Disconnect vs Disconnect
From school to workplaces, wannabes have different shades, and aspirations have different camouflages. Sometimes sheer desperation makes people define themselves in weird ways. Victimhood is one. A failure to gatecrash if not gain entry into the ‘people like us’ club, causes heartburn. Those excluded feel compelled to explain why they are left out. How do they do that? Apartheid theories are born and the defining colour is language. If one revelation was never a revelation, it is this: the discriminated ones are well-paid and upwardly mobile. As are journalists working in the Hindi national media space.
The irony is that they are as disconnected to ground realities of the Hindi belt as their counterparts in cocooned English media. Merely speaking and writing in the language of the soil is not reason enough for the current crop of Hindi journalists to claim bigger noses for the soil and bigger ears to the ground. Being at home in the language is a great asset, but not an instrument for negotiating and monopolizing reality. The rootlessness in news rooms of Hindi channels and newspapers is getting increasingly exposed. In fact, the Hindi – English divide is not connect – disconnect divide, it can better be understood as Hindi disconnect – English disconnect divide.
How can you hide it for long? There has been a conspiracy of silence in contemporary Hindi intelligentsia in general and the Hindi media space in particular. It is the elephant in the room. The fact has no lingual biases – Hindi media space is devoid of any substantive engagement with the social, political, economic and cultural life of the Hindi belt and particularly the Hindi hinterland. The missing rigour in subtle understanding of is evident.
Any claim to reality-connected superiority of Hindi media vis-à-vis English media has to be based on content and general orientation. Hindi journalism is banking on English ‘sophistication’ and English intelligentsia to fill its glamour quotient and intellectual space. How?
Hindi Media – identity crisis and consumerist symphony
As a consumer of Hindi news, chances are you watch Aaj Tak, Zee News, NDTV India, Star News, IBN 7, India TV, DD News, etc., and read Dainik Jagran, Dainik Bhaskar, Hindustan, Navbharat Times, Prabhat Khabar, Jansatta etc., and Hindi editions of India Today and Outlook (the umbilical cord a statement in itself). The growth in Hindi news media has been the stuff of some scholarly dissection and been well documented in two remarkable studies on Indian media in recent years – Robin Jeffrey’s India’s Newspaper Revolution (2000) and Sevanti Ninan’s Headlines From the Heartland (2007). The expansion of Hindi news media is generally seen as being propelled by a whole new generation of literates who consume news in their mother tongue first. However, such churning has not led to better reporting and commentary on the Hindi belt. The reverse has been true. Sensing the killing to be made in a vast Hindi news market, media houses have stuffed Hindi news space with ingredients that can cater to a basic common denominator of entertainment as news or news as entertainment. Any hope of having a renewed connect with the socio-cultural milieu and political realities of Hindi belt was short lived.
Even the language has witnessed a market makeover, and the tone of most shows on Hindi news channels is Bollywoodsque metro hybrid. And you thought the ‘connecting’ Hindi media would tap into the richness of the Hindi of our heartland and its regional variants! Wake up! Hindi media czars have carved a Hindi universe for market sensibilities and not for its lingual culture. Just have a look at Navbharat Times on any day, chances are you will find headlines and even articles written in the language of Hinglish jingles.
Coverage of news and issues in Hindi media is as superficial, if not more, as English media. A case in point can be coverage of ongoing electoral process in Uttar Pradesh, a crucial benchmark for ‘connect’ quotient in Hindi media. Watching coverage of UP elections in Hindi media leaves you disillusioned. The election shows beamed from studios are caught in the trap of turning elections into TRP chasing carnivals with programmes packaged as Kaun Banega Mukhyamantri. The pages of Hindi newspapers have also been devoid of insightful in-house commentary.
An equally disturbing aspect is how the space for intellectual engagement in Hindi media space has been outsourced to English intelligentsia. Too many articles and columns in Hindi newspapers are translated versions of pieces originally written in English. So you have articles by C Uday Bhaskar, Kuldeep Nayar, C Raja Mohan, C P Chandershekhar, Harsh Mander, Pushpesh Pant, Tavleen Singh, Khuswant Singh, etc. on pages of the Hindi press.
Even talking heads in many shows on Hindi channels are from the English speaking intelligentsia (a few are of now a rare bilingual breed too). There is nothing wrong in having views and perspectives from English space, but the disturbing sign is that Hindi media is failing to nurture in house expertise or even tap Hindi intelligentsia in the mainstream of intellectual discourse. In stark contrast, Hindi intelligentsia is not present in English media space in any noticeable way.
Hindi journalism had once illuminated the intellectual and cultural discourse of the country with iconic publications and legendary names like Dharmvir Bharti, Prabash Joshi, Mrinal Pandey, to name a few. Have we anyone of that stature now? The only contribution that new breed of Hindi journalists can claim to have made is in reinforcing the stereotypes about the Hindi belt (with market logic being the governing principle) saap, bhoot, sex, raashi-bhavisya vani, tantra etc.
So where do Hindi media wannabes expect to gain their sympathy from? Who will stand by them in their fight against news apartheid? If they remain as disconnected as they are, language cannot be their saviour. They must realize that the Lohiate anti-English ground is shifting beneath their feet. Why?
The Ground Beneath the Feet and Churning in the Heartland
The cultural hegemony of English in the intellectual space of North Indian elite is an unfortunate given of our times. From colonial cultural engineering to the concept of social distance, there can be a number of explanations for the lingual hierarchy and cultural capital in the Hindi heartland. I have briefly addressed the issue in a different piece here.
However, there is a subtle churning. Rural spaces are filled with St. Thomas, St. Xavier and Mother Mary schools running from dilapidated two room buildings – all private initiatives to cater to demand of parents. Learning English has emerged as the universal mantra for socio-economic salvation in the hinterland. Any solidarity on basis of anti- English rhetoric has only few takers in the Hindi belt now. Even the political class has read the writing on the wall and post-liberalization anxiety for English education has been taken note of. Samajwadi Party had to shed its historical anti-English baggage within a span of few months.
This is not a new development. A case in point is how intellectuals of the marginalized Dalit community have viewed English in recent years. An interesting aspect of Dalit intellectual discourse has been how it has cherished Macaulay and resultant English education as a liberating force. Dalit ideologue Chandra Bhan Prasad has gone to the extent of deifying English as devi and celebrates Macaulay utsav.
The feet of clay of the Hindi media get exposed in the glare of ‘connect’ claims. The fault-lines are evident. Nothing more obvious than the fact that the Hindi media follows the script of the same corporate potboiler that feeds English media. Hindi media and reality connectedness are as fallacious as Bollywood’s portrayal of the Hindi belt. The Hindi media has to rediscover its rooted engagement with the socio-cultural and politico-economic narrative of the space it claims to represent and cater to.