OPINION

Monthly Archives: AUGUST 2017


A DOKLAM IN EVERY FIELD
20.08.17 - KANWAR MANJIT SINGH
A DOKLAM IN EVERY FIELD



SPASMODIC JOURNALISM IS the norm in these times when a president can fire a new tweet every morning, and breathless journalists have to engage with another perfidious story. Closer home, things are no different. 

Days of incessant focus on farm loan waiver can be pushed aside from headlines and popular imagination by the shenanigans of a Navjot Singh Sidhu. The threat of violence breaking out in large swathes of Punjab, Haryana and elsewhere hogs the headlines next. Speculation about a Cabinet expansion can be the top story next week.

Amid all of this, guess who is keeping the focus on the grave issue of agrarian crisis? The farmers committing suicide. Hardly a day passes when newspapers do not carry a passport size picture of a farmer's face with details of debt, loan, family condition and name of village. 
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When the government claims something, or issues a press release, journalism takes over. What you get is journalism. When journalism gets lazy, people lose the focus, new headlines push out old issues, the depth of our understanding is decided by what we get to consume.
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By now, the template has been set. This is how farmers will die, and this is how these deaths will be reported. They can even choose to die on Independence Day. The template will not change. They did. It did not.

Anywhere else in a developed democracy, is this how such reportage is done? Where are the back stories of these farmers? They had families - wife, children, parents. They had neighbours. They had friends. There was a street where they walked. They had interests, likes, dislikes, bad or good habits. They were religious, or not. One always used to dress nattily, the other more often than not shabbily. None of that figures in any reportage. It is just the template.

All of this humanity is lost since newspapers and rest of the media cannot afford to chase every suicide. There are other earth-shattering things to cover: Riya Sen married, Hrithik Roshan poses for camera, Varun Sharma is glad he is known by his Fukrey character, Sona Mohapatra did not get work after suing Roshans, Shoojit Sarkar does not care about casting, Kim Kardashian did not like her pregnancy pictures and actor Sangita Ghosh does not like too much fuss on her birthday. I just described to you six pages of coverage in a single day's edition of a national daily. Only thing I hate is having spent an entire para to do so.
This is how farmers and agricultural labourers even in a substantially agrarian state like Punjab are being short-changed. Apart from skewed development patterns, apathetic regimes, agrarian crisis, market driven agri policies, and MNC-driven agendas in labs, lazy journalism is also killing farmers. Editors are not going to figure in too many FIRs, and few are worried to answer a query or two at the Pearly Gates.

How many editors have publicly apologised for characterising the Amarinder government's announcements on farm debt as 'Total Waiver?' 

One would have thought that the media in Punjab would mount a campaign to stress that the entire category of agricultural labourers was completely left out from the relief measure, apart from reminding people that CM Amarinder Singh's promise, repeated ad nauseum in his stump speeches, was much more expansive. 
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Guess who is keeping the focus on the grave issue of agrarian crisis? The farmers committing suicide. Where are the back stories of these farmers? Reporting suicides has been reduced to boilerplate templates. As we mark a new decade of Independent India’s history, get one thing very straight: Farmers not only produce food. They produce peace. Angry farmers are no guarantee of a lasting peace. And all you are worried about is Doklam.
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My lament, today, is however much different. It is not about what Amarinder promised. It is about what Amarinder Singh delivered.

One major announcement was about enhancing the ex gratia relief to families of farmers who have committed suicide from Rs 3 lakh given earlier to Rs 5 lakh. It was announced in mid-June this year. Two months later, when various ministers went around unfurling tricolor on Independence Day in the many districts where farmers have been committing suicide, the government had not issued the notification for enhancing the relief, and not one minister faced a question about it.
 
When the government claims something, or issues a press release, journalism takes over. What you get is journalism. When journalism gets lazy, people lose the focus, new headlines push out old issues, the depth of our understanding is decided by what we get to consume. 

In such a paradigm, statistics are the first casualty. Figures are boring. Of the families which applied for relief after a farmer or a farm labourer committed suicide, a majority were fobbed off by officials. In April 2014, the government had set up five-member committees under respective Deputy Commissioners in districts. Of the 1,783 applications these panels received, 561 received compensation of either Rs 2 lakh or Rs 3 lakh, while 1,047 applications were rejected. Rest of the pleas are still pending.

The relief was not denied because the farmers were found not to have committed suicide. It was not denied because the suicide was found unrelated to debt. An elaborate system was designed to deny relief. First, a condition was introduced that an FIR was a must. Then a post mortem report was added to the list. Now families are asked to produce a pronote or a bank's passbook to prove loan was availed of. 
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How many editors have publicly apologised for characterising the Amarinder government's announcements on farm debt as 'Total Waiver?'
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How much intelligence does it take to understand that farm labourers hardly undertake any documentation when availing of loans? But then, the state's capacity to be apathetic is unlimited. Witness this latest condition: If the father has availed of a loan and is under debt, and the son, unable to cope with incessant depression and tension at home, commits suicide, the family is not entitled to relief. So, the state is now choosing to designate who must commit suicide!
 
Pushed to the wall, farmers are agitating. India saw one of the strongest farmers’ agitations in recent weeks, and August is being marked by yet another round of farmers’ agitation by BKU factions including Ugrahan, Dakaunda, Sidhupur-Ekta, Kirti Kisan Union, Pendu Mazdoor Union etc. But where did you hear a word from the media, or the opposition that the PM’s address on I-Day did not even mention farm suicides.
 
As we mark a new decade of Independent India’s history, get one thing very straight: Farmers not only produce food. They produce peace. And agitated farmers are no guarantee of a lasting peace. Not every danger lurks at Doklam. 
 
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Punjab Today believes in serious, engaging, narrative journalism at a time when mainstream media houses seem to have given up on long-form writing and news television has blurred or altogether erased the lines between news and slapstick entertainment. We at Punjab Today believe that readers such as yourself appreciate cerebral journalism, and would like you to hold us against the best international industry standards. Brickbats are welcome even more than bouquets, though an occasional pat on the back is always encouraging. Good journalism can be a lifeline in these uncertain times worldwide. You can support us in myriad ways. To begin with, by spreading word about us and forwarding this reportage. Stay engaged.

— Team PT




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Post-Bekhauf Azadi March
AWARAGARDI – OUR BIRTHRIGHT
12.08.17 - Kamjaat Singh
AWARAGARDI – OUR BIRTHRIGHT



ON AUGUST 11, Friday, hours before India marks 70 years of its Independence from a regime in which we were not free, women spilled out on the roads in Chandigarh. Just a handful. Some said about 400. 
 
Sadken bhi hamari, Galiyan bhi hamari, Raat bhi hamari, aur Raat ke chand sitare bhi hamare.
 
These were not women and men with stars in their eyes. These were real people. People who knew one march changes little. People who realise regimes have the skin of a rhinoceros. They have children – sons and daughters. They have wives and husbands. They have friends – men, women and transgenders. 
 
They were not out to fool anyone, least of all themselves. They were stressing their right to walk, irrespective of the exact position of the sun.
 
They were underlining a simple fact: we are a free country. Our men are free. Our women are free, subject to certain conditions. 
 
Freedom means different things to different women. To a young girl, it may mean a chance to study further. To another, it may mean having the choice to get admission to a different college and live in a hostel. To yet another, it may mean a chance to opt for a late evening job. For a young woman, it may mean the right not to marry and be on her own. To her neighbour, it may mean not having to explain why she plans to divorce her husband. To a call centre employee, it may mean the right to ride her own Scooty on her way back, and be sure of her safety. To some, it may mean not being excluded from key financial decisions just because she is a 'mere housewife.' 
 
They knew that even the simple act of being out during the dark hours is seen as an act of subversion. And they knew it is time for our women to send clear signals: we will be subversive. We will reclaim the street. WE WILL LOITER. 
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 If in a city, a woman cannot be out there in the street at night, it is not a city in a free country. If asked what is she doing there, answers, 'Just having some fun', and has a lesser chance of being safe, it is not a city that guarantees freedom for all.
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In any democracy, a key test is if one can loiter around without purpose. In most parts of our villages, towns and cities, men can. Women need to have a purpose. Their access to public places is conditional. If you are out late at night, you better be going home, or to a chemist shop, or to see someone at the hospital, or you missed a bus, or you have been beaten by your husband and turned out of your home. There has to be a cogent explanation - or you are declaring that you are available. For male gaze, if you are lucky; for stalking, if you are not; or for rape, if you are really, really godforsaken.

Bekhauf Azadi March was an argument to stress women's right to loiter - without having to explain, without really even having a purpose. As a woman, my purpose might be very simple: to loiter. You assured me I can, when you told me 70 years back that we are a free country now. It is time to test our freedoms.

If in a city, a woman cannot be out there in the street at night, it is not a city in a free country. If asked what is she doing there, answers, 'Just having some fun', and has a lesser chance of being safe, it is not a city that guarantees freedom for all.

In their remarkable book, "Why Loiter?”, in which researchers Shilpa Phadke, Sameera Khan and Shilpa Ranade dwell upon the risks that women face even in Mumbai, they pose some extremely pertinent questions: "Who’s having fun? Can girls really have fun? Do Muslim girls have less fun? Do rich girls have more fun? How do slum girls have fun?"
 
Also, one that might threaten the weak hearted, but must be asked if the Bekhauf Azadi March has to mean anything: "Can girls buy fun?” 
 
By deciding to walk on the streets of Chandigarh, the women and men stressed the notion of feminism of inclusion. The crowd that makes up 'people' cannot not have women. 

On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, bus driver James F. Blake was just doing his routine job when he asked the black woman to move towards the rear of the vehicle. Rosa Parks was just going home. And she was tired of giving in. That day, she refused to give in. So something else had to give in. A bus ride triggered a revolution.

You don't always need to march for a revolution. Sometimes you only need to be riding a bus, and refusing to give up a seat. Sometimes, you just need to take a stroll. 
 
Just be out there. After sunset. 
 
Your reason? There's a road outside, and you feel like having a walk. Swinging around in your car. Besides, on the way, you can test 70 years of azadi. Bekhauf. Loiter. Awaragardi. My birthright. Get  it clear, for once and all. Things have changed. No Nirbhaya, no Damini. No Gudiya. Varnika Kundu. DJ. Out on the road. Driving. And fighting back. Reclaiming the street. YOU HAVE A PROBLEM? GOOD. That was the general idea, in any case.
 
*(Kamjaat Singh is an academic activist who also dabbles in journalism and writes under this pseudonym. The author, whose interests encompass politics, media, communication, academics, law, cinema etc., writes frequently for Punjab Today, and can be reached at kamjaatsingh@gmail.com. An earlier version of this piece was published hours before the Bekhauf Azadi March. – Ed.)
 
 -------------

Punjab Today believes in serious, engaging, narrative journalism at a time when mainstream media houses seem to have given up on long-form writing and news television has blurred or altogether erased the lines between news and slapstick entertainment. We at Punjab Today believe that readers such as yourself appreciate cerebral journalism, and would like you to hold us against the best international industry standards. Brickbats are welcome even more than bouquets, though an occasional pat on the back is always encouraging. Good journalism can be a lifeline in these uncertain times worldwide. You can support us in myriad ways. To begin with, by spreading word about us and forwarding this reportage. Stay engaged.

— Team PT




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RIGHT TO LOITER, BEKHAUF
Come out for a stroll, tonight. Bekhauf. Let's loiter, and test 70 years of azadi.
11.08.17 - Kamjaat Singh
Come out for a stroll, tonight. Bekhauf. Let's loiter, and test 70 years of azadi.



CHANDIGARH, AUGUST 11: On August 11, Friday, less than 100 hours before India marks 70 years of its Independence from a regime in which we were not free, women plan to spill out on the roads, asking for freedom. No, irony did not die a thousand deaths; in fact, the Bekhauf Azadi March is the continuation of a struggle that started much before any Quit India movement, and which will continue long after Narendra Modi climbs atop the ramparts of Red Fort this Tuesday.

Sadken bhi hamari, Galiyan bhi hamari, Raat bhi hamari, aur Raat ke chand sitare bhi hamare.
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Any Bekhauf Azadi March will be aiming for less than what it can achieve if it does not stress women's right to loiter - without having to explain, without really even having a purpose. 

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The poetic words need a thousand enunciations, millions in fact. Freedom means different things to different women. To a young girl, it may mean a chance to study further. To another, it may mean having the choice to get admission to a different college and live in a hostel. To yet another, it may mean a chance to opt for a late evening job. For a young woman, it may mean the right not to marry and be on her own. To her neighbour, it may mean not having to explain why she plans to divorce her husband. To a call centre employee, it may mean the right to ride her own Scooty on her way back, and be sure of her safety. To some, it may mean not being excluded from key financial decisions just because she is a 'mere housewife.'
 
Thanks to Varnika Kundu's gutsy fight, and her decision to take things to a logical end, many women and men will be out on the road after sunset. Just the simple act of being out during the dark hours has become an act of subversion. Seventy years later, our tryst with destiny needs to start from reclaiming our streets. 

This is our women's right to loiter. 

In any democracy, a key test is if one can loiter around without purpose. In most parts of our villages, towns and cities, men can. Women need to have a purpose. Their access to public places is conditional. If you are out late at night, you better be going home, or to a chemist shop, or to see someone at the hospital, or you missed a bus, or you have been beaten by your husband and turned out of your home. There has to be a cogent explanation - or you are declaring that you are available. For male gaze, if you are lucky; for stalking, if you are not; or for rape, if you are really, really godforsaken.
----------
You don't always need to march for a revolution. Sometimes you only need to be riding a bus, and refusing to give up a seat. Sometimes, you just need to take a stroll.
---------- 
Any Bekhauf Azadi March will be aiming for less than what it can achieve if it does not stress women's right to loiter - without having to explain, without really even having a purpose. As a woman, my purpose might be very simple: to loiter. You assured me I can, when you told me 70 years back that we are a free country now. It is time to test our freedoms.

If in a city, a woman cannot be out there in the street at night, it is not a city in a free country. If asked what is she doing there, answers, 'Just having some fun', and has a lesser chance of being safe, it is not a city that guarantees freedom for all.

In their remarkable book, "Why Loiter?”, in which researchers Shilpa Phadke, Sameera Khan and Shilpa Ranade dwell upon the risks that women face even in Mumbai, they pose some extremely pertinent questions: "Who’s having fun? Can girls really have fun? Do Muslim girls have less fun? Do rich girls have more fun? How do slum girls have fun?"
 
Also, one that might threaten the weak hearted, but must be asked if the Bekhauf Azadi March has to mean anything: "Can girls buy fun?” 
 
By deciding to walk on the streets of Chandigarh, and hopefully other towns and cities, the women and men are stressing the feminism of inclusion. Include the women in that crowd that makes up 'people'.

On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, bus driver James F. Blake was just doing his routine job when he asked the black woman to move towards the rear of the vehicle. Rosa Parks was just going home. And she was tired of giving in. That day, she refused to give in. So something else had to give in. A bus ride triggered a revolution.

You don't always need to march for a revolution. Sometimes you only need to be riding a bus, and refusing to give up a seat. Sometimes, you just need to take a stroll. 

Just be out there. After sunset. 

Your reason? There's a road outside, and you feel like having a walk. Besides, on the way, you can test 70 years of azadi. Bekhauf.
 
 

*(Kamjaat Singh is an academic activist who also dabbles in journalism and writes under this pseudonym. The author, whose interests encompass politics, media, communication, academics, law, cinema etc., will be writing regularly for Punjab Today, and can be reached at kamjaatsingh@gmail.com.)

 

-------------

Punjab Today believes in serious, engaging, narrative journalism at a time when mainstream media houses seem to have given up on long-form writing and news television has blurred or altogether erased the lines between news and slapstick entertainment. We at Punjab Today believe that readers such as yourself appreciate cerebral journalism, and would like you to hold us against the best international industry standards. Brickbats are welcome even more than bouquets, though an occasional pat on the back is always encouraging. Good journalism can be a lifeline in these uncertain times worldwide. You can support us in myriad ways. To begin with, by spreading word about us and forwarding this reportage. Stay engaged.

— Team PT





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Comment by: Rupinder Kaur

What a wonderful campaign and write up? My salute to this writer, who so ever it may be? I believe fight against dalit atrocities should be fought by non dalits to make it more affective, to touch the nervs of non-dalit community. similarly equality for women should be demanded by men along with women, it will have larger and deeper impact. hats off to this brilliant idea of bekhauf azadi.

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The seven blind men and the elephant
05.08.17 - Observer
The seven blind men and the elephant



I just read an article in The Wire, by the veteran journalist Prem Shanker Jha titled 'The Enigma of the Political Suicide of Nitish Kumar' in which he gloomily concludes that Nitish Kumar has destroyed himself by his volte-face in favour of the RSS, for reasons that are not clear, and has destroyed the chances of a United opposition to BJP-RSS in the next general election and as such destroyed India too.

A frightening and depressing scenario indeed and it could well come true.
 
But I have another viewpoint to offer, if only people across the country, especially the opinion making media - will listen with an open mind.

Is it really such an enigma, that Nitish has to hastily abandon the opposition, when Lalu was recently raided by the CBI and the ED?

Can the blind men of Indian Politics and media really not see the simple truth, even when it is hidden in plain sight, so to speak?

So Mr Prem Shankar Jha goes so far as to say, that when Kejriwal was raided by the CBI; Mayawati, Mulayam, Mamta and Lalu were cowed down by similar means, what with the Sarada scandal, the Sahara funds and the scandal ripping out of Engineer Yadav Singh's exposed misdeeds, Mayawati's "party funds", and Lalu's alleged land deals, Nitish quickly realised he could be next, is that not an answer to the enigma?
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The rural agricultural and pastoral families feel an instant connect with him. The tendency among the elite to portray him as a buffoon masks and insidiously undermines his innate gift of humour and knack for an unforgettable turn of phrase.
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Is JDU the only heaven- descended Party, pure as driven snow, in Indian Politics? Would not the same dirt, if not worse have emerged from JDU records and Nitish's cronies, to whom new body connects him only because the media is deeply owned and controlled by the selfsame cronies and their ilk ?

Nitish has no mass base, his USP is his so-called "clean image", which Modi and Shah with all Intelligence and Enforcement agencies at their command, could have blown up in a matter of hours.

His carefully cultivated Mr Clean and Mr Sushaasan image of several decades would have been smashed to smithereens and he would become not just a footnote, but a dirty shoddy contemptible footnote in history.
Lalu does not get as easily cowed down, as leaders whose mass base is nonexistent or slippery, like Nitish, Kejriwal, Mayawati or Mulayam.
His core vote bank which is sizeable in Bihar has by and large stood by him and in fact has got consolidated in a huge wave of sympathy and indignation at the current betrayal of both Lalu and the people's mandate by Nitish in cahoots with the BJP.
 
This destroys Nitish but strengthens Lalu in the war of perception, and Tejaswi emerges as all the brighter and stronger because of his impeccable record, amazing maturity, great social media skills, and wonderful oratory, besides his sheer fresh faced charm.
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Nitish has no mass base, his USP is his so-called "clean image", which Modi and Shah with all Intelligence and Enforcement agencies at their command, could have blown up in a matter of hours.
--------
So a person sitting in Bihar who can see on the ground Nitish's corruption, while Lalu's has been put behind him as he has not been in power for many years now, can not only see that Nitish, whose secular credentials and mass base have always been seriously questionable, was never the right answer to a Modi led BJP.
 
And nobody seems to want to make the next necessary connection - that Lalu, even though pushed out of the electoral field, is the single real mass leader whose secular credentials and commitment to establishing the dignity and rights of a backward-Dalit-minority, majority of the entire populace of this country are indubitable , regardless of allegations of corruption against him, and he is a recognisable and connectable brand name in politics across the country for groups that form this vast majority of people in the country.

He also has a masterly gift for communication across all kinds of state and language divide as his riveting TV appearances show.

The rural agricultural and pastoral families feel an instant connect with him. The tendency among the elite to portray him as a buffoon masks and insidiously undermines his innate gift of humour and knack for an unforgettable turn of phrase.

The liberal elite of the country and elitist corporate media and politicians overestimate Nitish and underestimate Lalu even today.

This is the fatal mistake that will destroy the country and not the loss of an innate hypocrite and turncoat like Nitish, whose departure to the Hindutva camp well before the next general election should be seen as good riddance to bad rubbish in good time, rather than becoming a cause of gloom among the vast and dynamic population of this country.
 
The minute you put Lalu, Misa, Tejaswi or even Sharad Yadav backed by Lalu and Co​​ supported in the place where you had tried to put a hypocrite like Nitish, the scenario changes for the better.

Accept this combination, and you will see all but the Crony corporates and the fanatic Hindutva wallahs rallying around the united opposition.

Bihar will yet again rescue India, but not via the villain who looked like a hero​ ​- Nitish, but by the real superhero who has been made to look like a villain - Lalu.

Anyone who has seen him struggle and fight with all feudal forces reinforced by media, judiciary, CBI and all his social and political opponents together, and remembers how for all his real and perceived faults he never ever compromised with communal forces, or got cowed down by the combined forces of the State and Central Govt, CBI, ED, a hostile media, a vicious social elite and more; will realise that no other political leader in the opposition, from Rahul to Mulayam-Akhilesh, Mayawati , Mamta Banerji or Stalin or Karunanidhi can hold a candle to him when it comes to fighting BJP RSS.

It's a Cinderella story, people!

Your pumpkin is a royal Carriage; your country Bumpkin is in fact your Knight in Shining Armour.

Just kiss this Frog once, and he will turn into your gallant Prince Charming!

And you get three for the price of one- Misa and Tejaswi, bring fresh hope for the future, along with your well recognised fighter of a leader, Lalu Prasad Yadav.

Not to forget the sweet Rabri Devi as well, who can be really useful at  a pinch.

You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one​.​

I hope someday (soon) you'll join us​.​

And India will rise again as one!
 

-------------

Punjab Today believes in serious, engaging, narrative journalism at a time when mainstream media houses seem to have given up on long-form writing and news television has blurred or altogether erased the lines between news and slapstick entertainment. We at Punjab Today believe that readers such as yourself appreciate cerebral journalism, and would like you to hold us against the best international industry standards. Brickbats are welcome even more than bouquets, though an occasional pat on the back is always encouraging. Good journalism can be a lifeline in these uncertain times worldwide. You can support us in myriad ways. To begin with, by spreading word about us and forwarding this reportage. Stay engaged.

— Team PT




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