When I sent Part 1 of my “Open Letter” I did so with the
full awareness that I might become a persona non grata not just for Times Now but also for many others who
see you as a role model.
However, I am encouraged to continue by the fact that within
minutes of mailing the letter and posting it on MANUSHI website, I got numerous
messages from discerning viewers and respected public figures telling me I had
done the right thing. That assured me that my critique is not off the mark.
Therefore, here is a little more of a medicinal dose.
Though the examples I offer of your inquisitional style are
from my personal experience, I chose them only because these are typical
illustrations of how you brow beat people. This one is to illustrate your
imperious attitude towards rural India
For example, on July 16, 2012, when your office called me to
be part of the News Hour debate on certain resolutions by a panchayat of Assara
village in Baghpat district, I was most reluctant to join the show because of
past experience of being prevented from disagreeing with your danda marka
approach. But your office persevered and assured me that you would give me a
proper hearing. One of the several requests that day included an SMS which
said: “Ma’am Arnab just said without you, discussion is half dead…plz Ma’am
join us by 9:20.”
My bad luck that I did not catch the intended meaning of
those ominous words; I failed to understand that I had been chosen as the day’s
sacrificial lamb. Since most Khap leaders and village panchayats heads don’t
speak good English you did not want to waste time on them and since very few
among the Delhi intellectuals want to incur your deadly wrath by opposing you
on your turf, or take a politically unfashionable position on Khap panchayats,
you needed someone to be the straw woman to carry out your “operation
demolition.” I fit the bill perfectly. ‘What fun’, you thought, ‘to expose
Madhu Kishwar, a known defender of women’s rights for being the sham that she
really is and lump her with those who you consider relics of medieval
Your panel was predictably filled with people who echoed
your own views ably. Out of six, there was just me who had a different view.
Any half sensible T.V. anchor would have allowed a tiny little space for a
divergent view in order to convey the impression to viewers that he is not
altogether one sided in his presentation. But not the one-and-only Arnab
Goswami! ( Actually your tribe is increasing every day).
You began with what I consider a well practiced technique of
trapping someone into either giving you the exact answer you want or take the
risk of being put in the same dock you have reserved for those you label
Taliban, retrogressive, barbaric, inhuman, corrupt, venal, chalta hai species.
That is why I refused to bite your bait and refused to
answer the silly question you began with. Instead I asked for the opportunity
to say what I had to say on the subject. But
you did not let me complete one sentence. You shouted me down using your
inane question as a stick to beat me with for the crime of daring to differ
with the Almighty Arnab Goswami.
The job of an anchor is to facilitate a discussion, to make
available diverse points of view so that viewers can make an informed choice on
various subjects, which are outside their own domain of knowledge. Even if you
did not get a chance to train at a half-decent school of journalism, you should
have learnt at least elementary courtesies from your mentor Pranoy Roy, one of
the best, most sophisticated T.V. anchors we ever had.
Arnab ji, Did you even know how to even spell “Khap” before
“honor killings” gave you the grand opportunity to unleash your crusading zeal
to browbeat the “uncivilized” rural communities who are allegedly involved in “barbaric
medievalism?” On that day, you were raging about the restrictions allegedly
imposed by a Khap Panchayat on the use of mobiles by young people and a
resolution passed in that meeting that young women below a certain age should
not venture out to markets and bazaars without a family member acting as an
escort. Incidentally, this was a meeting of a newly formed, self styled Samaj
Sudhar Sabha of Assara village. But you insisted it was a Khap Panchayat
meeting because that makes for easy stereotyping. A Tehelka
report in the July 28 issue actually suggests that this particular meeting was
actually stage managed at the insistence of TV reporters and mischievously
dubbed as a Khap Panchayat.
In that meeting attended by a section of Assara village in
Baghpat district, several resolutions affecting both men and women were passed.
It was well reported by The Hindu.
These resolutions included a ban on giving and taking of dowry, making it
compulsory for families to send their children (both boys and girls) to school,
stopping youngsters from using earplugs to listen to music when they are
walking in the streets, some restrictions on the use of mobile phones and asking
young women not to go to markets without an escort from the family. But you hammered
selectively on just two “sexy” issues--those that in your view constitute a
“barbaric” infringement on “individual freedom”.
Even in urban areas, families are trying to figure out ways
in which they can allow their daughters to satisfy their aspirations for
education and careers without risking their lives in our lawless cities. The
elite class looks for safety by sending their children out in chauffer driven
cars. I know highly educated urban families who do not let their daughters go
out alone after a certain hour. Recently a very bright young student from an
elite law college from another state of India came to intern with Manushi for 6
weeks. Her father is an eminent doctor who did his higher education in the UK.
Her mother too is well educated. Even though she stayed with close relatives
while in Delhi, her parents sent a middle-aged ayah to keep a hawk like watch
on her movements in the city. What is so barbaric about rural families asking
their daughters or young married wives to avoid going alone to goonda -infested
markets? I would like to know if in your
own family you allow teenage girls or your women to come home alone late in the
night in a Mumbai local train.
This is not
at all to suggest that restricting the movements of women is the appropriate
response to increasing crimes against women. I am of the view that in the long
run it makes things worse for the entire society. Even men’s lives become
unsafe in societies where women are expected live under the shadow and
protection of men. However, people can’t be treated as being “uncivilized” or
‘criminals” for thinking that they cannot afford to risk the lives and safety
of their daughters while waiting for long term solutions.
Incidentally on the same day that you were raving and
ranting on this “suppression of women’s freedom” by Khaps, T.V. Channels were
also repeatedly showing visuals of the brutish attack on a teenager by a whole
mob of politically connected lumpens in the most fashionable commercial area of
Guwahati. We also saw visuals of the horribly scarred face of Sonali, a young
woman who was blinded and disfigured after an acid attack by a pervert whose
sexual advances she had snubbed. These are not solitary instances. Such attacks
are becoming common all over India in almost all our towns and villages. It is
also well known how young women- in towns, cities and villages- are being
sucked into the sex trade by men who seduce them with the promise of marriage
or entry into the glamorous world of modeling or a role in a Bollywood film or
a T.V. serial. Their own boyfriends and lovers end up blackmailing them by
putting their nude pictures or sex acts on You Tube or Face Book.
As for mobile phones, even “liberal and modern” parents and
teachers are finding this instrument to be a major menace. You chose to ignore
the fact that this “decision” (mostly ignored) was taken after a young boy of Assara
village was run over by a speeding train because he did not hear it coming since
he was listening to music through an earphone. In classrooms, students pay no
attention to what is being taught because they are busy social networking on
their mobiles. At home, many of them chat with known and unknown friends till
the wee hours of the morning. Mobile phones are being increasingly used for
downloading pornography. Even “liberal” and highly educated parents in metros
are trying to figure out ways of limiting access to mobiles and the Internet.
Do rural families have no right to watch over their children?
When a tiny elite minority arrogates to itself the right to
dictate terms to the vast majority of people, it is called authoritarianism,
not democracy. The social reform agenda cannot be
dictated and imposed in this imperious manner. It has to be a two way street.
Those we criticize and demonize have the right to hold a mirror to us. Leave
alone making it a two way process, you do not even allow “them” the right to
defend themselves against ill informed, criticism.
For example, the vast majority of people in India may
seriously disapprove of urban couples from wealthy families who leave their
children in the care of underpaid servants while they go partying all night and
come home drunk in the wee hours of the morning. Do you give them the right to
have such people sent to jail for neglecting their kids and their children put
in government run child welfare institutions? Majority of people in this
country find the pub culture a real menace because many of these places unfortunately
double up as pick up joints for call girls. Moneyed goons and rowdies gravitate
to such places. Do you give them the right to demand action against parents who
allow their daughters to become call girls or those who allow their sons to get
drunk at pubs and create a ruckus for all? You would be horrified at such an
encroachment on what you consider the cherished freedoms of your class and biradari. The elite have blindly copied
the pub culture of London and New York without understanding what makes it a
viable lifestyle there and a high risk venture in India. Even the manner of
procuring a liquor license ensures that pub owners operate must seek the
patronage of political and police mafias.
It is time you and your tribe of self appointed reformers
understand that social reform is not going to be a one-way street with the
urban educated elite defining the agenda, mode and limits of social reform
issues to be given salience. It is time for you to stop imagining that your
class of people has the monopoly of desirable, “progressive” values and
life-styles while rural communities are cesspools of social obscurantism and
One has to “earn” the right to criticize and point out other
people’s flaws. That comes only when they perceive you as a caring well-wisher
not as an arrogant imperious outsider in the tradition set by our erstwhile
What have most of us self
appointed social reformers done to earn that respect, that trust? Nobody
has ever seen you spend time and energy on the life and death struggles of
rural communities. Count how many minutes of your life or T.V. time you spent
on the impact of crop failures on the lives of farmers due to the failure of
the government to provide irrigation. I have never seen a farmer on your
program discuss the budget or even NREGA meant for the ostensible benefit of
farmers. Are you there for them when they don’t get electricity to run their
water pumps? Have you ever made common cause with them when they battle
government policies that depress farm incomes? Have you ever raved and ranted
at the many draconian sarkari restrictions imposed on our farmers that prevent
them from accessing markets where they can get a better price for their farm
produce? How many minutes of T.V. time did you give the anguish of farmers
whose lands are arbitrarily acquired by the government without paying due
compensation? Are you there to share their anxiety about their children getting
such shoddy education in village schools that the new world of opportunities is
virtually shut out to them?
If you have never shared their trials and tribulations, why
should they accept your credentials as someone whose heart is bleeding for the
well-being of their women? Our colonial rulers did precisely that at one time.
They focused obsessively on the hapless plight of Indian women in order to
justify imperial subjugation of all Indians - men and women alike. They tried
convincing us that they were here for our own good to “civilize” us. You too,
Arnab, are screaming the same message when you bring in a whole array of
panelists who demand that Khap Panchayats and various kinship, and jati
panchayats be banned because they are unwanted relics of the barbaric medieval
past. You probably don’t know that medieval India was an extremely prosperous,
technologically advanced and highly accomplished society. The Europeans braved
hazardous sea voyages mesmerized by the legendary wealth of medieval India and
the beauty of its industrial products. Europe may or may not have experienced
the “Dark Ages” in medieval times but medieval India was a bright shiny place.
As long as the urban westernized elites of India insist on
treating their less educated and un-westernized fellow citizens as a lower
species they have no moral right to try to reform them—that too through
draconian laws that empower the police to arrest them at will and send them to
rot in jail forever.