Almost two weeks on, and Indrani Mukherjea continues to be one of the most favourite subjects of news coverage for Indian media. This despite the outcry on social media and criticism from several intellectuals highlighting the misplaced priority of India media, particularly the TV industry.
The TV channels chose to provide blow by blow coverage on Indrani Mukherjea’s role in murdering her daughter, who was first reported to be her sister, just when Gujarat was burning. Far from resorting to course correction or displaying a sense of remorse on having got their priorities horribly wrong, the editors justified their shenanigans such as ‘Indrani ate sandwich’ ‘Indrani reached Khar police station,’ Mumbai police chief reached Khar police station,’ ‘Mumbai police chief leaves Khar Police station’ etc. One senior editor told me on twitter that if we were talking about the magnitude of the story, Syrian crisis was even bigger than Gujarat violence implying that ‘should Indian media’s coverage be then dominated by Syria?’
Utterly nonsensical argument to say the least. It’s almost short of admitting that significance of the news is insignificant but glamour, sensationalism and unnecessary drama are what should be driving our news agenda.
To say that Indrani story had bigger news value than Gujarat violence and reporting the dietary routine of the wife of former Star India CEO was a more urgent task as a journalist than the appalling behaviour of the Gujarat police caught on CCTV camera is simply ludicrous and utterly insane.
A large swathe of eastern and north-eastern India has been reeling with ravaging floods. In Assam alone, close to 50 people have died in the last few days while the flood situation remains grim. Manipur has been on the boil because of ethnic tension with protesters having set the houses of their elected representatives on fire. A scholar of repute and rationalist thinker, Dr Malleshappa Kalburgi, was killed by bigots in Karnataka six days ago. And not to forget the devastating impact of the deadly drought on Maharashtra’s Marathwada region, where more than 600 people have ended their lives because they’ve had enough of their poverty-stricken lives.
And yet, these stories find no takers among the media fraternity. I wish the same overzealous news channel, which flashed ‘Indrani ne sandwich khaya’ would have been equally nimble-footed in flashing what Manisha or her five children had or rather had not been eating for the last few weeks.
On the day of Raksha Bandhan, when brothers from around the country were renewing their pledge to protect their sisters, Manisha Gatkal, a helpless 40-year-old lady farmer in Mahrashtra’s Marathwada region was busy dousing herself with kerosene oil before setting herself ablaze. With this, she has perhaps become the first female casualty in the series of unending cycle of farmers’ suicide in India.
Did you see any news flash with similar sense of urgency? Was there any special programming on any TV channels? I wish our answers were in the affirmative.
Here are some facts that may be of interest to you and my friends in Indian TV industry.
- Marathwada region of Maharashtra has been hit by three years of continuous droughts resulting in an alarming rise of farmer suicides.
- In 2014, the region witnessed the death of 574 farmer suicides.
- More than 628 farmers have already killed themselves this year
- at least 70 per cent of all farmland in Marathwada would register a failed kharif crop this year
This should matter because such terrible incidents mustn’t be acceptable in India of 2015. The death of Manisha has left me disturbed. And this should haunt all of us. I simply can’t imagine that a woman in India had to die not because she had any problems in her marital life or issues with her in-laws. She died because she couldn’t face the shame of not being able to feed her five young children (pictured above).
There’s no point blaming the politicians. It’s media’s role to make politicians work for the larger good of the voiceless public. Instead of becoming the voice for the voiceless, we’ve simply become accustomed to toeing the lines of our new paymasters.
Coming back to the Syria analogy that one of my friends in the media used; of course we know that Syria or, for that matter, any other international stories will always have less buy-in value among most of the news consuming Indian public. However, there was and still is an opportunity to learn from Syria coverage.
Deaths of civilians in the war torn Syria were and still are routine. The story had fallen off the news agenda even for most reputed news organisations around the world until the heart-wrenching images of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s dead body facing down off a beach in Turkey went viral.
The death of this angel shook the collective conscience of powers that be particularly of Europe, which had closed its doors for the hapless victims of the Syrian war. The coverage by both the traditional and social media meant that the governments including those known to be ideologically opposed to immigration, wasted no time in agreeing to resettle the refugees. Clearly, it needed the death of one three-year-old child to provide the much-needed relief to the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees.
I’m struggling to understand why Manisha’s death has not created another outrage that Aylan Kurdi’s death did worldwide. But for that outrage to happen, both the mainstream media and users on social media needed to be similarly proactive in building the pressure on Indian government to intervene so that we don’t have any more Manishas dying for the want of food.
Soon after Aylan Kurdi’s death, 300,000 people signed an online petition urging the David Cameron’s concervative government to accept Syrian refugees so that no Aylan ever died in these circumstances again. And despite coming to power promising no to immigration, Cameron was forced to announce that he was ‘providing a safe and direct route’ to Syrian refugees for resettlement in UK.
Manisha’s death and our flippancy to such human misery both shame the humanity. Can we see the same outcry in India over the death of Manisha?
Rifat Jawaid is the editor-in-chief of jantakareporter.com