Achintya-Kumar-Sengupta)

The above link is a poem which I read and listen quite often, since my school days and which illustrates the bengali word "udbastu"---illegal immigrants to ALL those who have deviated from their ideals and promises.

The poem also traces back to history and probably some answers are "blowing in the wind"....

Hope you and others may like it,

best regards
debasish das.

ginger candy said...

Sir,

I am in absolute agreement with what you have written. Terrorist attacks, as deadly as they are, are hardly a match for the slew of other malice that affect India to a far larger extent. Poverty, illiteracy, inflation, lack of medical care, improper road and sewerage conditions- these factors deserve much more attention of the Indian government and media. However, I suspect nothing catches this generation's fancy more than some evil they themselves can fall prey to. In that respect, terrorism has been a great class leveler; although, it has had a more profound impact on the upper and middle class than elsewhere. The poor, by and large, have never even heard of Lashkar-e-Taiba.On the other hand, the threat of terrorist attacks looms largely on airports, shopping malls, movie theaters and places where the urban population visit frequently. Isn't it but natural that the middle-class population shall cry themselves hoarse over the terrorism issue even when matters of greater prominence lie deeply neglected?

Come on Sir, both you and I know that an overwhelming portion of the educated Indians do not give a damn about these greater issues. Only when the terror of death lurks in the most unsuspecting of places do they wake up and start crying foul. Not that the terrorist threat is a trivial issue- it requires immediate and strict actions. The media, which caters to the upper and middle class in the most unabashed sycophantic fashion, shall do its best to assert that terrorist threats are the most serious issues in India. Skanks like Headley will get more coverage even when 16 million tons of food grains rot in the open in Punjab, that too in a market already blinded by inflation. What's more worse is that the bulk of supposedly educated people will play along, assigning more credit to this over-hyped buffoonery.

Such a sad state of affairs we find ourselves in!

Thanks,
Joydeep

Navin said...

Dear Sir,

What we find important is also a reflection of the insecurities and complexes we have as a society. Also I think the whole of humankind is very accurately reflected in a small sample of people. However What is bad about india is that I cannot name even a few journalists in the television media, who are worth listening to and are people of the highest caliber and ability. There is no one who regularly manufactures public sensitivity for core issues. I think we fare a little better on politicians but that is no where near what our society needs or deserves. It is quite sad indeed that the Television/print media covers the pathetic situations of the slums much more when a movie like slumdog millionaire is a hit in the West, and forget about it once the fever is gone.

Navin

Navin said...

Dear Sir,

I would also like to point out that in the macroscopic viewpoint of Indians, they agree with you. Terrorism didn't help BJP win much ground in the Last general elections. Development issues
have been a priority in the minds of
"most" indians, especially in the last
2 elections. Hopefully the media will catch up with them.

Navin

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thanks for the reminder in that last bit, Navin. It is an incontrovertible fact. I hope all my readers will take note...

Archishman Sarkar said...

Sir,

Not hardly surprising. Well, my neighborhood consist of about twenty five of such people.

The "Most Serious" Issues of my next door neighbor are as follows.

#1. " My house maid is on an undeclared leave!!"

#2: She bought a saree of Rs 1200 where as her friend bought it for Rs 1970!

#3: Her 'headache' medicine is not quite working properly (most serious issue). And she has not failed to convey this to the whole of the township!

#4: (Nearly collapsing)Her son got 0.87654% less than her next door neighbor in the annual school examination.

Well, I can give a vivid description of almost up to #50. India's Issues come way back at # 100 something. At least this young man comments on "terrorism".


Regards.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

I couldn't agree more with you, Archishman. The 'average' citizen never thinks at all of anything outside her immediate material sphere. Which is one reason, I believe, that the value of democracy is over-hyped...

Navin said...

Hi archisman,
I would like to point out though, that the "average" indian doesn't have enough to be worrying about things you have mentioned. We middle/upper class people often make the mistake of thinking, we very accurately represent india, whereas that is not clearly the case. An average indian is only worrying about putting food on the table.

Navin

devdas said...

Hello Suvro-da and friends,
a few films which have dealt with these issues of day to day life and have forced us to ponder outside the immediate material sphere (borrowing your phrase) are "Bhuvon Shome" (direction: Mrinal Sen) and "Pyasaa" (Direction: Guru Dutt). Such films are indeed rare but sometimes such words generate a shudder "yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaye to kya hai?!#...."
best regards,
debasish das.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Two wonderful movies, Debashis. I won't say they don't make movies like that any more, but it is certainly a fact that the audience for that kind movie has dwindled. We are much 'smarter' these days, you see...!

devdas said...

Hello Suvro-da,

not very long ago there was a review in "desh" magazine where I found the phrase "modhyo-medhar maja-jug", (pseudo-intellectual effect) and probably that is what you "may" have meant by apparent "smartness", I guess?

Its upto us how we want to see our community and country to grow. There is a famous line which I want to quote here from Kavi Kazi Nazrul's poem :
"Hai re bharat hai, joubon tahar dasotto koritheche ottit jorar.... joragrosto buddhijibi briddho chorotgob dekhai golito pocha mansher chakurir mogo..."

( Alas O Bharat where I see young generation slave of old thoughts...and old pseudo-intellectual vultures (chorotgob) have lured them to rotton flesh called "jobs"...)

More than 50 years have passed. Do you think something can be more true than this?

Will like to have you and others' opinion as well.

best regards,
debasish das.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thanks for writing in again, Debashis. I fear, though, that very few are interested in joining and carrying on this discussion.

Vaishnavi said...

Dear Sir,

It is to do with the mind-set of people isn't it? Somewhere along the line people have fallen pray to mind-numbing, bone crunching consumerism and living life the small way, in the sense, they restrict their lives and consequently their minds only to what immediately surrounds them and what they see on the news. Admiring a new car or a sportsman or anything for that matter might all be fine but what is the use if that is all you do?? How do people not realize the bigger things? More importantly, even if they do how do they (we) find it so hard to stay that way? Sometimes, I can feel a excess of restlessness in me because I find upon some reflection that I haven't really done all that I should, or be all that I should be. Which is okay, life is a learning process and I will be the first person to say that I do get excited about a new car or a sportsman or other such things, but it has to be tempered with prudence and common sense, the growth of the soul does not come through these things, the realization HAS to be followed by action. Big or small of course is relative, I sometimes genuinely feel that if I find the media playing up a terror situation somewhere and shows footage of people holding candles for that one accursed day, I shall scream. Because it is ultimately useless, the media loves to exploit and we people love to ride forever on the wave of some collective emotion and so it goes on and on...

Regards,
Vaishnavi

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Vaishnavi, I should hazard the guess (not a facile guess actually, but a conviction born of a lifetime's sad experience) that, feel-good stories in the media notwithstanding, our parents and teachers (especially at the junior school level, where all the really serious schooling happens for 99% of the population) have for a very long time not been telling children that there are higher things to aim for than marks and money and social prestige, greater things to learn than physics and math, grander things to worship than fancy machines and celebrity tycoons: and even if they have paid lip service to some such ideals, they have given the lie to those ideals by the way they have lived. And the children have watched, learnt the right (!!) lessons, and become warped and sick, empty and aimless adults. The Upanishads said long, long ago (and it was a favourite quote of Tagore's) that men may greatly prosper in a worldly way and yet come to grief by losing their souls. I have heard an echo in the teachings of Jesus, Nanak, Muhammad, and other sages too numerous to mention. But today, drunk with living for the moment and measuring ourselves by the things that we buy and consume, we have convinced ourselves that we need no longer care for the wisdom of the ages...

Archishman Sarkar said...

Hello Navin,

Sorry that I could not reply to your discussion in time. I totally agree with you Navin,that "average" people in India have only and JUST one thing to worry about that is FOOD. Very correct. But, you missed the words in my post "my neighbor",. My comment was totally based on my observation of the 25 housewives and DSP-ians of my street. I never went into the larger and more important part of the society.

And my point of the comment was that these middle class people should see this (Hunger) as a much more important and serious issue than the percentage his/her son(s) are getting at school. And believe me Navin, I haven't exaggerated a single line!

Believe me, I have been to various parts of India, from the poorest to the richest part of the country..have traveled by AC first class as well as the general class and even the vendor's only section! And I totally agree with you that "Average" people is only worrying to put the food on the table ( I doubt if the average people we are talking about has a table, most likely to put the food on the floor). This is why I respect these people much much more than my neighbors!

Funny country, India!

Sincerely,
With Regards,
Archishman Sarkar

sanjukta said...

Dear Sir,
All things that you have pointed out are very serious issues. Many people are not aware of them because these issues do not form the news headlines (not to say many do not care about reading newspapers!) Terrorism is of course an important issue.
But diseases like malaria kill more people than terrorist activities. Many people in our country die due to the lack of primary medical assistance. Poverty and corruption are the ultimate roots of terrorism. Corruption starts from our homes and extends as far as the parliament. Poverty and hunger kill thousands of people every year.
We ‘innocent people’ are also responsible for all the terrorist activities. Terrorism is related to all those issues that Sir has pointed out. To stop terrorism we will have to check all these problems. This is not easy but this is the only way out to all our problems.
With respect from,
Sanjukta Saha.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

You are right, Sanjukta: Indians have all kinds of wrong priorities. And the most important reason is that the most privileged sections have managed to insulate themselves, both physically and morally, from the least. So they don't have to care. Only, they get insanely angry when that insularity is occasionally threatened, as recently by armed rebel insurgencies in various parts of India. You can sometimes see the same kind of fury in the papers if and when the government proposes to hike fees in medical and engineering colleges, or to raise the price of petrol or cooking gas...

Zaara Naseem said...

Dear Mr Chatterjee,
I happened to chance upon your blog and read some articles and some posts in response to the same;very humbly I would request to be allowed to share some of my concerns/dilemmas with you and your readers.Well one very interesting thing I observed was that while in daily and even official parlance the ubiquitous pronoun for "all humanity" the "representative" of the nation or of the state is "he" - starting from Aristotle - in my anonymous friend Archisman's comment it was 'she' - guess while criticising general humanity/the mass/mankind the woman comes in to stand as the representative/placeholder!Of course he later clarifies that his ethnographic sample consisted of 25 women...but was wondering if 25 women are enough to conclude meta truths about the attitude of the people living within the confines of the Indian nation-state.Was amused and thought of sharing this....Dear Mr Chatterjee, I completely agree with you (though that would hardly make any difference) about overstating certain incidents - but was confused if we at all can prioritize 'afflictions'/'tragedies' beyond a point. Perhaps (as Sanjukta rightly points out) the time to identify the root,the need to think beyond state-sponsored and guided discourses has come...to even question the socio-political structure that locates us.[Sorry for having intruded!...thank you too].

Suvro Chatterjee said...

You are welcome, Ms. Naseem. I regard as intruders only ill-mannered people (regardless of gender) who have nothing to say but are very eager to say it.

However, I am afraid I cannot take responsibility for the comments of others - though I do indeed refuse to publish comments which are vapid as well as needlessly vulgar - and while I am not entirely in agreement with Archishman's views (I generally use s/he myself, both in praise as well as in scorn, unless it is a specific gender I want to criticise), I must say that, the rare exception apart, I have not lived 47 years to develop a very high regard for womankind, alas: and that is based upon long encounters with literally thousands of female individuals. I do not lightly generalize (you are welcome to read a post titled 'A girl who admired her teacher' along with all the comments therein). I also wish you could meet the mothers of most (and that's not just a few) of my pupils...

All that said, I shall be glad to talk with any comment writer who has intelligent things to say, no matter whether it's a she or a he.

Before I end, I must point out that my post in this instance was not about gender-related issues at all!