Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Azad Media ki Ajeeb Dastaan

by Nivedita Menon

Strange tales of the independent media

Tale #1

Recently, after endless rants against the NBA our favourite paper, The Indian Express, finally gave some space to Medha Patkar to set the record straight (November 4 2006). Her blunt and effective challenge to Indian Express common-sense concluded with some record-straightening by the Express Kolkata office.

The supposed response from the newspaper to Medha’s pointed questions, consists SOLELY of information from government sources: “according to the Addl District Magistrate”; “We have verified this from Singur’s block development officer”; and “land compensation rates reported by us are all official figures.” The best part is where they triumphantly say - the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 is the law of the land, much though Ms Patkar may view it as a one-sided process.

Hello – have you missed the point? She and thousands of others all over the country, insist it is an anti-democratic and draconian law and it must be radically changed. So you simply reiterate that it is the law of the land? THIS is a debate? Here are some other Laws of the Land: the Armed Forces Special Powers Act that keeps the North-East under the military jack boot; Section 377 that says if you have sex that the judge thinks is against the order of nature, you’re a criminal; rape laws that say it is not rape but a much lesser crime if someone shoves a finger up an infant’s vagina…

Who ARE these people who get hired to write this stuff? They’d fail a decent BA degree.

And if all they do is give us government handouts, why do we need them anyway?

Oh, by the way, the Kolkata Bureau (my, how grand. Not just some credulous person of immense stupidity hanging around the ADM’s office then. A whole BUREAU says so. That always trumps a mere “activist”) – did see in Singur, “a large number of people queuing to receive their compensation cheques”. Yup. They did. So that proves…?

The whole point, my dimwitted friends, that Medha makes in that article (if you can read) is a) Cash compensation for land is an illegally imposed option because Narmada oustees were promised land for land; b) When the choice is between just losing everything or getting some cash in return for productive land, any sensible person would choose it as the lesser evil; c) Farming communities cannot maximize cash like the well-trained urban middle class can, it just flows away in day-to-day expenses; d) Cheques have been issued for only 40% of the acquired land (so of course the Kolkata Bureau would have seen some farmers queuing up for cash).

Above all, above all – ABOVE ALL, dammit (sorry, couldn’t help that one) – she poses a simple question: Why should communities whose resources are taken over not ask – WHO PAYS AND WHO BENEFITS?

Tale # 2

Meanwhile, a little detective work revealed the following titbit:

On January 8 2002, The Indian Express published a news story titled ‘Experts Rule Out Submergence, MP Town Relieved.’

Based entirely on an interview with one person, the Managing Director of National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC), the story claimed that ‘the experts of NHPC’ could ensure that the people of Harsud in Madhya Pradesh and one hundred other villages would not ‘meet the fate of the two hundred other villages’ which would be totally submerged once the Indira Sagar Reservoir (the largest dam on the Narmada river) came up. The Managing Director told the newspaper that a detailed survey had been conducted, on the basis of which it was clear that by building a guide bund around the town, it could be saved. In addition Harsud would have 24-hour drinking water as well as metalled roads linking it to nearby towns and to the railway station, thus giving ‘a boost to Harsud’s business and economic activities.’

Two and a half years later, in June 2004, as the waters of the Indira Sagar dam started rising inexorably, armed police and bulldozers arrived in Harsud to forcibly evict the residents from their homes. The seven-hundred year old town was reduced to rubble. The oustees were made to move to New Harsud, a stony inhospitable site with a few tin sheds for shelter, and with no water supply, not even for drinking, let alone for construction, no toilets, no avenues for employment, and absolutely no way of reconstructing their lives.

Three months later, a rally of thousands of desperate oustees reached the office of the Narmada Hydroelectric Development Corporation (NHDC), a profit-making corporate body, in a joint venture with the NHPC and the state government.

Guess who the Chairman of the NHDC was? (Of course, he had fled his office when the rally arrived). The very same Managing Director of NHPC who had predicted a glorious future for Harsud in The Indian Express.

And what about The Indian Express? Apologies, corrections, setting the record straight?

Er, no.

Tale # 3

Dipankar Bose wrote a scary report for The Statesman on 3rd November. Worrying news. The Maoists of Jharkand have launched a campaign across Bihar, Jharkand and Chhatisgarh. Intelligence tip-offs have revealed, said senior police officers to our intrepid reporter as he sipped tea in their office, that they concentrate on weekly markets in rural areas. When large numbers of unwary and innocent villagers turn out for their weekly shopping, the Maoists, inhuman and anti-national elements that they are, perform plays and sing songs in the local dialects! Worse still, taking advantage of the villagers’ newly acquired literacy, revealed the Cop to the Journalist (doubtless more in sorrow than in anger), they distribute biographies of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao and other communist leaders, as well as speeches by Kanu Sanyal and Charu Mazumdar.

But sleep easy. Our cops are on the job. They have “seized” much literature of this sort, and we can safely expect that soon, no book will be left unseized.

You might like to keep track of how they deal with Sunita of Daanish Publishers, who was held in police detention in Chandrapur for three days last month because she was selling works by Clara Zetkin and other communist writers, as well as books on Bhagat Singh. Demanded the interrogating officer at one point - why do you sell Bhagat Singh’s books? The British have left India, so why still…?

Sunita still has serious charges slapped on her. And she intends to keep traveling with books. To Jharkand, even. Stay tuned!


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