Friday, August 24, 2007

Conspicuous by its absence

Many many years ago, while being taught English at my school at Patna, I recall being taught the expression "conspicuous by its absence". The expression greatly appealed to my adolescent mind - the apparent contradiction of being absent and yet conspicuous. If one thing deserves to be described as such, it is the coverage of the recent floods in the Indian Mainstream media (MSM). Prof Madhukar Shukla of XLRI Jamshedpur brought this to my notice.

BBC ran a story for several weeks giving us details of the floods which has affected several states of India, besides Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The poignant “Aid Worker Dairy” is there on the web for all to read. The UN called it the worst floods in living memory. From NY Times to several other prestigious global newspapers and media, there has been fairly comprehensive coverage of this humungous human tragedy. The Japanese PM during his visit to Delhi delivered a speech in the Indian parliament. His speech started with a tribute to those who had lost their life in the floods in Bihar.

Contrast this with the almost total absence of the coverage in the Indian MSM. Take any national media - TV, newspaper or magazines, either of English or Hindi. You would hardly find any reference to it. The only exceptions were when Lalu criticized Nitish for being in Mauritius later followed by criticism of Lalu for his helicopter fiasco - in short when there was a stick to beat Bihar and Biharis.

There is hardly any reference to the repeated release of water from the dams of Nepal. There is no reporting of the misery of the poor stranded on the highways. There is no reporting of the Rs 1500 crore allotted by the state Government for the cause of flood relief. There is no recognition of the tireless effort of dedicated officers like Ratn Sanjay and Sudhanshu Kumar who have been working for the welfare of the flood victims without a break. Alas, there is no concern for the imminent outbreak of water borne disease once the water starts to recede.

Agencies like OXFAM and Aid India are doing commendable work on the ground. Multinationals like GE have contributed water treatment plants for the flood affected. Punjab Government is sending fodder for the cattle of flood affected Bihar. Experts like Dinesh Mishra and Eklayva Prasad are advocating their alternatives for water management. As Dinesh Mishra says, the flood prone area of Bihar has increased from 2 M hectares in 1955 when the embankments were started to be built to 7 M when we have several thousand kilometers of them in Bihar. But I have not yet heard of a debate on the abject failure of the Nehruvian temples of modern India in the “conscientious” and free Indian MSM.

A few months ago, some people were discussing the lack of developmental benefits reaching the poorer sections of the society. In this context, someone asked "Does Bihar Matter?" As a take on that, I was tempted to put the headline of this post as "Does India Matter?" After all, there is more international concern for the floods in Bihar than in the Indian MSM. But then I checked myself, for India does matter – may not be to the Indian MSM or the insular civil society in the metros, but to the mainstream Indian population. It does matter to Bihar, the Heart of India, appropriately placed a little to the left of centre in the upper part of its map.

In a documentary prepared by Mr Dinesh Mishra’s team on the floods of Bihar, there is a scene where India’s Independence Day is being celebrated in a village affected by the floods. The village headman unfurls the flag on a bamboo post to the singing of the national anthem followed by cries of Bharat Mata Ki Jai (Long Live Mother India) by semi clad children of the village. India might have given up on Bihar, but Bihar has not given up on India – it never will.

Bihar – the Heart of India, is also the name of a book by Sir John Houlton published in 1949). To be fair, sensitive Indians are very concerned about the floods


santoshpandeyca said...

A very nice and well articulated thought. Lets publish this in Bihar Times or Patna Daily as well.

Atul Kumar said...

so well articulated TVS. Yes, India still matters to Bihar even though the converse doesn't sound true. However one exception I saw was in our "seer" like President Kalam when he accepted his post as "Visitor". Gives some hope.

Now let's see if MSM of India realizes sooner than later that her "heart" has not been getting right treatment and does needs some attention.