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The Media Circus Around Salman Khan Verdict

“Orlando sat so still that you could have heard a pin drop. Would, indeed, that a pin had dropped! That would have been life of a kind. Or if a butterfly had fluttered through the window and settled on her chair, one could write about that. Or suppose she had got up and killed a wasp. Then, at once, we could out with our pens and write. For there would be blood shed, if only the blood of a wasp. Where there is blood, there is life.- Virginia Woolf.

This paragraph picked out of wonderful masterpiece of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando as she explains the predicament of Orlando, the man turned woman, struggling to write a poem, a novel is something every writer faces. Ms. Woolf mentions this as a challenge thrown at a novelist every waking day. But I would presume, the challenge extends in even graver proportions to a new set of writer, which is a journalist.

A modern day journalist needs not only blood, she needs a fresh blood, a blood which is not many day old. She writes not as a response to her need to write, but as a response to her need to be read. If she is a journalist of new age media, she further has the responsibility of keeping people glued to her TV channel. She will shout, hound, harangue against imaginary people who are out to kill and exterminate humanity. Human mind is very adaptable. This flexibility is what is great about human mind. This flexibility is his curse. You put him in the mess and he starts believing it to be his home after a while. He will no longer struggle to get out of it. Beneath the veneer of human intellect, he is no better than Pavlovian frog in such matters. He begins believing that journalism is entertainment. The lines thin and merge. On one hand it kills real literature, it obfuscate the true purpose of journalism.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that a Journalist should surrender the right to a position. But all this frothing out of the corner of the mouth righteousness, irrespective of the position which the event takes, one its own, unguided by the journalistic narrative. That is something which does not quite qualifies for journalism. There has to be some sense of proportion in the outrage, some space of silence in the noise. Just because you hold the mike, doesn’t make you a lawyer, a patriot, a moralist, all rolled in one. I may be one of these, with the most silent voice and you should come to me and ask my opinion. If not, then this becomes what is often termed as media circus.

An accident, an unfortunate event is just that. You report it without jumping up on the table and become a studio socialist carrying forward the case for the masses. A movie star runs over footpath dwellers. Thirteen years hence we come around to some justice, or as we later realize, some semblance of it, only a semblance, a pretense. The Gods of the people come around on Television and announce it as a victory of justice. Something inside me shifts in unease. Didn’t we read somewhere, Justice delayed is justice denied? But then, justice is such an odd and outrageously out-of-reach of human mind kind of idea. We dance in absurd happiness about the vindication of the idea of equity of human beings as court, after wise deliberation of thirteen years convicts the star with five year imprisonment for running over people sleeping on the footpath. He is charged with culpable homicide. The story ends. The studio programming goes for a toss. What do we talk about? The ticker had already run about twenty-four hour non-stop coverage of Salman Khan Verdict. Verdict came, story ends. Prosecution lawyer does not come on TV to talk about biryani. Evidently he is not interested in becoming a celebrity beacon of justice in a country where under-trials equal the population of Denmark.

Media is desperate. The man, the heartthrob, till yesterday proclaimed by them as Controversy’s favorite child, has been convicted, and an efficient battery of lawyers has obtained a quick bail and taken him home. The drama has ended prematurely, tossing off their plans of 24 hours coverage, announced prematurely, with a hope of an immediate jail terms, fans running rampage, rolling on streets, tonsured heads- all such stupidity. No Jail, no drama, what to do. Then, Bollywood comes in solidarity. There is a competition to prove loyalty. Someone says, those sleeping on street are akin to dogs and like dogs they died. A respite, a lifeline of stupidity, and the debate turns to the supporters of Salman. The unsure idiots come to studios trying to justify.

“This accidents could not have happened, if people weren’t asleep on the footpath and had government offered them with shelters” – say some. True, in which case her friend could comfortably have driven on the pavement without killing anyone. What man doesn’t want to drive on a pavement at one time or other? What kind of people would come and sleep on those pavements and prevent him from driving there? I am rich, I paid taxes to the government to make those pavement, I would bloody-well drive over them. She doesn’t know what she is talking about. The singer who compared the dead with the canine is even more absurd. Music surely can take you close to the divine, it cannot cure stupidity. It confounds everyone. So far so good, 5 more hours out of the proclaimed goes in covering this. In the meantime, the story turns. Higher courts grant bail to the superstar. The rich gets the machinery move at dizzying past. The same fuel which made the machinery move so slow that it did not catch up with one elusive witness for all of thirteen years, suddenly moves it so fast that within no time that the star is back at home.

The narrative by this time has lost its pivot. It does not know where to go.

Should we attack the star, his loyalists, the victims or the government? It was an accident. It was nothing that the star wanted to eliminate all the poor people from the face of the city like some politician who visited him to express solidarity. There was no case of class struggle. It was an act of accidental illegality, nothing more, and nothing less. What could however be considered an act of class- discrimination is about how the case was pursued by the legal system and how it was covered by the media. In the meantime, from being a murderer of people, the media has to go back to the tag of conspiracy’s favorite child. The act is barely as disgusting as is our response as a society, as a nation, as media to the act of this innocent drunk accident on one September night, 13 years back. Let us pause, mute the TV sets and introspect. The act while turned out ghastly with death of innocent people, is not the first act of drunk driving, nor will it be last. What about law enforcement? How do you enforce law in a city, where the insult of local food is prime concern of lawmakers and they can bring privilege motion to safeguard the feelings of a sad Vada pao, and when a policeman asks license from a lawmaker, he gets thrashed in public. Let us not go on pretending that Mumbai is a cosmopolitan city and the fact it is not has nothing to do with migrants who went in there to build a pretense of a global city.
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