Different Strokes|Nov 13, 2004 2:24 PM| by:

The Unpunished Culprit

The newspapers spread before me offer an unending series of disturbing news, but I focus on two of them that are related to each other – and related closely if we look at them at a deeper plane. Item One is the ouster of an artiste who headed the board that certified films because he seemed to have a disturbing sense of morality, was in favour of censoring films that encouraged violence and raw sex. Item Two is a report emanating from the Centre for Media Studies revealing that students, particularly in the urban world, were taught much more by TV today than by their teachers or text books.

And what do they learn from this electronic guru? I quote from The Times of India (22.10.2004, Mumbai): “The study found that 70% of students did not watch channels aimed at them and instead watched serials or music or film-based programmes.” This is according to P.N. Vasanti, director of the Centre. Adds psychiatrist Jitendra Nagpal, “Teachers are no longer role models for students,” and he adds, “Hardly anyone watches education-based programmes.” Dr. Nagpal says further, “Television is a double-edged sword but unfortunately the entertainment part through means of unhealthy internalization is more dominant. Surrogate violence and vulgarity on television is easily imbibed by adolescents.”

There is nothing new about it. What is new is the authorities appearing anxious to integrate themselves with the adolescents and removing a person who had the moral courage to fight against the trend. Morality is taboo.

Way back on 13 May 1988 a judgment of the Supreme Court, while deciding a case of double murder committed under the influence of a film, as the investigation established, said, “The vicious effect of films picturising violence in detail on impressionable minds has been the subject of serious concern for some time now, but unfortunately no effective step has been taken so far to curb the growing tendency of a section of film industry to cash in on human weakness. When this upsets a young man, already vulnerably disturbed, the society cannot be completely absolved from sharing the responsibility of the resulting tragedy.”

The part of the judgment that pronounces the accused guilty and awards him life-imprisonment will be executed by the proper wing of the State. But who will punish us, the society responsible for pampering the criminal propensity in the unfortunate accused?

Thus the fundamental culprit, we the society, will go free.

But can we? At a higher plane of realities it is an inexorable fact that no individual or society can escape the subtle consequences of its Karma. The society is being punished through a general degradation in the collective finer values. Even to take any from the abundance of gross instances, you cannot walk down the street without being ridiculed by the vulgar film hoardings; you can rarely pass by an educational institution in any major city without being confronted by a general air of irreverence and impertinence in the conduct of the young. So many surveys have established that this deplorable climate is a direct result of the idiom of anarchy popularized by the media – both electronic and print. Behind it lies a simple law – greed for gross profit. We the people are at once the prey and the patrons of these congeries of vested-interests. Between the vested-interests and the masses there is that class of subsidiary profiteers, beginning with those who publicize vulgar advertisements in the media they control to  the sophisticated reviewers who write, ostensibly decrying the vulgarity and violence but in a way that arouses more curiosity than antipathy. Then there is that refined argument that what we are witnessing in India is in tune with the global trend. Globe in this sense of course is the West. We forget the stark naked fact that the Western world does not claim to be either happier or wiser by promoting such trends. Secondly, in India we have a cultural base so strong and so comprehensive that it could provide infinite scope for experiments and entertainments without these merchants having to “cash in on human weakness”.

A formidable problem is that some of such merchants who must have been reasonably intelligent and conscientious creatures once, slowly develop the culture of shutting their eyes to their own follies while loudly commenting on several social ills. One of them spoke against politicians in such terms that you would take him to be a champion of the downtrodden till the day he was found to be an ally of a murderous underworld don. I am afraid some of them undergo a thorough self-propelled brainwashing – a sort of self-hypnotism that makes them believe themselves innocent of their deeds. I do not remember if I had narrated to my readers a certain unforgettable experience of mine demonstrating this uncanny reality. If I had, please bear with me for repeating it:

A certain city was observing the centenary of a great poet. Among the guests were Mulk Raj Anand, Vijay Tendulkar and this author. We arrived a little before noon and were immediately led to the Vice-Chancellor’s residence for lunch. We then walked down to the University hall along a lovely pavement overshadowed by trees and creepers. The Mayor of the city, who happened to be the Chairman of the Reception Committee, walked with us. As in any Indian city, the road presented a sight of co-movements of the latest car and the primeval bullock cart. The Mayor’s attention went over to a street urchin hanging on to the rear of a bullock cart, his emaciated legs folded. The Mayor shouted at him, “Leave it, naughty boy, leave it!” The boy let go the cart and scampered off. The Mayor began telling me about the menace that these urchins had become. I had no comment to offer.

A minute later we saw the same boy hurling pebbles at a film poster framed and fixed to a pillar as if trying to separate the hero from the heroine, a pair of so called artistes, who displayed a most vulgar pose. This time the Mayor screamed and swore making a threatening gesture at the boy and the boy disappeared in a whiff. The gentleman turned to me and gave vent to his worry about such urchins, saying in conclusion, “Such a tiny head, and how much filth had it already accumulated!”

Only then I gave a bit of my mind to him, dangling close to his eyes a magazine that had reproduced a poster released by one of the wings of the UN, to mark the International Year of the Child, showing a just-born child of the future, with an oxygen mask clamped on its face so that it survived the pollution.

“Mr. Mayor, who is responsible for this condition of the child – the child itself or we? You smell filth in the tiny head of that urchin. But is he not a mere victim of the filth that you and I manufacture – only a little of which had spilled onto him? Who is the bloody producer of that film? Who are the author and the director? Who chose this particular nasty scene out of hundreds for public display? Who licensed this stupid stuff to stare at us? Are they the urchin’s compatriots? Are they not people like you and I and our compatriots?” I said, rather agitated.

Our host looked grim but did not react. In any case we had reached the venue for the event. I had just sat down in the auditorium when a local professor who was following us leaned towards me and said in a whisper, “Manoj, what a faux pas you made!” “What do you mean?” I looked askance at him.

His revelation struck my ear like the splinter of a grenade: “Well, Mr. Mayor is the producer of that film!”

For the two days I was there I took care to avoid the Mayor. So did he to avoid me. But I wondered: was Mr. Mayor’s anguish a mere acting? I was sure, it was not. His anguish was genuine. But he had cut his own role out of the total map of the situation, probably unconsciously. That is what we as a nation are doing.

Manoj Das

(Manoj Das is an internationally known creative writer. He is the recipient of India’s national recognition, the Sahitya Akademi Award and the nation’s most prestigious literary award, the Saraswati Samman. As a social commentator, his columns in India’s national dailies like The Times of India, The Hindustan Times, The Hindu and The Statesman, revealing the deeper truth and the untraced aspects behind current issues, have been highly appreciated.)