The Invisible News

There is no outrage over the journalist who was set on fire. None.

But, there is a lot of outrage when Pakistan says, "We are not Myanmar".

The former is, in the public imagination, a solitary death; the latter is life, a reason to live in fact. We have our priorities all wrong, and this manifests itself in what we read and watch as news. Now that citizens have some say in what constitutes news, the media can use them as much as they use the media. This demand-supply caters to the worst instincts in both.

Why is Pakistan so nervous? This line was repeated, and at first it seemed unnecessarily vociferous. Soon enough, it became a cackle, the anchor not even realisisng that it sounded more like canned laughter than a strong message that we were supposedly sending out to our neighbour.

"Have you seen your face?" asked the pugnacious Maroof Raza, an Indian defense analyst, of the Pakistani panelists. This was a new low. On the Pakistani side there was journalist Mosharraf Zaidi, a usually sensible chap, who decided to humour Arnab Goswami. Not amusing, though, given that it became a case of one jester against another and achieved nothing. I also have a bone to pick with Zaidi. He started with a salutation, conveying his salaams specifically to the Muslims in India, and as an afterthought added others too. This is the sort of thing that gives people like Maroof Raza a real kick to play Indian Muslims against Pakistani Muslims, when they know zilch about the problems within the community, which is certainly not the nonsense spewed every day on prime time.

Regarding the Myanmar operation, it is all about how the Indian Army finished its job in 45 minutes flat. There is a numerical value attached to everything, and our patriotism depends on how well we score in our responses to such quickies.

Jagendra Singh in flames should have made the cut, what with our appetite for such burning issues, but he did not. It is certainly not because there are questions regarding veracity — was he killed or did he commit suicide, as the police suggest. Even if it is the latter, the media can probe this angle, as well as follow up on the criminal charges he wrote about exposing some politicians. One is not suggesting that he was right, but surely something was wrong somewhere.

The nature of such almost-invisibility in the social news space is that he was not English-speaking. He brought out Shahjahanpur Times, a local daily in a town of Uttar Pradesh. He was not mainstream, so the press bodies couldn't be bothered nor would the charmed media circles. In this public space reams are written about journalists who quit in a huff, many acquire martyrdom and their resignation letters are quoted if not reproduced verbatim. I suppose with so much moral arrogance going, where would there be any space to discuss the reasons for a small journalist doused in petrol?

Today, or was it yesterday, a man came under the train and was killed. A small item in the newspaper. Same paper had a front page story on a corporate lawyer, whose drunken rash driving killed a taxi driver and a passenger, leaving three other members of his family injured.

These things made it newsy - a woman driver, a divorcee, had Ballantine's whiskey, worked for Reliance Industries. Her photographs are displayed prominently, and the victims when mentioned are given the upscale treatment of being a "SoBo family", of going out on a celebratory dinner, of running a business. It took a family member to add that there was also the taxi driver. (Later news items even headlined it 'Audi Crash'.)

The media will find a way of justifying it as exposing the biggies, when all they are doing is using the same darned 'People Like Us' ruse to grab eyeballs. Who does not want to read about a woman driving an Audi after a few drinks and says she spent two hours on Marine Drive sitting in her car?

And who wants to read about some chap who came under a local train? What was he wearing, what did he drink, or what did the engine driver drink, was he married, single, divorced? Do we even want to know?

We then have the gall to judge others — the police, the courts — for asking such irrelevant, misogynist questions when that is what we feed on.

A teenager molested by an autorickshaw driver in the far suburbs is of no interest, but a young woman complaining about an ill-mannered Uber taxi driver gets us agitated, and makes us add our voice to the protest.

This is a pattern, and let us not fool ourselves that we are concerned. Just frothing at the mouth means little if we are to spend considerable time swallowing what is dished out and repeating the menu. The news ceases to be about others, and becomes about our hunger that cries to be satiated.


• Suddenly the Jagendra Singh story is making news.

"Why did they set me on fire? They could have thrashed me, if they wanted to take out their grudge on me." These were the last lines of the journalist who was burnt to death for his Facebook posts against SP MLA Ram Murti Verma.

The media now has access to a video where he has recorded his dying declaration, his skin peeling before our eyes. This is what gets us interested, not the truth.

• Why are the newspapers carrying album-type photographs of Jahnavi Gadkar, the corporate lawyer in the drunken driving case? It is obvious they are sourcing these from her social media pages. Where is the need to show her in different poses?


  1. Just a day ago, a Muslim man in UP killed his sister who wanted to marry a Hindu boy. He surrendered to Police after the crime and used words like 'Kafir' in his statement.

    Sekular media - or freelance journalist/bloggers-felt no outrage. Because it was UP, not Gujarat. Because the killer was Muslim, not Hindu. The state is ruled by a sekular party, not by BJP. And it was Jihad, not Hindutva. We have our priorities all wrong.

    How is that for an analysis?

    1. I missed this news, and cannot find it, so indeed the secular media did not cover it. But surely Google would display such news even if it were the non-secular media?

      It is a fact that such incidents take place, and they are to be condemned and the murderers should be tried for the criminals they are. This is not only about feeling outrage, for mere outrage achieves nothing. However, this person acted on his own. It was not a sustained movement to reclaim culture.

      You may take potshots at secularism, but riots targetting minorities do take place in such societies too.

      Gajendra Singh was in UP; the road killings in Mumbai. Neither in Gujarat.

      How is that for understanding secularism, when spelled right?

  2. I loved this post. Razor sharp!


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