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As A Former Journalist And Current Researcher, I’m Appalled At Media’s #OccupyUGC Agenda

Posted on October 30, 2015 in Campus Watch, Media

By Shaheen Ahmed

I do not even want to start on how vicious the atmosphere has turned today. How dissent is being literally choked and broken down with lathis and bullets. But this is a piece on some concerns that I feel on how journalism, that last bastion of free and fair expression, has gone down the capitalist’s dog’s throat. For the last one week, students from all across the country and especially from the prestigious JNU in Delhi, have risen in strong protest against the arbitrary and entirely anti-student diktats of the current regime. The UGC or University Grants Commission decided sometime in October that they are going to discontinue the non-NET Fellowship for MPhil and Ph.D research scholars. These fellowships were available to scholars across central universities. Now, we all know how the last 8 days have panned out. What I am angry about is not just such a pro-capitalist move by Modi government which is aimed at breaking the back of research in India, but also at the brutality of the state in handling the protesters. The students were lathi charged not once but twice in a week’s span. The latest one was on the evening of 27th October. This was brutal. Hordes of policemen and women descended down on the students and beat them up, many were detained as well with threats of charges being pressed.

Image source: Posted by Akhil Kumar on Facebook
Image posted by Akhil Kumar on Facebook

Under such circumstances, what do we find? An absolute silence by the mainstream media, save for one or two token pieces hidden within the reams of the paper. Indian Express carried one piece but lay more emphasis on the fact that the Delhi Police shamelessly and brazenly lied about this brutality (this violence has been captured on video by many). That was no reporting per se. The reporter ought to have verified the facts with the students, carried photos in print and videos on the web and accosted the police. But no. The largest daily The Times of India carried one small, dry piece in between the paper surrounded by ads. Perhaps I shouldn’t have expected much in any case. But what has got me raging mad is the big article in The Times of India published on 29th October on page 6 about the protests.

The article is big enough to carry a collage of photos as well as the small capsule Times View where the paper gives its opinion (wanted or unwanted). Instead of saying a word of support on the scores of students who have been protesting through democratic means demanding what is their right, the mighty paper instead focuses on ‘graffiti’ on the metro station’s walls! The paper writes that this is ‘vandalism’. This piece is undoubtedly one of the laziest and most twisted piece of reporting a news event I have read till now. There is no question about the pro-state position of the paper, but to not just ridicule a legitimate student movement but in fact surreptitiously attempt to derail the movement is what must be resisted and such attempts must not be brushed aside. The media, including the print, no matter how much one may castigate it, still is a strong means to mobilise public opinion and support. For a movement like ours, we also need the public to understand the nitty-gritty and support our resistance.

This article was nothing but an insidious attempt at raising middle class and bourgeoisie concerns about the ‘city’s beautification’. I am reminded of such attempts during the CWG in 2010 when the aesthetics of the city mattered more than the homeless. ToI’s report was nothing but harking back to such sentiments to delegitimize the Occupy UGC movement. As a former ToI journalist and as a current MPhil researcher, I am thoroughly appalled at the low levels that this paper has stooped to further the government’s and the capitalist agenda. At the heart of the movement is the question of privatization of education which will lead to thousands of students being deprived of their right to education. Perhaps the paper also needs some reminders on protest movements from across the world – how graffiti has played a major role. Also, the dialectics of art on the streets is interesting to note here. Street art that is ‘sanctioned’ now by the state and done aesthetically by artists are applauded by the bourgeoisie. These kinds of art which have become the de rigeur in a city like Delhi since the past few years often lack a political meaning or statement. In fact an S.T. Art Festival is also organized in Delhi in a huge way with corporate funding and state support with artists participating from all over the world. ToI itself has carried many articles and other publicity material for this festival. But today, the political statements on the metro station’s walls which are outside the station on the road, are the work of vandals!

I must also add finally, that this is not the first attempt by corporates to delegitimize student movements which have gripped the country all over this year. Pepsi came out with a derogatory ad recently poking fun at students. This ad was roundly criticized and rightfully so.

Such cheap attempts as the one by Times of India, should not only strengthen our resolve but also inspire students from all across to unite and fight for their rights. I am sorry ToI, but such cheap attempts will keep getting exposed. We can and will carry this fight without you. We are not ‘begging’ for our rights. We do not need to ‘soul search’. Rather you should stop wasting your print space and ask the government to soul search. Where is its soul when it is snatching away the education from thousands? And where is YOUR soul that you support such a move?
As the late Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano had said – “The walls are the publishers of the poor.”

Featured image posted by Akhil Kumar on Facebook.

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