Voluntary Self-Censorpship More Lethal than State Censorship-Media Silence Over Prof. Aggarwal’s Fast Unto Death

via Madhu Purnima Kishwar - http://www.manushi.in/articles.php?articleId=1597 published on March 16, 2012

Had someone threatened to blow up the Tehri Dam in the Himalayas with a bomb blast to protest against the enslavement and destruction of the sacred river Ganga, the media would have rushed to collect every sound byte, every word of intimidation uttered by such a person.  Likewise if a crackpot had blackened the face of Rahul Gandhi or the Prime Minister as a reminder that the Congress Government had reneged its commitment to restore the health of the Ganga, whose sacred waters have been destroyed by bumper to bumper dams in the Himalyas and pouring of sewage water and industrial effluents in the holy river, the person would have become an instant media celebrity.

But Swami Gyanswarup Anand (formerly Prof G D Aggarwal) does not believe in media friendly histrionics or sensationalism.  Therefore, his fast unto death to remind the Prime Minister of his broken promises with regards to saving Ganga has not been given even a token coverage by any of our national newspapers or TV channels. He started his do or die mission without wooing the media. All he did was to write a letter to the Prime Minister informing him of his resolve. In fact he does not even call it a protest fast. He calls it his “tapasya”.  For 30 days starting January 15th 2012, he sat on the banks of Ganga at Prayag and survived only on fruits and Ganga water, taking no grain or other food items. From February 8th 2012 onwards, he gave up all food and survived only on air, sunlight and water.

From March 8th onwards, he has given up water also and has moved to the banks of Ganga at Kashi signifying his preparedness for embracing death. And yet none of our TV channels or newspapers has considered his supreme tapasya worth even a 5 line mention. Nor have any of our “national leaders” considered him worthy of a 10 minute visit.  This despite the fact that I have personally pleaded with several TV and print journalists as well as leading politicians including those who are good friends. Their standard excuse has been that they are busy with the crucial UP and other state elections.  However, during the same period, the media found enough time to devote to Farha Khan’s husband being slapped by Shahrukh Khan at the party following a personal fracas – all this on prime time TV news and front pages of every single national daily. They also found enough time and space to drool over Vidya Balan, the new sex symbol of Bollywood after the success of her “Dirty Picture” Similarly, the media had no difficulty in finding an obscene amount of time and space to emote over a flimsy statement by the Chairperson of the National Women’s Commission advising young women not to take offence at being called “sexy” right in the middle of a high powered “sexy” election.

The media would have rushed to get Prof G D Aggarwal’s sound bytes if Bollywood actors or cricket stars had been persuaded or “paid” to make an appearance to express solidarity with the fasting sanyasi. But since there is no sex, no glamour, no sensationalism attached to the 80-year-old fasting sanyasi, he is not considered worth a two minute or two sentence coverage. 

The media would have out-competed each other if Rahul Gandhi had decided to make this an election issue against the BJP Government in Uttrakhand which favour contractor–politician friendly mega projects or if the BJP had made an issue of the brazen corruption and mismanagement in the way Rs 7000 crores meant for cleaning Ganga are being wasted.  These issues have been raised in the petition sent by Prof Aggarwal to the Prime Minister before he started his fast. However, since both BJP and Congress are hands in glove with each other in siphoning off funds from the power projects and funds for cleaning Ganga, it never became an election issue.

The media would also have found this fast noteworthy if powerful international networks supported by western governments or donor agencies had launched a high profile campaign in support of Swami Gyanswarup Anand. But the man is foolishly patriotic to believe that this is an internal matter for us Indians and therefore we have to sort out the environmental mess we have made of our sacred rivers ourselves.

This fast received some mention in the last two days only when 3 members of the National Ganga River Basin Authority headed by the Prime Minister resigned to protest the Prime Minister’s indifference to his responsibility in saving Ganga after declaring it a ‘national river” and creating a supposedly high powered body to restore its health. Even then, Gaynswarup Anand ji got only incidental mention. The photograph they published with the news report was not that of Gyanswarup Aanand ji but of Rajendra Singh—one of the members of the NGRBA who resigned. Why only his photo and not that of the fasting sanyasi or other two members who resigned? Because Rajendra Singh is a Magsasay award winner! The message is clear. You have to either be recognized by an international organization or have an official position to catch attention of the Indian media. The media likewise gave total ignore to Swami Nigmanad’s fast till the man was poisoned to death in hospital by the erstwhile BJP government at the behest of the mining mafia in Uttarakhand.  He became a cause célèbre after his death because the Congress Party leaders decided to use it as a stick to beat up the BJP keeping the forthcoming assembly elections in view.

The media may be “free” in India but it surrenders its own freedom by ignoring vital issues and spending an obscene amount of time on frivolous and flimsy issues. Such irresponsible voluntary self-censorship is worse than state censorship. Even worse than that is the absence of discretion to know the difference between the superficial and the life and death issues facing us in India today. One is not just referring to the life and death situation with regard to the 80 year old fasting Swami but the certain death of our rivers and irreversible destruction of our mountains and forests if the Government of India continues with its aggressive courting of an environmental disaster.

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