Followers

20101001

Saket

Those who know me well already know the fact that I've never really been a huge fan of ToI - be it the newspaper itself in particular, or its brand of masala journalism that has made the yellow of UK tabloids acceptable in our country's media (a good example would be the levels to which The Telegraph - the Calcutta based daily that I once loved - has stooped, almost exclusively due to competitive reasons). We get Hindustan Times at home and tolerate its umpteen mistakes every single day merely because for a mainstream broadsheet, the reportage is adequate - plus, there's the internet in case there's the need to get a second opinion from, say, my personal favourite The Statesman (now that's a paper I can swear by - at least as far as hard news is concerned). Time and again, I do browse the Indian Express e-paper and the website of the Hindu, but the problem with those as well as any other easily identifiable entity of the Indian Fourth Estate (be it print or electronic) is the bias - the English media is pseudo-secural, faux-liberal and mostly either centrist or on the right (with an obvious exception being left-of-centre); the Hindi media, on the other hand, is almost exclusively on the religious right.

But it's not about me - ToI is the largest circulated English paper in the world as well as the most widely read English paper in our country. Needless to say, it has a certain responsibility - a fact that it has, on many past occasions, seemed oblivious to, judging by its headlines. That said, with respect to today's, I don't see any problem whatsoever, and in the same vein, I feel the reactions to be knee-jerk and unwarranted. Now before I proceed, a few things need to be clarified - even though anyone who's interested in the verdict already knew the gist from yesterday's TV and/or internet reports (so, in our minds, each of us already had a headline of our own which we expected to be mirrored on the frontpage - and besides, what else were the headlines expected to convey but the unfabricated gist?) and would not have stopped at the headline or the subhead (we already knew that much because of our interest due to whatever reasons), for the purpose of this debate, we are going to assume that each and every one of the readers had absolutely no idea what the ruling was about but at the same time was interested in it just enough to read the headline and the subhead but no further - not the text accompanying the graphic (if any), not the text in the main body of the front page and most definitely not anything that was anywhere inside on the nation or editorial pages.

Are we clear so far? Right then, the headline. "2 Parts To Hindus, 1 Part To Muslims." The temptation is most definitely evident, but the heartening thing is that, for a change, ToI did not succumb to it. They (not ToI) say 'brevity is the soul of wit' - here, though, thank God (Ram, Allah, whatever) that this is all fact and hardly any wit. The 2 "Hindus" clearly refer to Ram Lalla Virajman and Nirmohi Akhara. Judging from all the other media reports, there is clearly no doubt whatsoever that the former is the claimant on behalf of the Hindus. Since no one has any problems with that, it can only be assumed that readers took exception to the fact that ToI was audacious enough to count the latter as a Hindu group (and thus this debate assumes an absolute nature, for now - a comparative study shall follow). Now, yesterday, I tweeted about the ignorant humour of the urban Indian youth (again, anyone knows me well knows my opinion about that very specific demographic to which I also happen to be a part of). One of my motivations was the barrage of tripartite jokes, almost all of which had its roots in the fact that the humourists had absolutely no clue what "Nirmohi Akhara" is (most of them did not even know what 'akhara' is; others just knew the literal meaning of the word i.e. an arena for kushti or Indian wrestling), something which is unforgivable simply because of the fact that the funny brigade was online.

Simply put, an "akhara" is a organized group of sadhus or holy men of Hindu faith, and Nirmohi Akhara happens to be the name of one, something which these people would have known had they paid even the slightest heed to the news during any of the Kumbh Melas. So, the headline is valid in purely religious terms. Now, was it irresponsible and/or inflammatory? Well, it was not - though it very nearly was. Alright, so adding the word "group(s)" or "party/ies" would not have hurt anything except space - then again, that is hardly what makes this wronger than any of its counterparts. What makes it perfectly alright according to me is them opting for a much more critical word, by virtue of which it ceases to be a witty take likening this extremely sensitive issue to a knock-out stage sporting encounter with the victors and losers being clear-cut. That word, my friends, is "part(s)" - and as far as I'm concerned, that seals the deal. It is at par with media reports elsewhere, both factually as well as when it comes to the instigating quotient. Here's where comparisons are inevitable, and for that very purpose I have compiled a list of headlines as well as subheads from a bunch of dailies in the 2 official languages of India. While I shall refrain from reproducing that list here (unless of course any of you specifically ask me to do so in which case I shall be happy to do so as an addendum), certain conclusions just have to be drawn.

As far as the headline goes, other than ToI, even The Hindu reported the exact same fact, albeit in a few more words; DNA, meanwhile, had one of the most clever headlines - it delivered a sports-like final scoreline ("2-1", referring to the judges' verdict(s)) but managed to avoid the names of the religions and the groups/parties involved. Now, here's the interesting part - Hindustan Times, Indian Express, The Pioneer and Deccan Herald all reported the same 2:1 split, but in their subheads. Most dailies toed the "unity in diversity" line; the Mirrors didn't bother to look beyond their respective metropolitan areas; Mid Day more than lived up to its reputation of being the foremost tabloid; business dailies couldn't care less as long as the markets remained unaffected and it showed on their frontpages. Now, on to the far more important segment - the Hindi dailies (just have a look at the latest readership figures and you'll know why). Most made full use of the lingual advantage and played on the words of one of the parties which, incidentally, is deemed a perpetual minor as per Indian laws and therefore not subject to the usual property laws, but more on that later. Dainik Jagran was guilty of leading with a part-truth, which was also the case with some of its English counterparts; Dainik Bhaskar, I feel, did one of the best jobs; across the board, these stuck to saying that the idol shall remain and merely mentioning the proposed partitioning without delving into details right at the top.

To sum it up, the questionable headline was factually consistent, did not instigate anything except knee-jerk reactions and wasn't at all different from what other members of a similar audience might have read. Of course, it has to be made known that the full judgements being a total of over 8,000 pages, it can assumed that the few who've chosen to do their own research and draw their own conclusions have done so on the basis of the various official gist PDFs provided on the website dedicated to this ruling, which implies that all claims of factual accuracy are, in fact, relative. As far as the verdict/verdicts itself/themselves goes/go, there is little doubt that it's based more on faith and not offending the majority of a majority so as to maintain normalcy, as opposed to pure legalities, that is to say, two of the three judges seem to have gone for practicalities (I shall reserve my comments about the third, at least till I have perused enough literature regarding this matter). And quickly moving on, I still do not recommend ToI, except for your city-based news as well as cinema listings on Friday mornings. But for those purposes, there is the e-paper. Save paper, save the planet. Jai Cya Ram.