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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Media: India’s most relevant & excellent bilingual national journal from Kerala scribes

Media, a bilingual monthly journal of Kerala Press Academy, in it’s May issue has published some impressive, enlightening, interesting, most relevant,  and outstanding & excellent articles on Media, a media person’s flashback, film journalism in India, a feature on ‘Hum Log’ the first family soap on Indian Television, Book Reviews and lot more.

It is probably one of the most ‘content rich’ publication in present times, and affordable price wise too with an annual subscription of only Rs. 1000.. sorry 😦  , Rs. 100 only. Can you imagine a “priceless” magazine @Rs. 10/- per month !!!

A bilingual monthly journal of the Kerala Press Academy Media, was released recently by CPI(M) ideologue P. Govinda Pillai. Pillai released the journal by handing over a copy to Kerala Sahitya Akademi president Perumbadavam Sreedharan. Kerala Press Academy chairman N.P. Rajendran is the Editor of the magazine..

Some of the highlights of the features published in the May 2012 issue of MEDIA are as follows:

Media and credibility – T J S George: 
I personally have no doubt that in the end, India will come out of its present phase of corruption and emerge as a healthy and prosperous nation. Journalism will re-discover its destiny as a noble public service. The present may be bad, but the future will be good. We have to know the weaknesses of today, in order to build up the strengths of tomorrow. It is in that spirit that I examine the loss of credibility of today’s media…. Because the Times of India began making more profits than any other media group in the country, the ideas of Times of India found acceptance among other media owners. That explains why we no longer have Chintamanis and Pothan Josephs and Chalapathi Raus. What we have today is news as entertainment – journalistic variations of Vidya Balan playing Dirty Picture…… Corporate lobbyist Nira Radia’s telephone conversations revealed some frightening facts – how cabinet appointments and policy decisions could be manipulated by fixers in Delhi. Among these fixers, to our surprise, were stars of journalism. How can journalism have credibility if even its famous practitioners are doing underhand business in private?

This is the transcript of a speech by TJS. TJS is a veteran senior journalist and one of the best known columnists in India. He is currently the Editorial Advisor of The New Indian Express. TJS’ E-Mail: tjsoffice@newindianexpress.com

From Grub Street to grab street: A veteran journalist looks back at his life – P. P. Balachandran
“I am perhaps the only one or among the very few journalists who worked across the whole media rainbow –newspaper, magazine, wire service, radio and television, and the Web, both as a dependable staffer and as an undependable freelancer. Add to this the two magazines I started up, edited, and folded up.”…
Today, thirty-year olds are plying their spurious stuff as ‘Senior Editors’ from the same offices where C.P. Ramachandran, an assistant editor, and his peers sat and wrote all those profound
editorials and think pieces. It is only appropriate here to recall one of C.P’s favourite quotations, this one credited to Roman emperor Titus Flavious, which he remembered whenever faced with a situation where mediocrity thrived at the cost of excellence. “Large souls languish in small places while mean souls lurk in large places.” His voice would carry a genuine pathos as he said it. 
If that was my first ever published piece – even before I became a fullblooded journalist – and in Mainstream, that also taught me my second lesson in journalism. Never be biased; and never write to please others. I can say with all honesty at my command that to this day I have tried
my best to uphold what I learnt from these two titans. Be right with your story and never be a court writer.

P. P. Balachandran is a Delhi-based senior journalist. This is an extract from his forthcoming book: A View From The Raisina Hill. His E-Mail: balacnambiar@gmail.com

Film Journalism in India – Dr. Mrinal Chatterjee
Cinema has become an important part of Indian culture, besides being a huge industry worth about Rs 100 billion with increasing transnational operation. It warrants more responsible, serious, educative and productive journalism. Attempts are being made by the government, civil society groups like film societies and several trade bodies to promote better film journalism…. Barring few notable exceptions, Film Journalism in India has largely been non-serious and gross entertainment-focused. Information regarding films and gossip relating to the heroes and heroines has been the staple of film journalism…..Interesting advancements have been made with the progress of technology. Consider what Galatta Cinema, the print media initiative of South India’s movie portal Galatta.com has done. It was also the first to launch a mobile version on the iPhone, Android and Nokia app stores.

Dr. Mrinal Chatterjee, an author & a journalist turned media academician presently heads Eastern India campus of Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) located in Dhenkanal, Odisha. His E-Mal: mrinaliimc@yahoo.in

HUM LOG celebrates its 30th birthday this year – Shoma A. Chatterji
Hum Log is the first commercially sponsored program in the history of Indian television. Hum Log’s popularity, and the increased sales of Maggi 2-Minute Noodles, the advertised product convinced many other advertisers to sponsor television programs. This led to an increase in locally produced television serials and encouraged
the Indian film industry to become more involved in television production….. But whose ‘development’ was the serial aiming it? If it was the development of women, then it was a self-defeating exercise because the women portrayals were heavily tinged with the politics of patriarchy. Research on the effects of Hum Log on Indian television viewers indicated that ethnicity, geographical residence, gender, and Hindi language fluency were significant determinants of beliefs about gender equality.

Shoma A. Chatterji is a freelance journalist, author and film scholar based in Kolkata. She has authored 17 books and contributed to many edited compilations on cinema, family and gender.

Silence kills democracy, but a free press talks – Umar Cheema
In its 64-year history, Pakistan has remained under non-consecutive army rule for 34-years. Even the quasidemocratic regimes were unhappy with the media. But the situation changed after the advent of electronic media as several print media veterans who faced earlier ordeals joined TV channels spreading their critical voices far and wide. In this setting, where 24/7 channels complement critical print media, mal-governance is certainly not an easy job for the government. Media is a harbinger of change in Pakistan, a development that has gone unnoticed in the external world. President Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf felt threatened by it for the first time when he sacked the Chief Justice of Pakistan in 2007, after the latter handed out verdicts against the former’s government. The media mobilized the people on this illegal sacking, turning it into a mass movement that culminated in the restoration of the top judges and liberating the judiciary from the clutches of the executive. The government’s attempt to close TV channels backfired. This struggle resulted in the formation of an independent judiciary.

Opinions about ‘MEDIA’

Congratulations on the launch of your magazine MEDIA and thank you for sharing the same with me. I found it extremely relevant and found the articles very interesting. I have also asked my library to subscribe the same for larger reading by my colleagues. My colleagues and I will be glad to contribute in this magazine and in your endeavours at Kerala Press Academy.Best wishes and regards

P. N. Vasanti; Director; Centre for Media Studies

“Media” seems interesting, Warmly,

B.G. Verghese; former editor, HT and IE; heads the Centre for Policy Research

Read the Media magazine. Excellent content. Wishing you all the best.

Shajan C. Kumar

This looks impressive.

Bindu Bhaskar; Asian College of Journalism Dean

Had a quick look – excellent effort. I especially liked the pictures you have used, not just on the cover but on almost every page. I will forward the copy to people I know. warm regards,

Sashi Nair; Editor, Vidura

Hats off to you! This is great. Let me take this chance also to assure you my full support to your endeavors at The Press Academy. I’m sharing this PDF magazine with my colleagues at WAN-IFRA.

V. Antony; WAN-IFRA

To subsribe MEDIA, please write to The Secretary, Kerala Press Academy, Kakkanad, Cochin – 682030, India, Tel: 91-484-2422275, Tele fax: 91-484-2422068, Email: media.kpa@gmail.com; mail@pressacademy.org website: http://pressacademy.org/

Vernacular Journalists dominated Thiruvananthapuram Press Club Awards

The Thiruvananthapuram Press Club has announced the media awards for 2009 and 2010.

The following are the winners for the awards in 2009: the M. Sivaram Award for best news series went to R. Samban of ‘Desabhimani’ for his series on the decision against appointing pregnant women in State Bank of India.

The K.C. Sebastian award for political reporting went to the feature ‘Vibhagiyathayude Varikuzhi’ which appeared in ‘Malayala Manorama‘ and was written by Sujith Nair, Sanjay Chandrasekhar, Anil Kurudath, Jayachandran Elankath, R. Krishnaraj, and D. Jayakrishnan.

The K. Madhavan Kutty award for best English feature went to Reema Narendran of ‘The New Indian Express‘ for her story on ‘Kids of silence.’

The V. Krishnamoorthy award for the best English story went to Pradeep Pillai’s story on ‘Kerala government’s war against a war hero’ published in ‘The New Indian Express.’

The Minerva Krishnankutty award for the best human interest photo went to K. Sasi of ‘Chandrika’ and the news photography award to Samir A. Hameed of ‘Malayala Manorama.’

T.K. Sujith won the cartoon award. The Swadesabhimani award for layout and designing went to the front page of the Kozhikode edition of ‘Madhyamam‘ on July 19.

For year 2010

The following are the awards for 2010: the M. Sivaram award for news feature went to the feature ‘Dourbhagyam’ on lottery published in the ‘Malayala Manorama.’ It was written by G. Vinod and Sanjay Chandrasekhar.

The K.C. Sebastian award for political reporting went to V. Jayakumar of ‘Kerala Kaumudi‘ for his story on P.J. Joseph‘s decision to leave the Left Democratic Front.

The V. Krishnamoorthy award for the best English story went to Arjun Reghunath’s story on the Chief Vigilance Commissioner‘s links in the palmolein case published in ‘The New Indian Express.’

The G. Venugopal award for adventurous reporting went to Prajesh Sen of ‘Madhyamam.’

The Minerva Krishnankutty award for best human interest photo went to C.B. Pradeep Kumar of ‘Varthamanam.’ The news photography award went to Samir A. Hameed of the ‘Malayala Manorama.’

T.K. Sujith of ‘Kerala Kaumudi’ was selected for the cartoon award.

The Swadesabhimani award for best layout and designing went to the Kozhikode edition of ‘Madhyamam’ for the way it presented stories of Communist Party of India(Marxist) leader Jyoti Basu’s death on January 18, 2010.