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Revisiting Jangalmahal

LETTERS

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Media Not Above Scrutiny

N
otwithstanding the protestations of the electronic media, justice Katju’s opinion of the media and journalists is not an off-the-cuff remark. Much of what he has said is just an understatement. Today, the media stands discredited in the eyes of informed viewers due to paid or sponsored news, the trials by media, non-stop coverage of highly sensitive/ explosive news, and the disappearance of any line of demarcation between news and views.

Shaping public opinion through news reporting has now degenerated into manipulation of public opinion by “views reporting”. This is mostly due to the close umbilical nexus that exists between business, politics and the media. A powerful source of mass communication like the electronic media should never be thus left unregulated. In a democracy no individual or institution, howsoever high, should be above scrutiny or regulation. Ways and means must be found to mend the situation which otherwise is likely to cause irreparable damages to the body politic of Indian democracy through distortion of reality.

Gnana Surabhi Mani

Madurai, Tamil Nadu

Distorting Reality

A
propos your editorial “Turning the Spotlight on the Media” (EPW, 12 November 2011), I would like to give an example of reporting that would vindicate either justice Katju’s low opinion of the intellectual capabilities of our journalists or your concern about the business-media nexus that distorts the reality.

John Krich is a well-known travel writer who visited Kalinga Institute of Social Science (KISS), Bhubaneswar, after nagging entreaties by a KISS official for over a year. He wrote of this visit under the title “Children of a Lesser God” in Time magazine (7 November 2011). He says in it, “I gave in – moved to accept by a mix of compassion, foolhardiness and unabashed flattery”. On the living condition of the inmates of KISS and those who praise KISS, he writes “it seemed more a comment on

december 3, 2011

the state of the world than the school budget that luminaries would line up to praise a place with conditions at best Dickensian: squalid dorms where 30-40 share a room, meals of monotonous rice and dal taken on floor”. On the self-proclaimed founder of the institute, Achyuta Samanta, he writes, “Achyuta Samanta is calm and beatific, dressed in blue jeans and sandals, seeming to accomplish everything by doing nothing”. But he mentions that his “new aim is to educate 2,00,000 adivasis by the end of this decade”. Being overwhelmed by the warm welcome and public relations exercise by Samanta, he writes, “if Samanta is half as good at teaching as he is at warm welcomes and pr [public relations] then his ever expanding legions will turn out fine”. He finds Samanta “at great pains to show his humble lifestyle in a small rented house… despite the expanding land he has acquired for his campus”.

Yet in the Orissa Plus supplement of The Statesman (11 November 2011) appears a report “Time Magazine Praises KISS” replete with phrases like “highly lauded by Time magazine of the USA” and “showered praises on the founder Dr A Samanta”.

Birendra Kumar Nayak

Bhubaneswar, Odisha

Western Savants

V
inay Lal, in his excellent review of the status of world history studies (“World History and Its Politics”, EPW, 12 November 2011) begins optimistically with advocacy, but ends pessimistically with its inefficacy.

There is undoubtedly confusion between the history of dominant empires and of extant civilisations. Taking into account the conjuncture in which studies of history were conducted, Greco-Roman and Judaic dominance prevailed, Islamic studies coming next. However, the contributions of savants such as Max Mueller, H G Wells and Arnold Toynbee cannot be underrated. There have, indeed, been more civilisations than cited by the author, such as Mali in Africa, and the Maya, Inca and Aztec in Latin America. One could suggest that the upcoming Nalanda University take up the theme suggested by Lal. The difficulty is

vol xlvI no 49

EPW
Economic & Political Weekly

LETTERS

that most of the source material will be in Sanskrit and Pali for which probably there are more scholars in the US and the west than in India and China! Furthermore, the academic culture and acumen in India is disappointing if, for instance, we consider the reaction of the Academic Council of Delhi University to A K Ramanujan’s essay on the many Ramayanas.

Nevertheless, Amartya Sen is proposed to be in charge of Nalanda University and could possibly mobilise the required resources and make the effort.

S Nanjundan

New Delhi

Revisiting Jangalmahal

Y
our editorial, “Jangalmahal: Receding Prospects of Dialogue” (EPW, 12 November 2011) is an apt narration of the state of affairs. We have arrived at the stage of writing the obituary of the dialogue initiated by the Mamata Banerjeeled government with the Maoists through interlocutors. To put it in the words of human rights activist, Sujato Bhadra, who had been leading the team of interlocutors, “The peace process has collapsed. The current situation appears bleak and it is tough to continue with our job. While the Maoists killed two Trinamool Congress workers in Purulia on Monday (14 November), the combined forces replied by taking out two Maoist cadres in an encounter the day after.”

The combined forces have planned to start long-term search operations in the rebel terrain. The person who is entrusted to lead the fight against the Maoists in Jangalmahal is Manoj Verma, former superintendent of police (SP) in Paschim Medinipur. He has come back to action as the SP of the Counter-Insurgency Force. Under Verma’s leadership many atrocities were committed on the people under the Left Front regime.

It is ironic that before coming to power Mamata Banerjee complained to the central government against Verma and demanded his removal. She once stated, “He is the source of evil and leader of Harmads. Peace will not return to Jangalmahal without his removal.” In fact, Verma was removed from his previous assignment after the Mamata-led government

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
december 3, 2011

came to power. His recent assignment as the head of counter-insurgency operations is very likely to tarnish Mamata Banerjee’s image among the ordinary people in Jangalmahal, who played a significant role in the political change in West Bengal.

After the present interlocutors expressed their intention to step down from their role, the chief minister asked the CPI(M) to rise above narrow politics and help her in her efforts to weed out the Maoists. The interesting part of the story is that in response to Mamata’s appeal, the leader of the opposition, Surjya Kanta Mishra, was quick to offer himself as a mediator “if the centre and the state – not to exclude the Maoists – agree”. This development hints at a new political equation in West Bengal.

Arup Kumar Sen

Kolkata

Gandhi vs Ambedkar

T
his refers to Sudhir Chandra’s article, “Gandhi’s Twin Fasts and the Possibility of Non-violence” (EPW, 4 June 2011). Chandra argues that the fasts ended tragically as they failed to alter the attitudes of caste Hindus towards the depressed classes. Part of the failure lay in their being religiously guided and part of it lay in Gandhi’s belief that social ills could be corrected through moral persuasion. The fasts failed to deal effectively with the pernicious system of untouchability which had become part of the Hindu psyche.

The first fast was, more or less, political in nature, although some found a subtle political agenda in the second fast too. Most people viewed the second fast as “needless dissipation of political energies and an unnecessary digression from the struggle for freedom”. Whatever little success Gandhi’s first fast achieved, Chandra writes, was not the success of non-violence. Gandhi was apprehensive of the desired change in the attitude of caste Hindus after the first fast. Therefore, he decided to fast a second time as penance or selfpurification. But the orthodox Hindus had not changed. I believe that right from the time Gandhi dithered over his support to the Vaikom Satyagraha through the

vol xlvI no 49

Round Table Conference to the first fast he had been debating within himself how to deal with this cancer of Hindu society. As Ambedkar said, Gandhi wanted to uplift the depressed classes by giving them equal rights but he still wanted to retain the caste (varna) system.

Joseph Lelyveld in his book Great Soul, Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India records a conversation Gandhi had with Indanturuttil Nambiatiri, the leader of the orthodox brahmins at the Shiva temple, Vaikom. Nambiatiri forced Gandhi to admit that untouchables are what they are because of their misdeeds in previous lives. When Gandhi parried that it did not give the high caste a right to do the punishing, Nambiatiri answered “We believe it is the ordinance of God”. Ambedkar, on the other hand, was categorical when he stated that it was not possible to break caste without annihilating the religious notion on which it was founded. In his essay, Annihilation of Caste, he was forthright in his denunciation of religious support to caste. The conference was cancelled because Ambedkar refused to expunge portions referring to the scriptural support to caste. He wrote

Caste may lead to conduct so gross as to be called man’s inhumanity to man. All the same, it must be recognised that the Hindus observe caste not because they are inhuman or wrong-headed. They observe caste because they are deeply religious….The reformers working for the removal of untouchability, including Mahatma Gandhi, do not seem to realise that the acts of the people are merely the results of their belief inculcated upon their minds by the shastras and that people will not change their conduct until they cease to believe in the sanctity of the shastras on which their conduct is founded (1979: 68).

What Ambedkar meant was that the Hindus must destroy the sacredness and divinity with which caste has been invested. Ambedkar was quick to explain that it was not a question of undermining the authority of the shastras; in fact, it was a question of undermining the authority with which caste is invested like Buddha and Nanak did. He wanted Hindus to reject the sacredness of caste. It required a radical change in the Hindus. Gandhi was not willing to go that far. S D Kapoor

Jodhpur, Rajasthan

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