Hanging sparks theatrics in Indian state

IN Media Practice | 30/08/2004
After the media overkill of the hanging of Dhananjoy Chatterjee, which spurred a rash of play time hangings by children in West Bengal, popular folk opera plans to exploit the story.

The theater companies plan to take the hanging to another level.

"The anguish and pain of Chatterjee`s young widow will also be highlighted," says Debu Hazra of Ananda Jatra. The theater houses say they will travel to the dead man`s village to cover the angles that the mainstream media has missed.

Such arguments don`t wash with the police who attribute a rise in juvenile crime in Calcutta partly to the visual media`s surfeit of aspirational ads, crime and violence.

Psychiatrist Dipankar Mukherjee agrees. "The culprit is our commodity-based society, together with the visual stimulus provided by a medium like TV," he believes. "Sex and violence are portrayed as a short-cut to stardom."

Says psychiatrist Amarnath Mullick, "People tend to associate death with fear. But the hype around Chatterjee`s hanging may have made him a hero in children`s eyes."

In the Chatterjee case, while adults lapped up the `facts` ferreted out by TV and the press, few seemed to have paid attention to the potentially injurious effects it was having on their children.

Observes child psychologist Pradip Biswas, "A child`s mind is imitative. Children try to re-enact whatever catches their fancy without knowing the consequences. In the last one-and-half months, the average child has been constantly exposed to the hanging episode. They saw the image of a hangman with his rope. The hanging came across as some sort of game to them."

With hardly any monitoring of their viewing habits, young children are easily influenced.

This isn`t the first instance of Indian children courting disaster after imitating what they have seen on TV. In 1999, several children died after jumping from the top of buildings, believing they would be saved by Shaktimaan, an Indian clone of Superman.

Among the casualties were K. Girija Prasad, 12, who strangled himself with a sari in the eastern Indian city of Bhubaneshwar, and two young girls from the southern Dharwad town who set themselves on fire hoping Shaktimaan would rescue them.

In 1998, a survey by the Indian Marketing Research Bureau had found that children formed 60 per cent of the viewership base of all popular programs even though they were not watching programs of their choice.

Following those incidents, the Delhi-based Center for Media Studies brought out a guideline for parents and teachers on children`s viewing. The Center worked on well-documented studies proving that excessive TV viewing leads to aggressive behavior, inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality, and so on.

Chatterjee may be dead but the episode hasn`t been buried yet. Satirist Chandril Bhattacharya wrote in his column in Calcutta`s popular local daily Ananda Bazar Patrika after the hanging, "At last, the festival around Dhananjoy Chatterjee has ended. What next?"

It`s over to the opera.

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