Monday, August 5, 2013

Embattled women to the fore, with dignity

Channel surfer

Randeep Wadehra

Last week, news channels highlighted women embattled in their quest for dignity and justice in an unjust and intolerant milieu. Eighteen girls from Jharkhand’s rural areas have done India proud by finishing a creditable third in Spain’s Donosti Cup football tournament held in July. But they have tales to tell that should make every Indian hang his head in shame. Before departing for Madrid, they had to deal with the indigenous babudom. On IBN7 and other TV channels, they narrated how the babus forced them to clean office floors, wash utensils, and even slapped a girl before deigning to issue the documents that would enable them to leave the country’s shores in search of glory. Strikingly, despite all the humiliating experiences, they talked of flying the tricolor on the international stage, and had lost none of their youthful joie de vivre.

Amidst the post-Telangana shrill demands for new states, two women made their presence felt on the national media for stepping on our politicians’ toes. Durga Shakti Nagpal, a 28 years old IAS officer, took on powerful vested interests without even realizing that she might be risking her career and even life, a la Zia-ul-Haq, in the bargain. To work as an honest bureaucrat in UP is a challenge in itself – what with rival communal and caste groups testing young administrators’ patience and ingenuity. To take on criminals – who obviously have political protection – requires courage verging on foolhardiness. Nagpal displayed this trait so unselfconsciously that it has chagrined the Samajwadi Party bosses no end. She took on the sand mafia with the zeal of a greenhorn, and earned suspension orders in the bargain; although the incident looks eminently Bollywoodian, Nagpal is no jaw grinding, muscle flexing tinsel hero – or rather fire eating heroine; she is more in the mould of an emblematic file pusher, who goes by the book. 

Expectedly, politicians were unrepentant about their blatant flouting of country’s law. Instead, they sought to give communal color to the entire episode, with one SP spokesperson hyperventilating on Times Now about Nagpal’s “conspiracy” to pull down a mosque’s wall. On NDTV, SP’s Narendra Bhati, along with one Bukkal Nawab, was bent upon connecting Nagpal’s suspension to “communal tension” by repeatedly referring to demolition of a temple and a mosque’s wall. However, another panelist, Ata-ur-Rehman, took them to task for confining Muslim concerns to communal issues, asserting that the community was more interested in joining the mainstream and aspiring for better quality of life; moreover, the sand mafia was degrading the environment and causing conditions for the Uttarakhand like disaster, which would affect Hindus and Muslims alike. Kiran Bedi went hyper against sheer spinelessness of senior bureaucrats, who apparently acquiesced in the politicians’ plot to destroy the once famed “steel frame”. The arguments that the magisterial inquiry, as well as local police reports, does not support the UP government’s charges against Nagpal had no effect on Bhati. Truth does not fetch votes, propaganda and playing to the gallery do; if, in the bargain, an upright officer’s career and faith in the system is sacrificed, just too bad!

Even as various political parties were maneuvering to score maximum brownie points from the Nagpal case, Shiv Sena politicians began attacking Shobhaa De for tweeting about making Mumbai a separate state a la Singapore. The Shiv Sena wallas worked themselves up to frenzy, used choicest and unprintable invective as ripostes to De’s tweet. They were not prepared to even listen to the argument that De was actually satirizing the UPA’s action in okaying Telangana’s formation. They wanted nothing less than public apology, or else… And yes, we had talk shows on this issue too. And, predictably, nothing of substance was discussed, while plenty of hot air swirled around the TV studios. Our media is good at highlighting various issues in its reportage, but flops when it comes to conducting reasoned debates.

Published in The FinancialWorld dated 5 August 2013

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