Hindi press scorches RSS, BJP on rape

IN Opinion | 12/01/2013
The monopoly of the English press over the tag 'national' is being challenged by Hindi papers.
ANAND VARDHAN says this is evident from the scale and tenor of editorials on the Delhi gangrape.

Anand Vardhan


If you are looking at the Hindi print space for clues about how regional media responded to the Delhi gangrape case and its aftermath, you are at the wrong place. In sheer number and display of news stories and commentary on the tragedy and its repercussions, the Hindi press has been anything but regional. For all the contested connotations that the term ‘national press’ carries, a section of the Hindi press has been nudging at the monopoly which English press has over the national space. Even if that implies doing what English press sometimes does for earning national credentials – defining the national proportions of events and issues, such as city crime and public outrage, according to their proximity to media headquarters.

However, more than the common assumptions regarding national space, major Hindi newspapers have shown striking similarity with the mainstream English press in having a pronounced preponderance of liberal and progressive (sometimes coinciding with feminist concerns too) orientation in their opinion pieces and editorial commentary on Delhi gangrape case and subsequent developments. More often than not, even the tone and tenor of news stories are marked by similar underpinnings of editorial outlook and competitive vigilantism that marked English press coverage. In the process, some Hindi dailies have shown clear signs of departure from the ideological leanings with which they are identified in popular perception.

The most widely read Hindi daily, which also has the country’s highest circulation, Dainik Jagran is a case in point. Its right-wing ideological inclinations have not come in the way of its clear editorial condemnation of reactionary statements (one made by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat himself). It’s relevant to note that the Director of Jagran Prakashan Limited (JPL) and the daily’s editor, Sanjay Gupta in his piece Aatm Manthan Ka Samay (Introspection Time, January 8) has placed the grossly flawed and regressively blinkered nature of such statements in the context of the outrage triggered by the Delhi gangrape. Highlighting the need for change in social attitudes and deeply entrenched patriarchal mindset towards women, his piece lambasts RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and Kailash Vijayvargiya (a minister in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh) for their reactionary statements on upwardly mobile women of urban India.

He writes (as translated from Hindi): ‘‘How much Indian society needs to change its attitude towards women is evident in many controversial statements made by well-known figures, especially those made by leaders. The latest statement by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat comes from a baseless idea. Like the RSS chief, Madhya Pradesh government Minister Kailash Vijayvargiya has also made an objectionable statement.”

This does not imply that Dainik Jagran has abandoned right-wing voices in its opinion pages. Former Rajya Sabha MP Rajnath Singh Surya’s piece Naitik Mulyo Ka Patan, Decline of Moral Values (January 3) turned the discourse on violence against women in Hindutva’s mode of sanskars. He laments the decline of a value system of past religious societies as the root cause of insidious rise in crime. However, the paper editorially set the record straight again with a scathing attack on Asaram Bapu’s controversial remarks about the circumstances of the Delhi rape tragedy.

However, you can bet on Mrinal Pande to come up with an incisive feminist dissection of the gangrape psyche and responses to it, including the media fireworks. (hope she does not mind the use of term ‘feminist’ to describe some of her writings, especially after one goes through the compilation of her recent writings, The Other Country: Dispatches From The Mofussil, Penguin, 2012). In her new year piece Purani Parchchayion Tale Naya Saal (New Year Under Old Shadows, Dainik Bhaskar, January 2) she observes (as translated from Hindi): “Even in the post-independence phase, the flawed understanding of masculinity has sustained our feudal and patriarchal traditions, and language, which make women in democratic India encounter painful circumstances every day inside as well as outside their homes. As the inhuman ‘bollywoodisation’ of media has in recent years created shouting, screaming and ranting styles of discourse, the youth agitations demanding equality and dignity for women became a charade which resembles a museum housing a lion’s cage and as well as a lamb.’’

Contextualising the urban youth mobilisation for protesting against gangrape in the perspective of a post-liberalisation generation’s mode of demanding a parallel liberal social order, Hindi media critic Sudhish Pachauri has sought to analyse the contours of rage in the liberal space of upwardly mobile youth in Udaar Peedhi Ka Udveg  (Rage of the Liberal Generation, Jansatta, January 4).

Some regular names associated with the liberal progressive voices in English press also used their columns in Hindi newspaper to articulate concerns against the dangers of extremism that had surfaced in demands made by protesters in Delhi. In his piece Vyawastha Me Prabhavi Sudharo Ki Darkaar (Need for Effective Reforms in the System, Dainik Bhaskar, January 4), Harsh Mander cautioned against the perils of public anger losing sight of broader human rights implications (belligerent demands for death penalty, castration, etc). He has argued for a more holistic look at reforming the administrative structures. In her piece in Jansatta (Inn Maango Me Chhipe Khatre, Hidden Dangers of these Demands, January 8). Madhu Kishwar appeals for a more nuanced understanding of laws before demanding new ones and highlights the serious flaws of an outrage-led agenda.

The scale on which some major Hindi dailies engaged with the issues and developments related to Delhi gangrape can also be measured by the number of edits published in these newspapers. For instance, it is relevant that Jansatta has chosen to editorially comment on Delhi gangrape-centred issues with as many as six edits within a brief 12-day period of December 29, 2012 – January 9, 2013. Within the same or in some cases slightly longer span, Amar Ujala, Hindustan, Dainik Bhaskar and Dainik Jagran have also been prolific in their editorial commentary on gangrape-related themes: state-public agitation standoffs and skirmishes, police reforms and security for women, grievance redressal and criminal justice system, questions of juvenile justice, controversies surrounding some statements on gangrape, introspective insights following death of the victim, etc. Delhi tragedy-related edits published in recent weeks in some Hindi dailies can be thematically classified as:

1. Security for women

Suraksha Ki Sameeksha, Review of Security (Jansatta, January 3, 2013)

Dilli Ab Bhi Asurakshit, Delhi Still Unsafe (Dainik Jagran, January 8, 2013)

Mahilaon Ki Suraksha, Safety of Women (Hindustan, January 4, 2013)

2. Police Reforms, Criminal Justice and Juvenile Crime Laws

Police Ka Chehra, Face of Police (Jansatta, December 29, 2012 )

Baat Ho Police Sudhar Ki, Talk about Police Reforms (Dainik Bhaskar, January 3, 2013)

Baal Apradhi Par Vyapak Vimarsh, Comprehensive Discussion on Juvenile Criminals (Dainik Bhashkar, January 8, 2013)

3. State-Public Protests, Standoff and Introspections on Victim’s Death

Iss Gusse Ko Samajhiye, Understand this Anger (Amar Ujala, December 25, 2012)

Samvaad Ki Zaroorat Need for Dialogue (Hindustan, December 24, 2012)

Vishwas ki Khayee, (Widening) Gulf of Trust (Hindustan, December 26, 2012)

Gam Aur Gussa, Sorrow and Anger (Jansatta, December 31, 2012)

Ek Anaam Ka Jaana, Passing Away of an Anonymous (Dainik Bhaskar, December 31, 2012)

4. Controversial and Reactionary Statements on Women by Public Figures

Naitikta ki Pothi, Volumes of Morality ( Jansatta, January 2, 2012)

Bhagwat Updesh, Bhagwat Sermons ( Jansatta, January 7, 2012)

Gairjimmedarana Aur Sharmnaak, Irresponsible and Shameful (Amar Ujala, January 8, 2013)

Ranging from competitive vigilantism to aligning itself with the emerging terms of discourse in a significant chunk of its urban readership, major Hindi dailies have shown an editorial eagerness to join the collective catharsis in which state takes relentless blows as the punching bag. The irony is that same degree of editorial engagement is not seen in reams of Hindi papers when crimes as barbaric as Delhi gangrape are perpetrated with banal regularity in Hindi heartland states – the region which constitutes the readership base of Hindi print space. Such crimes in the heartland are relegated in these dailies as the mundane stuff for box news items or snippets. Commentary, discourse and feminist critique are privileges of ‘metropolitan crime’. Such are the dangers of ‘national’ dimensions of the Hindi press.


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