Saturday, 16 August 2008

Causeless Journo/s in India

Following discusses media scenario in Kerala, but I have no doubt that situation in other states of India is no different. It does not matter if the newspapers are in regional language or the English ones. Any comments to offer?

Causeless Journo/s (CJs)?
Fourth Estate In The Age Of Social Movements

By Dr. T T Sreekumar (

The rise of social movements in the political horizon of neoliberal India heralds a transformation in the modes of reflexive social praxis involving a rupture with the overly familiar cultural nationalist and class based movements in the country. Beginning with the peasant movements in the 1980s, the appearance of what could be collectively called new social movements began to take concrete political forms. The feminist movement and the ecology movement have been particularly active in articulating a complex set of new themes and notions, which were strikingly dissimilar to the major concerns of the hegemonic political ideologies.

These movements have been largely territorial and often, in a political sense, marginal. What is significant is that despite the peripheral character of their existence, they have been able to influence political agenda and state policies, acting together as allies to a limited extent. Moreover, despite their reliance on spontaneity and crystallization of issues emerging at the provincial level, they exhibit a tremendous capacity for social survival.

Gail Omvedt has identified the dalit and anti-caste movements, women’s movements, environmental movements, and farmer’s movement fighting against hegemonic market production issues as the major new social movements in India. Conceding that the implications of the role of social movements in recent historical events depend on the definition and characterization of the movements, Omvedt seemed to reject the idea that new movements have been of negligible consequences compared to the class-based struggles. According to her, this is true only if the dalit movement is obliterated and farmer’s movement is disregarded as a new social movement. She provided a strong case for including farmer’s movement within any possible categorization of new social movements in India. The trajectory of the farmer’s movement has been brought to spotlight following the repression of farmers in Nandigram and Singoor in West Bengal and Chengara in Kerala.

Despite the massive surge in spontaneous grassroots movements that changed the social space of resistance and survival in India, the Media has been as a rule reluctant to come to terms with this emerging political reality. One of the reasons for this indifference was ideological. It has missed Media’s notice that the fact that new social movements are ideologically different from the old national and political movements. They are less hierarchical, following non conventional resource mobilization strategies and organically disinclined to stake claims to State power. The old movements comprised of political parties, organized trade unions or frontal mass organizations owing allegiances to central political formations. The issues that they took up A theoretical functionalism that underlie media practices in India failed to accept the transience, and evanescent nature of new social movements. They seem to be perplexed by the fact that movements arise without programmatic causes to uphold till dooms day. Multiplicity of temporally and spatially bounded causes upheld by varied social movements rather than a familiar practice of swearing by a single cause of usurping state power, has been particularly inconvenient to journalists who remain loyal to their Stalinist or cultural fascist roots.

Besides the exemplary examples of Sainath and a few others, scribes in the main stream media mostly present themselves as “causeless journo/s” (CJs) with pretensions of neutrality and a derision for those who stand up for the causes of the marginalized. The disdain probably arise from their own kinship ties or alliances with corrupt politicians or past association with Stalinist or cultural fascist media organizations. It seems to be the dictum that in the absence of a Supreme cause like class struggle or Hindu India, you should remain causeless as an indication of your neutrality and non-partisanship.

This phenomenon is becoming increasingly visible in Kerala’s political scenario. Social movements in Kerala are confronting an unprecedented and thoroughly hostile Stalinist and Savarna fascist repression. The ruling Stalinists in Kerala has unleashed an unprecedented spate of rhetorical and physical violence against people’s movements and activists probably in an effort to distract attention from a series of governmental and administrative failures and inner party squabbles. The mainstream media has been ignominiously indifferent to the excesses against marginalized communities, particularly dalits while devouring CPI (M)’s internal dissentions. “Classlessness” is perhaps a gripping contemporary politico-philosophical problem.

The first in the new series of salvos was gunned by a causeless rhetorician and columnist of the CPI (M) daily Deshabhimani (‘Patriot’ in Malayalam) Sukumar Azhikode. When Mahaswetha Devi visited Kerala to protest the forceful eviction of scores of households for the Vallarpadam road project in Moolampally, Sukumar reportedly called her “an insult to the nation”. Sukumar’s puerile outburst against Mahaswatha Devi was not an isolated incident. Overwhelming support for the intensifying land struggle in the Chengara plantation where landless dalits and adivasis have raised the demand for redistribution of agricultural land exposing the hollowness of widely trumpeted land reforms implemented by the CPI-Congress coalition in the early 70s with CPI (M) in the opposition, has been a major cause of infuriated assaults on social activists and progressive writers in the State. The neo-liberal revisionists in CPI (M) in Kerala have apparently taken a position that land redistribution is no longer a substantive political agenda.

One of the most hilarious yet disturbing manifestations of the harm that “causelessness” of CJs could engender was the virulent attack of the official ruling party media on a group of young activists who observed a Night Vigil in front of the State secretariat in support of the Chengara land struggle. Their hidden camera caught a husband and wife sitting close to each other in the Night Vigil and repeatedly flashed it as an example of “sexual anarchy” of social movement activists in Kerala. Interestingly, a Nietzscheian shock greeted the Stalinist media the next day when the participants held a press conference to declare that they believed in public expressions of love and affection and the hideous spying was perhaps a cultural proclivity that only the Stalinist 'parivar' shared.

The apathy of CJs in Kerala’s mainstream media has made the Stalinists bolder and at times Fourth Estate itself at the receiving end. Sumantha Banerjee has recently written in Economic and Political Weekly that the media photographer who photographed an SFI march in which they attacked a Youth Congress leader was assaulted to prevent him from “reporting and photographing their misdeed” resulting in “serious injuries to three journalists”. What is described as “petulant exhibitions of reprisal and violent intimidation against the media” Banerjee feels that “CPI-M is fast resembling the Right-wing parties like the Shiv Sena, and the chauvinist regional outfits like the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA)”. While the attack on media should be seen as part of the larger tactics of intimidation and violence unleashed against activists and social workers, the complacence of CJs of Kerala Media can be interpreted as tantamount to complicity in this criminal outburst. With civil society emerging as the last bastion of resistance to neo liberalism in India, the causeless journo perhaps has a final cause to destroy it.

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