Where is Sajjanpur ?

Welcome to Sajjanpur is like a breath of fresh air. The movie is not a cinematic masterpiece. In fact, it may not be even in the Top 5 Hindi movies of 2008 for many cinegoers. But after a long time we have a commercial Hindi movie which is set in a village. The movie has several sub plots dealing with  love, superstitions, politics, widow remarriage, casteism but doesn’t get preachy.The hero is a letter-writer and the heroine makes earthern pots for a living. The movie is indeed hatke

It is really surprising that after a long gap, we have a movie about lives of ordinary villagers. But why blame only Bollywood for this ? Our main stream media (mostly electronic) conviniently ignores rural India as if it doesn’t exist !! And to think of it, around 70% of India’s population is rural. Let us have a look at the media coverage of some key events in the last few years.

In November 2006, Anant Gupta, son of Adobe India’s CEO Naresh Gupta was kidnapped from Noida. The news was immediately on all the major news channels. Rajdeep Sardesai of CNN IBN, wanted all his viewers to light candles so that Anant could be rescued. Naresh Gupta had to beg to all the news channels to stop covering the incident as he feared that extensive media coverage may put his son’s life in danger. Contrast this with the “missing” of around 30 children around the same period (2005-2006) from Nithari village. Nithari is not very far from Naresh Gupta’s house. The village is in Noida, at the outskirts of city. However for all the major news channels the village was indeed on a different planet till dead bodies of the missing children were found from a drain.

Something similar happened after the murder of Arushi Talwar, again in Noida. The murder got a lot of coverage initially when it was suspected that it is an honour killing. Now, thousands have been killed in several North Indian villages in the name of honour but none of them recieved as much coverage as the murder of Arushi.

This disinterest of media is not limited in covering routine crime cases such as murders or kidnaps. Even when it comes to national secirity, rural India recieves this callous treatment. For example between 2003 and July 2008 around 575 people were killed due to Islamic terrorism in major towns, however around 571 people were killed in Naxal attacks just in the first ten months of last year. Infact since 2002 more than 4000 people have been killed because of Naxal violence wheras around 700 people lost their lives due to Islamic terrorism. Our PM believes and rightly so that Naxals are a bigger threat to India. But still Naxal violence recieves less coverage as most Naxal attacks take place in villages or small towns.

It is not hard to guess the reason for this callous attitude of electronic media towards rural India. Most of Cable & Satelite homes in India are in metros. TRP ratings decide the extent of coverage for any subject. But India cannot shine for long if Bharat continues to whine. Print media, especially vernacular dalies are doing a far better job in covering rural India. This is again because of commercial reasons. Vernacular dailies have a big market in rural India. English dailies are no different from our electronic media as they don’t have a market in villages. Infact, a reviewer in a major English daily wondered whether a village can still have letter writer as shown in Welcome to Sajjanpur ,in the age of mobile phones. The fact is that most of villages are out of any wireless or cable coverage. It seems we will have to wait for the day till cable TV reach our villages, for them to get any recognition.

Now there is nothing wrong in extensive coverage of terrorist acts or crimes in cities as this puts pressure on our law and order machinery and results in early cracking of case as is evident with the recent arrests of terrorists from Indian Mujaheedin and cracking of other cases which recieved wide publicity. So their is no doubt that media scrutiny and pressure has a positive effect. However, it would be great if media also pays some attention at our villages and non-metro towns which are facing Naxal violence. Maybe more scrutiny and coverage by media would force the Government to take some effective steps just as it did to crack the recent terror attacks. Infact there are a lot more stories of courage and hope in rural India which deserve to be seen and heard by us. Lets hope that Sajjanpurs are welcomed by our media and all of us.


The Asian Age – R. I. P.

On 2nd March 2008, India witnessed the death of a fearless Newspaper. M J Akbar was unceremoniously ousted by the Newspaper which he had nurtured for about 13 years. MJ had to pay the price for being on the wrong side of the establishment. The Asian Age was one of the rare voices in Indian media which was not really impressed by the propaganda of the Government on the Nuclear Deal with United States. Through his columns in the paper, MJ had exposed several drawbacks in the deal. The Newspaper was also critical of the Government on several other issues.

Instead of responding to questions raised by him, the Government chose an easy way out and ousted him from the newspaper. Vijay Mallya, owner of the paper and a Member of Parliament, was too happy to oblige his political allies. MJ learnt of his sacking, while he was on his way to his office. He was informed by one of his colleagues on SMS that his name was missing from the masthead of the paper. This incident is reminiscent of the dark days of emergency when the Government used to deal with defiant editors in a similar fashion.

But what is so surprising is that this important event went unnoticed in the mainstream media. None of the major newspapers found this incident worth covering.  This points to a deeper malaise in our media. In the 1980’s, I am told the editor of The Times Of India  was considered to be the second most important person in the country after the Prime Minister. The Fourth Estate was the conscience keeper of the society. Editors like Kuldip Nayyar, Arun Shourie, Prem Shankar Jha commanded respect because of their integrity and fearless attitude towards the Government of the day. Today, how many of us know the names of the editors of The Times Of India or Hindustan Times, the top two newspapers of the country ?

It is because editorial content or editors have little contribution towards the circulation of the Newspapers that Editors have become irrelevant. Today, it is the marketing department and not the editorial board which runs the show in most of the Newspapers. It is a fact that glossy supplements and sensational news determine the circulation of any News paper. How many of us really care about the unbiasness of any News paper? All we care about is the entertainment value, the newspaper has to offer. We are happy to read about the details of Sanjay-Manyata marriage or some new antic of Rakhi Sawant. The owners of these newspapers are aware of this and are too happy to play to the gallery. Why spend time and money researching on an important issue like the growing agrarian crisis in the country when readers are content to read about the latest development in Kareena Kapoor’s  love life ?

A free and responsible media is the watch dog of the society. MJ Akbar’s exit is a wake up call for all those who believe that we deserve a free and better News Media.


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