Friday, December 21, 2012

Blood red herrings

The shadows cast by mankind's self doubt over their status in the animal kingdom as the rightful opposable-thumb-intelligentsia have gained considerable blackness this last week. Two atrocities out of the thousands tirelessly at war with progress have been elected by our media to represent the extravaganza that is this mankind. One is the murder of twenty children in a school in Connecticut. The other is the rape of a woman in a bus in Delhi.

Media surgeons have unsurprisingly abandoned the restorative in favor of the cosmetic, giving these crimes a face we are forced to recognize and adulate. First there is the mandatory academic exercise of deconstructing the second amendment under the auspices of gun owners, lobbyists and Piers Morgan. Then there is the expert opinion of the self-appointed psychologist who reckons the problem is Call of Duty and not, as his/her qualified but silenced counterpart suggests, the absurd deification of the murderer. For added pleasure (or pain- your freedom of choice comes first), the cadaverous right wing fringe have been resurrected from the graveyard of anonymity to proclaim that it is the "absence of God in schools" that invited the bloodshed. Why, even the Westboro Baptist church have taken advantage of this generous coverage but thankfully seem to only ascend in their impotence!

On the poorer half of this misery riddled latitude, journalists have struck oil; without doing much. Yes, Times of India, the world's best selling newspaper, ran an opinion poll asking voters how they feel the perpetrator must be punished (one of these was "cutting his genitalia"). By repeatedly slipping in the word "intestines" to fill pauses - and squandering yet another opportunity to be critical - they sustain, what they've always set out to maintain: an outrage. And here I was thinking pornography never needed a plot.

But before we line up the guillotines for our journalists, some scrutiny of the proles is in order. Isn't journalism after all, as Arnab Goswami authoritatively insists,  an area of supply-demand economics? (I won't speak for the average US citizen to avoid beating a dead cliche.) In India, every husband, father, brother and son is entitled to palpitating grief. But encouraging this to mutate into violence further undermines the hitherto weakened but nonetheless invaluable process of law. Most disconcerting is the lack of introspection among the thugs of various age groups. While the middle-class male youth are plotting castration techniques using the vulgar vocabulary that one finds only on the internet, the soap-opera stupefied senility agrees on death but not torture. But no self-important male wants to hear about how poorly he treats a woman in his own house: ridiculed in private and public, secluded like a germ in a Petri dish when she menstruates, condescended to on matters outside kitchenware, patronized with regular offerings of charity and robbed of every last shred of individuality she dares to reveal. Recall those instances, if you can, when a mother treaded fearfully in the presence of her spouse's kin or a daughter didn't realize she was just sexually abused by a repressed uncle. Also consider the disastrous mangling of a child's mind; growing up in a household where the capabilities of a woman barely trespass outside cooking delicious food. And that's just the self-righteous middle-class fraternity. If this is the behavior of supposedly educated literates, what unit of misdemeanor are we ready to charge our impoverished brothers with? Their wives and daughters can hardly read or write, are frail and undernourished, paid wages rounded off upward from that of a slave's, forced into the most vile and grotesque of sex trade rackets and oppressed to a point where their vocal chords are merely vestigial. Rape is simply the logical outcome of such traits. What sympathy must we spare for the MP claiming  that "she was asking for it" or the priest citing her "karma" or the hard-boiled fool who doesn't think twice before implying that she "ought to take it like a man." (Pay attention at the construction sites, where women carry bricks and gravel on their tender heads for ten hours a day in the dizzying heat with a child or two by their side. She's more "man" than many men claim to be. Look how deep this discrimination has seeped into our language.)

The clamor for the death penalty is equally grotesque. Martin Luther King famously said that "darkness cannot drive out darkness", but it seems to have fallen on metaphorically challenged ears. Suggesting the death penalty is also the signature cardiograph of the terminally lazy. Our media have promptly turned it into a trope. Don't discuss the immensely relevant work of Sunitha Krishnan or Arunachalam Muruganantham. Don't reactivate the almost forgotten thesis of Amartya Sen ("The missing women"). Happily shirk the critical polemics of Palagummi Sainath and Vandana Shiva. Instead bring on celebrities like Gul Panag and Shabana Azmi because we are a society that enshrines reputation over action. (Ask yourself why Amir Khan's Satyameva Jayate was a success.) Our media have distorted reality in their favor and it pains me to see our fellow countrymen capitulate without a fight. They exploit our grief and stupidity with the most insensitive candor, by flinging us red herrings like pigeon feed. But these are blood red herrings comrades, and only an intellectual and humanitarian self-cleansing can hope to change anything.

Edit: Sunitha Krishnan was later brought on Barkha Dutt's "We the people". I'm not surprised that hers were the most coherent arguments.