The human factor
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If Aamir Khan has come in for some snarky criticism and snide analysis, he should pay it no heed because it comes from journalists who are jealous of his ability to talk about, in the most civilised way, things that we ignore. If you have lived in India all your life, you learn that there are things about Indian society that are so awful that the only way to deal with them is to look the other way. So we walk past the signs advertising clinics that use ultrasound machines to kill baby girls while they are still in their mother's wombs. We ignore the statistics that tell us that every other Indian child has been sexually abused and that more than sixty per cent have been abused by a close relative.
We ignore domestic violence unless it happens to someone we know and even then we try to keep it quiet. And, as for repugnant acts of untouchability that continue to be practised daily against Dalits, we disregard them even when they happen in our own kitchens. So thank you Aamir Khan for recognising the need to draw attention to social evils that may have disappeared long ago if we in the media had made them socially unacceptable by drawing as much attention to them as, for instance, we have done to the election of the President of India.
On a personal level, I must admit that I have watched Satyamev Jayate with a deepening sense of guilt. When I started to write this column more than twenty years ago, there were no other women who had been lucky enough to land a weekly political column. And, I resolved that I would bring a feminine touch to mine by writing about the sort of things that Aamir deals with in his show. I feel bad that I have not done this enough and confess that this is partly because of the general disdain for 'human interest' issues among us political pundit types. In print journalism, you learn quickly that if you want to go on writing about things that fall in the human interest category, then you find yourself taken less seriously by fellow political pundits. Peer pressure is a powerful thing.
When private television channels first appeared, in the early nineties, they presented vital 'human interest' issues better than newspapers and magazines had ever done. If there was an atrocity against Dalits in some remote village, they sent their best reporters out to find out more and this resulted in many instances of excellent television reporting. But, in the past couple of years, they too have lost their way. So most television journalists now fall over themselves (and their colleagues) trying to anchor a chat show and when they land one, they compete with each other to produce noisy prime time shows in which the same people pop out of little boxes to say the same dreary things on every channel. Since an evening talk show is considered by television journalists to be the high point of their career, we no longer see the kind of show that Aamir is producing.
Satyamev Jayate is television reporting at its finest because Aamir and his team have taken the pains not just to carefully research their subjects but to travel outside the environs of Delhi and Mumbai to find victims of social abuse. The more I have watched the show, the more guilty I have felt for not having done, in long years in journalism, what Aamir Khan has been able to do in a few episodes of Satyamev Jayate.
Well done Aamir and please find the time to do many, many more shows because you are the first Bollywood actor to use your enormous celebrity and the immense power of television to try bring about necessary social change. So from this humble (and humbled) columnist, please accept deepest salutations and the hope that Satyamev Jayate lives on for many seasons.
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