I’m assuming you can read this. If you can, then you were probably educated in an ‘English-medium’ school on the Indian subcontinent. Most likely, you live in a big city. It’s probable that you are not part of a village ecosystem. I’m sure you are careful about the news you consume and the people you believe. But is the news true? And what does that even mean?
Last winter as protests erupted through the country, I was in a taxi in Dehradun, which only became capital recently and grew as a centre for political agitation. Our cab was halted by a procession consisting of at least a hundred young men (there weren’t any women) holding flags of a certain party and shouting slogans. The taxi driver made a wise remark.
He said, “These people are given money, enough for a meal, to walk down the road and shout slogans for one party. Tomorrow these same folks will be paid by another party to walk down the same streets and rally for the cause, instead of against it”.
Obvious. These parties are like that. These politicians are corrupt. And other such thoughts begin to arise. Before I can think more, the cab moves and I’m thinking of food.
Stories started popping up on Instagram asking everyone to raise their voices. I didn’t. I don’t think I have the power to affect change in government policy. Just being realistic. I don’t think screaming, shouting and flailing my arms for issues that the ‘centre’ deems important will make anyone’s life easier. I’m still a political body and a historical body. I’m not an earning member of society, I don’t have children and I have very little knowledge.
I have issues of my own and the work that I want to do will probably take a few years, a few decades and if I’m lucky, I’ll achieve some good in this lifetime. The news cycle has changed. We know what’s happening every second every hour whether it is a child dancing in Texas or the opinions of a textile producer in Chittagong. And the Instagram culture is part of the 24×7 news production factory.
Does social media affect social change? Is the media biased? Yes, I think the media is biased, in favour of quick fixes and witty remarks. And I’m in the favour of time. When elections are near, the news channels and Instagram feeds start featuring political candidates, their stories, their promises and their quirks. Someone is feeding the poor, someone is meditating on a mountain.
But I’ve noticed a strange trend: Hindi news channels (I don’t watch regional news in any other language) have a different narrative of support than English news channels. It is not so much about which party they support but about what they say. The moral consciousness, the flavour of language, the viewers consuming the different languages, the people employed for different media channels and newspapers all mix together to make a distinct discourse.
Language in India is not just a medium of communication, it is a manner of life and the etiquette considered proper, it distinguishes class and culture and training. English language education in my personal experience educates you and feeds you terms of freedom, secularism, the individual and of course Shakespeare. Other Hindustani tongues have stories underpinned by a completely different philosophy and a different belief in the individual’s place in society.
There is more than the politics of translation. There is a politics of bodies, who speaks what language and how. This reflects our knowledge about international politics as well. I’m sure you know how.
Who is representing the media? Which history does it reflect? Who consumes this knowledge and for what purpose? Is the media serving as the fourth pillar of our hefty democracy? What is the history of our political lingo? Where do you come from? How do you wish politics changed? How do you engage in civil society? Are you serving your purpose with intention? Are you happy?
These are all political queries and we don’t have to have answers. It’s enough to just ponder upon them. The media shouldn’t assume they have answers. Maybe we need to revise the role of the media. Maybe we need to just talk to more people who think differently from us and build a stronger civil society that thinks critically and not just in one language (or just on social media).