Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Western Media and the ‘Collateral Damage’ in Mumbai

IN HIS sharp critique of the Indian television media in the three days of Mumbai terror, writer Mukul Kesavan brings into sharp focus the contempt with which the middle class, English-speaking, yuppie class of youngsters who make up the mainstream Indian television stations treated the poor people of India. He speaks about the way the thousands of people who suffered at the Chattrapathi Shivaji Terminus, formerly known as Victoria Terminus, received practically no attention from the TV reporters who focused all their attention on Hotel Taj, the ‘iconic symbol’ of India.

Mukul Kesavan has a point. For millions of Indians, who have been to Mumbai and lived there for a living, it would be this railway station that would emerge as the real icon of the city. But I was surprised that even sensitive persons like writer Aravind Adiga who won the Booker Prize this year for his novel, The White Tiger, which speaks about the divide between the rural and urban India, makes the same point that Taj is the symbol of India, its icon describing it as the real public space the Indian people share. I find this as an expression of the fact that even our public discourse, where we hope to find more nuanced, balanced and more sensitive opinions, is now being monopolized by the people with middle class, English speaking, urban background. For them India means the urban, shining India.

Continuing his criticism, Mukul writes again:

English and American papers treated the terror attack as an assault on the West. The terrorists had, after all, specifically looked for American and British citizens to murder. Ironically, even as NDTV, CNN-IBN and Times Now put hotel guests at the heart of the horror and bumped train commuters to its periphery, older English-speaking peoples counted their dead and dimly regretted all Indian casualties as collateral damage. In that residual category, if nowhere else, the Indian dead remained one People.

But here I am not sure whether he is accurate or fair to the more sensible and sensitive sections of western media, some of whom were keen to uphold the tradition of objectivity and fairness in their reporting and analysis. In my earlier post on Mumbai, I spoke about New York Times, to which I had been going back almost every hour of the crisis to get a balanced view of things.

And even in covering the heroism of people on the ground, they were much better than some of the Indian newspapers and television channels. For example, it was in New York Times that I read the wonderful story of the VT station's announcer who grabbed his microphone and urged the people to back off, to leave the station through the rear gate. He was shot at by the terrorists but luckily was unhurt. The story was one of the most moving tales of heroism I have read in this entire episode. Somini Sengupta of NYT wrote it. It is possible some local newspapers originally broke the story, but the credit goes to NYT for giving it the attention it deserved globally.

As for analysis, some of the analytical pieces they gave were superb, and even after a week of shrieking and shouting and hysteria that our TV people enacted, I am yet to come across anything as nearly sensible as these ones I read in NYT.

So perhaps, while most of the western media, as Mukul alleges, might have treated us Indians collectively as collateral damage, there were exceptions even in the west and they were honourable exceptions. They are the proud inheritors of the true traditions of journalism as an ethical and conscientious calling.


peethan Abhilash said...

Dear NP,

Was a close reader of Mathrubumi weekly when I was in India,but unfortunately missing the same since last one year (hope it wont extend) as I am far away in Canada. Those reading gaps were filled with your blogs,which do keep my secular sense alive. Read a book of Anand "Vettakaranum Virunnukaranum".. and got confused a bit. I am afraid,whether extreme leftist,will take out of context selective text and used for their propoganda.. Do we have good reviews on the Anand book..Or can we have your views on the book..Trust me, I am occasional reader but love serious reading. After Mumbai incidents, I sometime get lost my sleep, where we are heading..and wat future my one year old baby has got once she gets to her age ..!!!

peethan Abhilash said...


Pls re-read my comment as "extreme-rightist" instead of leftist.. sorry.. though trust me I am not fan of neither ..


Unknown said...

Dear Abhi,

I thank you for the comments. This blog has been maintained for the past one year for making a meaningful debate possible, as we are going through most difficult circumstances.

I had replied to the criticism raised by Anand in his book Vettakkaranum Virunnukaranum, which describes me as a dangerous mix of Islamic fundamentalism and Marxism. It is a completely false and lopsided understanding on the part of the great writer, who fails to come to grips with our contemporary social and political life.

What I have advocated for and do believe in is not an alliance of the fundamentalist or obscurantist sections of any religion, but a new alliance of the subaltern clases of our society that includes the minorities, the dalits and all backward sections who should challenge the entrenched political system and try to bring in change to our society that is now dangerously static.


N P Chekkutty

peethan Abhilash said...

Dear NP,

Thanks for taking valuable time to reply on my comments. Myself, a passive onlooker,to the happenings- never dares to act - was perturbed of recent happenings and was forced to respond.. Thanks once again..

I do agree to your views,but it is an definitely an uphill task. Any attempts made such are getting hijacked by the mainstream political hypocrisy- Mayavati- for eg.

But what are the road-map to those steps. Where have gone those thinking & debating students in colleges/universities. And more over, who is there to lead them..influence..

@ a times, I do get stunned by the "silence" by the so called mainstream (fiction) writers against any happenings in society. Apart from Zacharia - who dares to attack any hypocrisies- I try to watch his words closely. But I feel, many of our good writers are getting hijacked to right wing thoughts and do vouch them by their silences...Another eg: MGS ..whom I revered once very much..and where he is now..