Thursday, March 24, 2005

Self-restraint in Punjab

C*S*F has been discussing conflict-reporting (though I wonder, since more than eighty percent of all reporting involves conflict of some sort, with potentially dangerous repurcussions for the people involved, why should the term be applicable only to war?) and what journalists should or shouldn't write about, in sensitive situations... and I found this exceptional example of self-restraint by a journalist, who writes in a Punjabi newspaper in Jalandhar.

He told me this -

There is a certain belt in Punjab where a lot of conversions have been happening. Mind you, none of these are forced conversions. Nevertheless, the traditionally-oppressed castes have been turning to the church for spiritual succor... and maybe free medicines, as well.

Now, this is a region that has been an RSS stronghold for decades (pre-independence, perhaps). Shiv Sena shakaas have been mushrooming in many a small town, in this belt.

In one part of south Jalandhar, there was a distinct leaning towards the BJP-led NDA, in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections. However, the NDA made one huge mistake: it brought up the issue of Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin.

The electorate's mood changed almost visibly.
Result? The Congress candidate won the election.

Our Punjabi reporter, however, refused to write about this change in the elctorate's mood.

He says, "I knew the damage it could cause. The RSS-Shiv Sena guys would immediately link it to the conversion trend. Not that they didn't notice - they will bring up the issue in their own magazines and pamphlets. I decided not to add fuel to the fire."

He further told me that it is easy to draw the obvious conclusion. What people will not talk about is the fact that more than half the population in this belt has left for foreign shores - working in the gulf or Canada or wherever else - and nearly every family has members living abroad. The drama about foreign origin is, for these people, a complete farce.

Besides, this is the same region that was home to the Ghadar movement.
These people don't give a hoot about 'foreign origin'.

But that is not my point - my point is that this reporter knew who delicate the situation was. He knew his people - the RSS-ization, the conversions, the deliberate breakdown of non-Brahmanical Dalit traditions, the centuries-old caste conflict. He could foresee the impact of a story about the surprise result during the elections and he exercised self-restraint, how it would be manipulated.

He says, "I knew and the RSS knew what had happened. They will play it up in their own magazines and speeches. I did not want to add fuel to the fire."

And he didn't.

We, the 'mainstream' urban journalists, scarcely have the option.
We don't ask probing questions; we don't know what questions to ask. We don't get the lowdown on socio-political equations. We don't see all sides of the story. We wouldn't know where to look. Very often, we don't bother to look.

So, we don't foresee a thing. And exercising self-restraint, therefore, is a joke.

1 comment:

Morquendi said...

The 'insiders' (journalists for whom what they are reporting is a lived experience) have their own bias. But they know the turf. 'Outsiders' have no clue and therefore generally no bias.

Where's the balance?


Tweets by @anniezaidi