What is Arundhati Roy’s problem, “truth”?

Colin Todhunter writes in column titled ” Looking In The Mirror, Living In Denial: The Arundhati Roy Effect” in Countercurrents.org about problems with Arundhati Roy, that her critics acknowledges the fact that what she says and writes the true motives and intent underlying official policies. That, she is a Malayali/Bengali and it has always been fashionable to take an opposing view and that she is merely playing to a western media that are always looking to paint the India in a poor light.

Arundhati Roy holds up the mirror and forces people to look. Picture by Richard Avedon

Arundhati Roy’s recent 6,000 word article in India’s Outlook magazine in March contained a wide ranging critique of US foreign policy, capitalism, imperialism, globalisation, India’s industrialisation and the nation’s various internal conflicts and numerous other matters. All the things she has become noted for. Predictably, it provoked the kind of personal attacks that Roy has become accustomed to.

You either agree with Roy’s overall analysis, or at least parts of it, or you do not, and it’s always interesting to read critiques of Roy’s stance based on logical argument. Those who try to counter Roy in this way at least respect her views enough to spend time critiquing them. There are many, however, who like to leave logic aside and concentrate on Roy the person, stridently attacking her motives, psychology and personality.

What is it about Roy that elicits such bitter reactions, especially from within India and particularly in upper middle class circles? Such responses confuse personal prejudice, character assassination and sniping with critical analysis. Notwithstanding that no one can ever be right all of the time, it could well be that there is nevertheless a good deal of truth in what Roy says on various matters, and perhaps that’s the problem.

If her arguments are too black and white then show it. If she leaves little room for nuance then discuss it. If she is playing fast and loose with facts, challenge her. Instead, what we too often have are outbursts that have little to do with the issues themselves, but with Roy and what some consider her to be.

There are the accusations that say she merely plays to a western audience that buys her books, she is a self publicist or that her writings display some sort of personality deficit in terms of her constant attention seeking. While it may well be the case that there is a certain underlying misogyny inherent in some of the personal attacks, the question remains as to why do so many ordinary people in middle class households get so fired up over her.

Anti-establishment figures in all countries have always been vilified by newspapers, TV channels, politicians and opinion leaders. And ordinary folk often follow suit. Noam Chomsky experiences it in the US and journalist John Pilger has also had to bear similar establishment backed wrath in the UK. Roy is as terribly anti-India as Chomsky is as single-mindedly anti-US, so the warped line of reasoning from officialdom and its cheer leaders goes.

Most of the time, the writings of such figures delve beneath the rhetoric and propaganda to highlight the true motives and intent underlying official policies. Their arguments, however, too often become buried beneath personal criticisms and smear campaigns which set out to undermine them as people and by proxy their analyses. Why deal with uncomplicated truths that challenge officialdom when they can be brushed aside or attention can be diverted from them with abuse?

As far as Roy is concerned, the smears against her take many forms. She has writer’s block, so she seeks the limelight by jumping on the latest cause celebre. She’s not an expert – others in a given field have been working for a cause for decades and never get the column inches she gets. She is Malayali/Bengali and it has always been fashionable to take an opposing view. She is merely playing to a western media that are always looking to paint the India in a poor light.

And don’t forget that she doesn’t really understand the plight of the poor or oppressed. How could she choke on the stench of poverty or oppression with such a big silver spoon filling her mouth?

India doesn’t need Roy to tell us what we already know, does it? We don’t need such a celebrity activist with prosaic writing to tell us how to put things right? India has thousands of hands on community activists and workers who are making a real difference every day.

Such is logic of the anti-Roy brigade.

Looking at onself in the mirror can be a painful process, especially when the mirror is, like India, not as shiny as you were led to believe. Roy holds up the mirror and forces people to look. It is then that the gap between the poor and violently oppressed and the self congratulatory ‘new’ India of AC shopping malls, gated communities and all manner of conspicuous displays of luxury which the Indian upper middle classes cherish so much becomes too unbearable to accept. So what better response than denial? What better reaction than to vilify the messenger?

Could it be that Roy makes many feel too insecure? Could it possibly be that living in denial helps suppress the guilt that would gush forth if people were to acknowledge that a terrible price is being paid for an urban-chic lifestyle built on squeezing the life out of much of India via population displacement, land grabs, highly exploited labour, environmental degradation and state backed violence?

You don’t have to be living in the gutter before you are allowed to express a valid opinion on poverty or oppression. And if you have a message, it would be foolish not to use your talent to reach out to as wide an audience as possible. But maybe that’s part of the problem. For some, holding up a mirror to Indian society is bad enough, but Roy has the ability to project a realistic yet unpalatable image of India across the globe. With all their new found wealth, that’s what seems to annoy her critics most. When you strike at a raw nerve, unthinking, knee jerk reactions usually follow.

Colin Todhunter : Originally from the northwest of England, writer Colin Todhunter has spent many years in India. He has written extensively for the Deccan Herald (the Bangalore-based broadsheet), New Indian Express and Morning Star (Britain). His articles have on occasion also appeared in the Kathmandu Post, Rising Nepal, Gulf News, North East Times (India), State Times (India), Meghalaya Guardian, Indian Express and Southern Times (Africa). Various other publications have carried his work too, including the London Progressive Journal and Kisan Ki Awaaz (India’s national farmers’ magazine). A former social policy researcher, Colin has been published in the peer-reviewed journals Disability and Society and Social Research Update, and one of his articles appears in the book The A-Z of Social Research (Sage, 2003).

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Daily routine of foreign journalist in India: A guideline

Dateline India: (top) Vanessa Dougnac of Le Point at her office-in-residence. Priyanka Parashar / Mint; and veteran Mark Tully, who worked with BBC in India for 30 years. Ramesh Pathania / Mint

A foreign correspondent is a journalist who covers news for a newspaper/ radio/ TV channel/ magazine/ website/ wire service in another country. He could be stationed in a foreign country working for a media outlet in his homeland or based in the latter, working for a media outlet of another nation. One must be well qualified to become a foreign correspondent. But your growth and success depends primarily on your performance. Your qualification only helps you find the first job. Later, what matters is your work and performance. Reporting as a foreign correspondent not only involves international affairs, but it also entails local stories covered from an international perspective or with a human interest.

The appetite for news from India is expected to constantly increase in the West which will increase the number of foreign correspondents in India. Vishal Arora a journalist who writes on politics, religion and foreign affairs in south and south-east Asia lists down some guidelines to be followed and the practical schedule being followed by the foreign media correspondents in India in his article titled Faraway messenger in Hindustan Times HT Education:

Clockwork
9am: Watch/read news at the log-in service (to access the newsroom) provided by the organisation 

10am: Follow the local media  
10.30am: Talk to contacts
11am: Explore the day’s development
Noon to 5 pm: Cover the day’s news
6pm: Discuss the coverage with the editor and discuss the modalities of publication
One also goes for media briefings, mainly by the government/army authorities. Often, travel to other cities, towns or villages for stories

The payoff
You can earn Rs. 1,00,000 per month as a foreign correspondent (for which you have to spend atleast five to 10 years in the industry). After that, compensation would rise depending on your experience

Skills/TRAITS
* Curiosity – the essence of any form of journalism

* Open-minded approach where you don’t dismiss anything as futile

Getting there
After working as a journalist, for a few years, you can work your way up. There are few journalists who become foreign correspondents quite early in their careers, especially in news agencies. For that, one has to be extremely focused in one’s approach

Institutes and URLs
* Asian College of Journalism,Chennai, 

 www.asianmedia.org
* IIMC, Delhi/ Dhenkanal, 
 www.iimc.nic.in
Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi 
 www.ajkmcrc.org
   
Pros and cons 
* Relatively better paying as compared to other areas of journalism
* RYou get to explore the world
* Though it’s not a thumb rule, usually you don’t stay in one country for a long time 
* Risky job. You may be sent to areas embroiled in civil, military or political unrest

“Bangla amar Mamatamoyee”: how dare you make fun of me? arrest her!

Illustration courtesy: Satish Acharya. "How Dare" !!!

“Bangladesh is Pakistan’s neighbour.. !?!”

A professor of chemistry at the Jadhavpur University was today arrested for allegedly spreading derogatory messages against “respectable people” through the internet. “Professor Ambikesh Mohapatra has been arrested for spreading derogatory messages against respectable persons via 65 emails.

The cartoon in question has been doing the rounds in West Bengal after Mamata forced Trivedi out of the rail ministry and put Roy in his place. Apparently, the cartoon is a caricature of Satyajit Ray‘s detective masterpiece on celluloid Sonar Kella.

Over the past few weeks a section of Kolkata‘s intellectuals who campaigned for Mamata before the 2011 assembly polls, have started protesting against what they call dictatorial tendencies of her government.

Manas Paul, an ex-Time Of India journalist takes Mamata to task. He says,

She is increasingly turning out to be the worst kind of fool to have ever been voted to power…the cartoon in question was actually the dumbest of all too. It was a simple cartoon and I did not find much of pun and fun in it. Virtually nothing. There were millions more caustic ones against the politicians as well as Mamata banarjee herself too. She should know we are not in China. Ours is India. And she also should know if she wants to take on social network or a virtual world like FB she will stand nowhere.

Manas Paul: Bangladesh is Pakistan's Neighbor said didi in an international conference in WB !!!

MY TWO CENTS ON CARTOONS AND MAMATA…

Cartoons are classed as NEWS…the news that exposes social, political, economic, religious maladies, and , yes of course, of Individual’s too –reflecting shades of their varied idiosyncrasies and idiocies as well.. Cartoons are essentially reflections of what was going wrong and sought to make it political satire out of it despite not actually being politically motivated and prejudiced . Cartoon is a NEWS ( refer as to how Supreme Court took cognizance of a R K Laxman’s cartoon on special exemptions of custom duties etc for the Cricket players given in Times of India). BUT… Cartoons are also part of ‘Creative arts’ and as such reflections of finer senses and also..Satire.. that bring about the subtlety and often obscured malice that beset us in our society, as imagined by the Cartoonist..There is a difference between a photograph and a cartoon. A photograph despite being again a News is different than that of the Cartoon. Photograph, and I am talking of political ones, though often satirical and poignant with message, are the moments captured , not the moment Created in Imagination by an artist. Here lies the difference…while in most of the case Cartoons do not need ‘Captions’ to tell us what it is all about… Photographs needed -mostly- a caption. And caption can be given for a twist. It so happens that because of the comments ( not caption) given with a photograph the element of satire and fun come out. ( captions meant to tell the readers what it was in reality)…. the context and perspectives could have been different…

Just recently ‘didi’ devoted goons, ran after striking employees, followed by her ban on popular newspaper in thousands of libraries ‘Poschim Bongol’ and now her same devoted goons heckled Mohapatra for defaming their ‘respectable didi’ !!

Bangladesh is Pakistan’s neighbour.. !?!

said didi, in an internationla trade meet in Kolkata.

First newspaper, now cartoons. Can she arrest R K Laxman if he ever draws her ? Someone should tell her if one day Sankar the great Cartoonist missed to draw Nehru, the PM would call him to ask what went wrong . West Bengal had hoped for a better governance and wanted respite from 34 years of CPM rule which became a nightmare. Unfortunately, Mamata with all her idocyncracies and stupidity already proved..she was a wrong choice. Something seriously amiss.

writes Manas Paul, a ex-Times of India journalist on Mamata Banerjee’s gimmick.

Former Indian Intelligence Bureau Chief Maloy Dhar ridicules Mamata on his facebook page:

Hitler Didi’s police arrests JU professor, Kolkata for creating & circulating a cartoon of Mamata in social media. She is shaming Hitler. Earlier Trinmool goons had beaten up the professor while he was returning home. Police booked the professor for cyber crime. Where are the intelligentsia of Bengal? Where are the voices of Indian democracy? How can they alow this dictator to rule in Bengal?

Felix Pinto reacted on facebook :

A rare specimen! What a bad luck my dear Benagali brothers! Either you have CPI/CPM morons or this cranky old lady! You certainly deserved something better.

Besides, questions are raised on where the WB police stands as far as legal issues are concerned. There seems to be a serious infringement of Privacy right of the arrested prof. and his neighbour. They snooped into their e-mails and no allegations of national security threat from them had been lodged against them prior to such surveillance on their private communications. Prima Facie the police with the help hackers ( who could be policemen too) broke their wall and scooped out the contents..which is again a crime. For investigation or for tracking someone or to find what was going on police needs to follow some strict procedures ( while Intel agencies have their own ways of secret surveillance into private citizen’s internet and all other communications if so they feel required, which they regularly do on suspects and also acting on specific information, but they donot ‘arrest’ on the basis of such evidence and they do not have to answer to the court of law). But police has to stand before the court of law. In the court of law I am curious to know how police would stand by their ‘evidence’ and process of collection of the evidence in exhibit.

Portrayal Of Women By The Indian Media

Movies, or for that matter media in general, are often said to be the reflection of the society. Or at least that’s what majority of people in India consciously or unconsciously tend to believe. While it’s arguable whether the media truly reflects the society or not, there’s no doubt that media has a big sociocultural influence on the society.

The way women are shown in movies these days is hardly different than those before a decade or a few. Women have been shown to consider being an ideal homemaker as the goal of their life. Leaving few exceptions, movies of recent times have hardly shown an ‘ideal woman’ doing anything but being a housewife. Even in those movies where a woman is shown to have more decision power in hand than her husband, the wife is almost always portrayed in bad light.

A few days ago, while watching such a scene from a movie, one of my roommates actually said, ‘This is the reason why a woman should not be given power. She doesn’t know how to use it.’

As far as showing women in advertisements is concerned, things seem to have only worsened over time. In most of the advertisements, a woman is either washing clothes and/or utensils, cooking, serving food to family members or trying to make her husband feel better who’s at that time reading a newspaper or suffering from cold. A woman does all this even when she has headache or backache. These advertisements arguably encourage sexism. They reinforce the old belief that a woman is supposed to forgo her own comfort and keep on doing household chores without getting tired.

The same has remained true for the soap operas of earlier times and of recent times. While in many of these soaps, a woman has more decision power than their male counterparts, it’s very difficult to come across such families in real life. Moreover, those women who wear modern clothes and appear very confident more often than not have bad intentions than their conservative and not-so-modern counterparts.

I recently came across this: ‘The media should refrain from portraying women as commodities and sex objects.’ The media still portrays women as objects showing whom in certain way can catch the attraction of people. It’s very amusing to see a woman in advertisements for products like cement.

A women holds utmost importance in the Indian culture and household. It is the sensationalism by the media that women today are not receiving the much needed aide from their families. It is high time we portrayed women as progressive yet positive, especially in daily soaps.

Haresh:

The writer is a Mumbai based correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.