The media cacophony and the public outcry have drowned the voices of millions of students whose future the current unrest in several campuses in the country has put in jeopardy. Hundreds of articles appeared in the media, especially English newspapers, about the suicide of Rohith Vemula and the prosecution of JNU students’ union leader Kanhaiya Kumar, mostly making Narendra Modi the antagonist of the narratives, conferring martyrdom on Rohith and hailing Kumar as the man of the moment and the restorer of the prestige of Jawaharlal Nehru University. Move over, Romila Thapar.
The most important consequence of the unrest these two individuals have unleashed with support from sections of the media and theorists pathetically remains yet to be debated. No political leader, no Shashi Tharur, no Karan Thapar, none from the growing community of intellectuals, not even a former joint secretary of the Students Federation of India, Yechury Sitaram, thought it fit to dwell on the cost of these agitations to the student community.
For many it was an opportunity to celebrate the discomfiture of the BJP. Kanhayiah Kumar was content to wear the passing halo and face the blinding lights of TV cameras. Look at the damage these eruptions have done: First, the campuses have federated into an unstoppable movement that instead of achieving the chief goal of calling Narendra Modi to account will only hurt the future of millions of university students, who had no hand in condemning the judiciary for awarding the death sentence to Afzal Guru or denying pension payments to Rohith. They, in fact, are the future nation-builders. Translate the anxiety of their parents into loss of application and attention to whatever they are doing collectively to add to the nation’s wealth.
Secondly, the Hyderabad upheaval will delay beyond estimate the dream of Ambedkar to see his community occupy the driver’s seat. His embrace of Buddhism is a message to his people to eschew violence in realizing their objectives. A Ph.D student Vemula knew that his suicide would trigger unmanageable violence. The destruction of campus property is there for everyone to see. The sufferers would be both agitating and non-agitating Dalit students besides non-Dalit students.
Those shortsighted political parties and “secular” media are harming the interests of a community, which failed to come up the ladder despite 60 years of privileges and concessions. It is easy to blame others for their plight. Nobody could stop a K.R.Narayan from becoming the head of the State, stop Shiv Nadar from joining the front ranks of the country’s entrepreneurial fraternity and starting a Dalit Chambers of Commerce and Industry, stop K.G.Balakrishnan from becoming the Chief Justice of India and stop hundreds of Dalit candidates from swelling the IAS ranks.
By seeking a lower marks level, mother tongue as the medium of instruction and examination, Dalit leaders and the populist media are creating a sense of self-diminution among Dalit youth, hindering the process of their integration with the mainstream. The feeling of inadequacy naturally seeks a platform for ventilation.
Rohith had a purpose to achieve.. He did not live to realize the mistake he had made by committing suicide. A simple lapse relating to payment of pension acquired the dimension of a caste conflict. The media by gathering information about cases of wounded Dalit sentiment throughout the country, are giving it knowingly the push needed to start a nationwide caste conflagration.
A secondary fallout of the Afzal Guru meeting is a directionless debate on nationalism. Up to now we had had no need to know the meaning of nation. Suddenly after Narendra Modi made an extempore attempt to define nationalism in the loose language politicians are prone to employ, all hell broke loose. A writer in The Hindu, eluding editorial vigil, remembered Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini whose doctrines of nationalism killed thousands of people. These tragedies are not geographical traits but results of white racism familiar to the people of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Hitler was deliberately mentioned to summon memories of RSS chief’s laudatory reference to him.
The netas, who encourage social unrest, forget that the students are an important segment of the electorate to be nursed. The media must remember that ideal news policies are free from ideologies. There are separate spaces for comment. Misguided media play no mean role in keeping the fires of communalism and casteism burning.
Is it necessary for the media to mention in the heading the caste or faith of a victim of rape or murder? Is rape less heinous if the woman happens to be a Brahmin? Is murder less brutal if the victim is a Hindu? One newspaper published two stories with multi-column headings to show that a Muslim boy had no role in the murder of a Delhi dentist. This obsession with caste and community is a travesty of secularim.
Look at these headlines:
Dalit rape victim ends life (The Hindu Mar 5 2015)
UP Dalit sisters’ rape: one more accused held (The Hindu 30 May 2014)
UP: Dalit cousins’ hanging sparks outrage, (Hindustan Times 30 May 2014)
When Poorna (13) and Ananda Kumar (16) returned from Everest climb, Kumar was identified as the first Dalit to do the feat. But why did the newspaper abstain from naming Poorna’s caste? The media made it a point to mention that K. R. Narayanan was the first Dalit to be elected President of the country. Wasn’t Radhakrishnan the first Brahmin to become the President? Did the media identify his caste? Why is caste so important for the secular media? The Indian Express helps the readers by printing a caste-wise breakdown of members of Narendra Modi’s cabinet. Outlook Weekly did a cover story on Brahmins. Is there no end to media hypocrisy? The media are an inseparable part of the problem that crises like campus unrest, and caste and communal conflict are.