‘desileaks ideator’ Aamir nays 125 Crore for ‘satyamev jayate’

Aamir Khan’s 13-episode Satyameva Jayate which fuses together the mass appeal of celebrity with the mass reach of the TV medium to raise awareness on social issues, is already the toast of drawing rooms. But it has also sparked questions: do hi-glitz shows such as this have a lasting impact? Or could this, like other shows, end up being just another platform to peddle products? Aamir spoke to Outlook’s Namrata Joshi in Jaipur. Excerpts:

I am using entertainment to reach out. Which is not to say I am using fun and games. It’s more about underlining things with emotions. Like I did with the issue of childcare and education in a film like Taare Zameen Par. The information people get from a newspaper and magazine article doesn’t change their heart. Very few people cry on reading newspapers. I try to affect them emotionally.

Asked about charging Rs 3 crore per episode for a show on serious social issues Aamir say:

I never discuss my fee. But since you asked I am getting Rs 3.5 crore per episode. Firstly what I get is none of anyone’s business. Main apni mehnat ki kama aur khaa raha hoon. [I am earning and enjoying the benefits of my hard-work]. I am not doing anything wrong. Main izzat se, achchaa kaam karke roti kama raha hoon aur mujhe fakr hai is baat ka [I am honourably, by doing good work, earning my bread, and I am proud of it]. Secondly to clear the misconception this amount includes the cost of the episode also. The bulk of the money goes into the cost and some of the episodes may have overshot the amount. Thirdly, I have endorsements deals of about Rs 100-125 crore per year. I have stopped them for a year while the show is on. There’s no logic in the decision, it’s purely emotional. But tell me who has ever said no to Rs 100 crore for a cause?

Asked whether such shows bring about change? Or do people engage and move on, Aamir says:

 The biggest change we can bring about is in ourselves. .. Female foeticide is a crime planned in our bedrooms and we can’t have cops in the bedrooms to monitor us. ……The choice has to be yours, …Even if one girl child is saved then the show is a success. I will be on TV. I will also be on Vividh Bharati, AIR, Radio Mirchi, Star News. I will write a column in HT. With every issue I want to go wide on many platforms. It’s a deep and concentrated approach to reach out in as many different ways as possible. I hope it will make people understand an issue for a life. I hope it will have them converted for life.

Read the full Outlook interview: You’ll see all kinds of India: the India I have seen. 

Hindu investigates how the Old Lady champions the cause of BT cotton & suppressed the suicides

P. SAINATH, the rural affairs editor of The Hindu and is the author of Everybody Loves a Good Drought writes an real investigative essay Reaping gold through cotton, and newsprint on how the Old Lady Of Boribunder, Times Of India, champions the cause of crooked politicians and multinationals to promote the genetically modified BT cotton and suppress the suicides of farmers:

The same full page appeared twice in three years, the first time as news, the second time as an advertisement (in The Times Of India)

“Not a single person from the two villages has committed suicide.”

Three and a half years ago, at a time when the controversy over the use of genetically modified seeds was raging across India, a newspaper story painted a heartening picture of the technology’s success. “There are no suicides here and people are prospering on agriculture. The switchover from the conventional cotton to Bollgard or Bt Cotton here has led to a social and economic transformation in the villages [of Bhambraja and Antargaon] in the past three-four years.” (Times of India, October 31, 2008).

So heartening was this account that nine months ago, the same story was run again in the same newspaper, word for word. (Times of India (TOI), August 28, 2011). Never mind that the villagers themselves had a different story to tell.

“There have been 14 suicides in our village,” a crowd of agitated farmers in Bhambraja told shocked members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture in March this year. “Most of them after Bt came here.” The Hindu was able to verify nine that had occurred between 2003 and 2009. Activist groups count five more since then. All after 2002, the year the TOI story says farmers here switched to Bt. Prospering on agriculture? The villagers told the visibly shaken MPs: “Sir, lots of land is lying fallow. Many have lost faith in farming.” Some have shifted to soybean where “at least the losses are less.”

Over a hundred people, including landed farmers, have migrated from this ‘model farming village’ showcasing Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech’s Bt Cotton. “Many more will leave because agriculture is dying,” Suresh Ramdas Bhondre had predicted during our first visit to Bhambraja last September.

The 2008 full-page panegyric in the TOI on Monsanto’s Bt Cotton rose from the dead soon after the government failed to introduce the Biotech Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill in Parliament in August 2011. The failure to table the Bill — crucial to the future profits of the agri-biotech industry — sparked frenzied lobbying to have it brought in soon. The full-page, titled Reaping Gold through Bt Cotton on August 28 was followed by a flurry of advertisements from Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech (India) Ltd., in the TOI (and some other papers), starting the very next day. These appeared on August 29, 30, 31, September 1 and 3. The Bill finally wasn’t introduced either in the monsoon or winter session — though listed for business in both — with Parliament bogged down in other issues. Somebody did reap gold, though, with newsprint if not with Bt Cotton.

Bhambraja, touted as a model for Mahyco-Monsanto’s miracle Bt, was an obvious destination for the committee headed by veteran parliamentarian Basudeb Acharia. Another was Maregaon-Soneburdi. But the MPs struck no gold in either village. Only distress arising from the miracle’s collapse and a raft of other, government failures.

The issues (and the claims made by the TOI in its stories) have come alive yet again with the debate sparked off by the completion of 10 years of Bt cotton in India in 2012. The “Reaping Gold through Bt Cotton” that appeared on August 28 last year, presented itself as “A consumer connect initiative.” In other words, a paid-for advertisement. The bylines, however, were those of professional reporters and photographers of the Times of India. More oddly, the story-turned-ad had already appeared, word-for-word, in the Times of India, Nagpur on October 31, 2008. The repetition was noticed and ridiculed by critics. The August 28, 2011 version itself acknowledged this unedited ‘reprint’ lightly. What appeared in 2008, though, was not marked as an advertisement. What both versions do acknowledge is: “The trip to Yavatmal was arranged by Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech.”

The company refers to the 2008 feature as “a full-page news report” filed by the TOI. “The 2008 coverage was a result of the media visit and was based on the editorial discretion of the journalists involved. We only arranged transport to-and-from the fields,” a Mahyco Monsanto Biotech India spokesperson told The Hindu last week. “The 2011 report was an unedited reprint of the 2008 coverage as a marketing feature.” The 2008 “full-page news report” appeared in the Nagpur edition. The 2011 “marketing feature” appeared in multiple editions (which you can click to online under ‘special reports’) but not in Nagpur, where it would surely have caused astonishment.

So the same full-page appeared twice in three years, the first time as news, the second time as an advertisement. The first time done by the staff reporter and photographer of a newspaper. The second time exhumed by the advertising department. The first time as a story trip ‘arranged by Mahyco-Monsanto.’ The second time as an advertisement arranged by Mahyco-Monsanto. The first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

The company spokesperson claimed high standards of transparency in that “…we insisted that the publication add the source and dateline as follows: ‘This is a reprint of a story from the Times of India, Nagpur edition, October 31, 2008.’ But the spokesperson’s e-mail reply to The Hindu‘s questions is silent on the timing of the advertisements. “In 2011, we conducted a communications initiative for a limited duration aimed at raising awareness on the role of cotton seeds and plant biotechnologies in agriculture.” Though The Hindu raised the query, there is no mention of why the ads were run during the Parliament session when the BRAI Bill was to have come up, but didn’t.

But there’s more. Some of the glowing photographs accompanying the TOI coverage of the Bt miracle were not taken in Bhambraja or Antargaon, villagers allege. “This picture is not from Bhambraja, though the people in it are” says farmer Babanrao Gawande from that village.

Phantom miracle

The Times of India story had a champion educated farmer in Nandu Raut who is also an LIC agent. His earnings shot up with the Bt miracle. “I made about Rs.2 lakhs the previous year,” Nandu Raut told me last September. “About Rs.1.6 lakh came from the LIC policies I sold.” In short, he earned from selling LIC policies four times what he earned from farming. He has seven and a half acres and a four-member family.

But the TOI story has him earning “Rs.20,000 more per acre (emphasis added) due to savings in pesticide.” Since he grew cotton on four acres, that was a “saving” of Rs. 80,000 “on pesticide.” Quite a feat. As many in Bhambraja say angrily: “Show us one farmer here earning Rs.20,000 per acre at all, let alone that much more per acre.” A data sheet from a village-wide survey signed by Mr. Raut (in The Hindu‘s possession) also tells a very different story on his earnings.

The ridicule that Bhambraja and Maregaon farmers pour on the Bt ‘miracle’ gains credence from the Union Agriculture Minister’s figures. “Vidarbha produces about 1.2 quintals [cotton lint] per hectare on average,” Sharad Pawar told Parliament on December 19, 2011. That is a shockingly low figure. Twice that figure would still be low. The farmer sells his crop as raw cotton. One-hundred kg of raw cotton gives 35 kg of lint and 65 kg of cotton seed (of which up to two kg is lost in ginning). And Mr. Pawar’s figure translates to just 3.5 quintals of raw cotton per hectare. Or merely 1.4 quintals per acre. Mr. Pawar also assumed farmers were getting a high price of Rs.4,200 per quintal. He conceded that this was close to “the cost of cultivation… and that is why I think such a serious situation is developing there.” If Mr. Pawar’s figure was right, it means Nandu Raut’s gross income could not have exceeded Rs.5,900 per acre. Deduct his input costs — of which 1.5 packets of seed alone accounts for around Rs.1,400 — and he’s left with almost nothing. Yet, the TOI has him earning “Rs.20,000 more per acre.”

Asked if they stood by these extraordinary claims, the Mahyco-Monsanto spokesperson said, “We stand by the quotes of our MMB India colleague, as published in the news report.” Ironically, that single-paragraph quote, in the full-page-news story-turned-ad, makes no mention of the Rs.20,000-plus per acre earnings or any other figure. It merely speaks of Bt creating “increased income of cotton growers…” and of growth in Bt acreage. It does not mention per acre yields. And says nothing about zero suicides in the two villages. So the company carefully avoids direct endorsement of the TOI’s claims, but uses them in a marketing feature where they are the main points.

The MMB spokesperson’s position on these claims is that “the journalists spoke directly with farmers on their personal experiences during the visits, resulting in various news reports, including the farmer quotes.”

The born-again story-turned-ad also has Nandu Raut reaping yields of “about 20 quintals per acre with Bollgard II,” nearly 14 times the Agriculture Minister’s average of 1.4 quintals per acre. Mr. Pawar felt that Vidarbha’s rainfed irrigation led to low yields, as cotton needs “two to three waterings.” He was silent on why Maharashtra, ruled by an NCP-Congress alliance, promotes Bt Cotton in almost entirely rainfed regions. The Maharashtra State Seed Corporation (Mahabeej) distributes the very seeds the State’s Agriculture Commissioner found to be unsuited for rainfed regions seven years ago. Going by the TOI, Nandu is rolling in cash. Going by the Minister, he barely stays afloat.

Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech’s ad barrage the same week in 2011 drew other fire. Following a complaint, one of the ads (also appearing in another Delhi newspaper) claiming huge monetary benefits to Indian farmers landed before the Advertising Standards Council of India. ASCI “concluded that the claims made in the advertisement and cited in the complaint, were not substantiated.” The MMB spokesperson said the company “took cognizance of the points made by ASCI and revised the advertisement promptly…. ASCI has, on record, acknowledged MMB India’s modification of the advertisement…”

We met Nandu again as the Standing Committee MPs left his village in March. “If you ask me today,” he said, “I would say don’t use Bt here, in unirrigated places like this. Things are now bad.” He had not raised a word during the meeting with the MPs, saying he had arrived too late to do so.

“We have thrown away the moneylender. No one needs him anymore,” The Times of India news report-turned-ad quotes farmer Mangoo Chavan as saying. That’s in Antargaon, the other village the newspaper found to be basking in Bt-induced prosperity. A study of the 365 farm households in Bhambraja and the nearly 150 in Antargaon by the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS) shows otherwise. “Almost all farmers with bank accounts are in critical default and 60 per cent of farmers are also in debt to private moneylenders,” says VJAS chief Kishor Tiwari.

The Maharashtra government tried hard to divert the MPs away from the ‘model village’ of Bhambraja (and Maregaon) to places where the government felt in control. However, Committee Chairperson Basudeb Acharia and his colleagues stood firm. Encouraged by the MPs visit, people in both places spoke their minds and hearts. Maharashtra’s record of over 50,000 farm suicides between 1995 and 2010 is the worst in the country as the data of the National Crime Records Bureau show. And Vidarbha has long led the State in such deaths. Yet, the farmers also spoke of vast, policy-linked issues driving agrarian distress here.

None of the farmers reduced the issue of the suicides or the crisis to being only the outcome of Bt Cotton. But they punctured many myths about its miracles, costs and ‘savings.’ Some of their comments came as news to the MPs. And not as paid news or a marketing feature, either.

(Disclosure: The Hindu and The Times of India are competitors in several regions of India.)

P. Sainath can be reached at: psainath@vsnl.com.

Bengaluru: 872 females to 1k males; Is ‘satyamev jayate’ irrelevant here?

Deepti Rao writes on her blog http://www.binfikr.com: Is Satyamev Jayate Irrelevant to Karnataka?

…Both rural and urban populations of Karnataka must watch such inspiring (Satyameva Jayate‘s) television episodes. Did you know that Bangalore Rural has a glaring sex ratio of 872 females to 1,000 males? Who knows, it could be attributed to the prevalent female feticide practices in rural Bangalore!

…Kannada is the only south-Indian, regional, language that has been left out (telecasting Satyamev Jayate) . Do not blame Satyameva Jayate producers for this mishap – they dubbed the show in Kannada and Suvarna television channel was supposed to air this program starting May 6th! Shockingly, the Karnataka government, especially Karnataka Film Chambers of Commerce (KFCC) and Karnataka Television Association (KTA) prevented the Kannada-dubbed show from being aired!

Taking refuge under an old restriction imposed by the KFCC and KTA, way back in 1960, Karnataka state has banned the dubbing of movies and television serials into Kannada for decades now. The reason being that dubbing would suppress local talent and would also reduce the popularity of Kannada language.

Consequently, a majority of the not conversant population of Karnataka state (accounting for about 2 crore people) might have skipped the last episode of Satyameva Jayate because they did not understand Hindi, English, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Marathi, or Bengali languages! It is sad, is it not?

Read the full post: Is SJ irrelevant to Karnataka

Cartoonist Shankar, the legend of Indian cartooning

Keshav Shankar Pillai: The man behind ‘Ambedkar-Nehru cartoon’

The NCERT (National Council Of Educational Research And Training) school textbook cartoon of Dr BR Ambedkar  and Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru which created a furore in parliament was sketched by renowned cartoonist Keshav Shankar Pillai, popularly known as Shankar.

Shankar sketched the said cartoon in the 1950s while the Constitution of India was being framed.

Shankar (31 July 1902-26 December 1989) was  born in Kayamkulam, Kerala, considered as the father of political cartooning in India, founded the publishing house, Children’s Book Trust, in 1957.

He made number of cartoons for newspapers and magazine, in addition with his magazine, Shankar’s Weekly.

The government of India honoured him with Padma Shri in 1956, Padma Bhushan in 1966 and Padma Vibhushan in 1976. In his honour, the Government of India released two postal stamps 1991.

He is remembered for setting up Children’s Book Trust established in 1957 and Shankar’s International Dolls Museum in 1965.

Shankar’s wife name was Thankam. He had two sons and three daughters. He also published an autobiographical work, ‘Life with my Grandfather’, 1953.

Noteworthy, the said cartoon shows Ambedkar seated on a snail with ‘Constitution’ written on it and Jawaharlal Nehru, whipping the snail with crowd in the background. (courtesy: Dainik Bhaskar)

Community Radio will dry out in India

Sevanti Ninan writes in her column Talking Media (livemint.com) about the Community Radio (CR) services affected by the spectrum policy.

A spectrum story

The ministry of I&B has been holding periodic consultations to see if it can give a fillip to the spread of CR

Here is a spectrum story that does not make the headlines. No fancy lawyers arguing on behalf of top-drawer clients, no Rs. 1,000 crore sums to bandy about, no industry associations seeking meetings with cabinet ministers, or a 2G or 3G label to guarantee page 1 when a story lands on the desk. And completely without the drawing power of Aamir Khan on Star TV to compete for media mind space.

The drama is small scale: a meeting boycotted this week with the ministry of information and broadcasting (I&B) in the hope that some pressure will be exerted, a one-day no-broadcast strike by community radio stations on Wednesday in districts across the country, which will be noticed by the communities they cater to, but nobody else. Desperate consultations with each other by very small radio broadcasters catering to communities within a 5-25km radius, in scattered districts of the country.

In April, a small community radio (CR) station, run by people dedicated to the Brahma Kumaris in the hilly area of Mount Abu, got a rude jolt. Radio Madhuban 90.4 FM caters to a rural community around the town of Mount Abu. Its website has the usual pictures of happy cows and smiling people. April brought the annual licence fee invoice from the wireless planning and coordination wing (WPC) of the department of telecommunications. This is the wing which allocates spectrum and had announced in March that rates were being revised upwards from 1 April this year. The announcement had tables to help you calculate the rate for the spectrum you were using.

But until Radio Madhuban got its notice, nobody quite understood what the implications were for CR stations, which have always got concessional rates. The short-range radio spectrum for which they had paid Rs. 19,700 the previous year, would now cost Rs. 91,000 for an annual licence. That might be less than chicken feed for the Bhartis, RComs and Telenors of this world, but was bad news for a small community radio, which in any case struggles to be viable.

Why it was done is probably because spectrum rates were upped across the board after the Supreme Court’s judgement on getting higher value for natural resources. But if that is the case, it directly contradicts the 1995 judgement of the Supreme Court which says the airwaves belong to the people. Can all users of spectrum be lumped in the same category for pricing purposes? True the CR licence fee has remained unchanged since 2003, but then elsewhere in the world the trend is to bring down costs of CR to enable its spread. Some countries have a free citizen band of spectrum.

The ministry of I&B has been holding periodic consultations to see if it can give a fillip to the spread of CR. There are some 120 stations now, the majority run by universities and colleges, because that is how the policy started out in 2002. The government, always terrified of what little people might do to national security, opened up a band of very local spectrum for use by educational institutions. By 2006, they gathered courage to open it up further. But there is an impressive list of ministries who have to clear each licence. Which is why it has taken 10 years to get to 120-plus stations going operational, the majority still linked to educational institutions.

So who needs CR when we are drowning in media of all kinds, including rural direct-to-home (DTH) and cable television? Communities that need information and entertainment in local dialects in rural areas, and even on the fringe of metropolises. Communities that have learnt to create their own radio programmes. There is Gurgaon ki Awaaz and a new radio station called Radio Mewat, catering to communities outside Delhi. There is Apna Radio in Tonk, Rajasthan, Chanderi ki Awaaz in Madhya Pradesh, Radio Namaskar in Puri, and Sangham Radio, the oldest of them all, in Medak district of Andhra Pradesh. They put out local news-you-can-use and music. Do they now need to become a source of revenue for the government of India?

There is a body of CR advocates called the Community Radio Forum who make a few basic points. Is this just another way of denying access by raising the barriers to entry? In actual money terms, what the government gains from charging Rs. 91,000 each from 125 community radio stations is a pittance. The bigger non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and university radio stations might survive this fee hike, but it will be the last straw for the smaller CR ventures run by local-level NGOs. They are yet to find a sustainable revenue model for CR.

There is nothing to indicate that a body like the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India is seized of this issue. They have bigger fish to fry. And evidently, in the government of India, ministries such as I&B, rural development and communication and information technology don’t consult each other as to what their priorities are, when they make policy.

Sevanti Ninan is a media critic, author and editor of the media watch website thehoot.orgShe examines the larger issues related to the media in a fortnightly column.

SJ’s Oprah Khan earns 30 million per gig!!!

It’s not unusual to hear about stars adopting the alter ego of social crusader. In India, actor/director/ producer Aamir Khan is being applauded for calling attention to some of the country’s longstanding challenges in his new show Satyamev Jayate (Truth Alone Triumphs).

Khan’s show, which debuted Sunday after a massive promotional campaign, began by tackling one of India’s darkest secrets—the traditionally taboo subject of female foeticide.

He explored how the nation’s longstanding preference for male heirs led to the tragic practice, which still occurs today in remote villages that are poor and hard to govern. During the show, Khan interviewed several young mothers who candidly shared their painfully raw and emotional experiences.

So far, critical reception has been overwhelmingly positive. The Hindustan Times newspaper went as far as to compare him to American talk show queen Oprah Winfrey due to his mixture of social activism and intimate, personal style.

Khan used data graphs and statistics to make his case, before urging the public to support progress and change. Satyamev Jayate ended with a powerful Bollywood-style song meant to maximize emotional impact.

The show immediately became a trending topic on Twitter. Actor and social activist Shabana Azmi tweeted “Aamir Khan’s show can bring a revolution.” She added it “forces us to re-examine ourselves.”

 Actress Preity Zinta told her 1.5-million followers: “I love this effort from him and thank him as a woman!”

Khan will reportedly earn 30 million rupees, about $564,000, for each of the 13 episodes, which will air on Sunday morning—a prime slot typically reserved for soap operas in India.

Such efforts have garnered considerable attention, which can only benefit the cause, but the actor remains humble: “I can only keep the issues in front of everyone,” Khan told reporters after the show. “One person cannot improve or bring solutions to an issue.”

Female foeticide in India has led to a huge gender imbalance. According to the 2011 census data, there are just 914 girls for every 1,000 boys across India – behind the global benchmark of 952.

Oldest Indian Parliamentarian Rishang Keishing says, It was so quiet and peaceful then!

For Rishang Keishing (92), the world of Indian Parliament had opened up through the window of a train. After getting elected from Manipur in the first Lok Sabha in 1952, it took four days for him to reach Delhi. He is the oldest parliamentarian in India.

“I had to board an overcrowded train to Delhi at Katihar. The police somehow pushed me inside it through a window,” Keishing, now a Rajya Sabha member, recalls.

For the first time, the man from Bungpa Khunou village saw India beyond Assam.

“I was awestruck when I entered Parliament. I entered the Lok Sabha and saw stalwarts like Jawaharlal Nehru and Maulana Azad sitting across me. I had only seen their pictures in newspapers. I thanked God for the day,” he tells HT.

Three other MPs of 1952 Lok Sabha are alive: Resham Lal Jangade (Bilaspur constituency), Kamal Singh (Shahabad-North-West) and Kandala Subrahmanyam (Vizianagaram). But they are leading retired lives.

Keishing is politically active and his memory remains razor-sharp. He recalls his first meeting with Nehru: He spotted the Prime Minister in the Parliament corridor and called out to him. The Prime Minister turned back. Keishing asked if some emissaries of Zapu Phizo (the secessionist Naga leader) can meet him.

“No, No, No” Nehru snapped back and questioned why a handful of Naga leaders refuse to accept India’s authority. Keishing, a die-hard Indian nationalist, hit back: “Why are you shouting at me? I have just come to hear ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”

“Nehru followed me and caught me by my arm after a few minutes. He said they should first meet the home minister,” Keishing recalls.

His closest association was with Indira Gandhi. Keishing, then a minister in Manipur, came to meet her and she said, you become the chief minister.

“I said I belong to a small tribe and she replied, ‘In democracy, the size of your community doesn’t matter. What matters is the confidence of people’.”

After his first Rajya Sabha term, Keishing requested Sonia Gandhi to let him retire.

“Soniaji threw a dinner party. After dinner, I walked up to her to say goodbye. She told me, ‘you are re-nominated. Now you rush back to Imphal to file your nomination papers’.”

The biggest regret of the MP is, of course, the deteriorating standard of parliamentary practice.

“It was so quiet and peaceful. Today’s disruptions don’t help much,” Keishing says.