All the news that’s fit to show

Many years ago, I met an old school friend who had returned to India after studying abroad for years. At the time, he was working on a World Bank sponsored project to study corruption in India. At the time, India was waking up to the alarming fact of farmer suicides where debt ridden farmers killed themselves out of shame when they were unable to repay their loans.

The tales he told me were humbling. In one case, there was a farmer who had lost his money on successive failed harvests. He then pinned his hopes on a new government built canal which was supposed to irrigate his land. That year he took heavy loans and planted sugarcane. When the canal was completed, the richer farmers upstream diverted most of the water leaving too little for his crops. The farmer took another heavier loan the next year and installed a bore-well in his land. This time, he had a good harvest and was on his way to clearing his debt when the price of sugarcane in the market collapsed ruining him.

This is a sadly common case. In distress many such farmers commit suicide. That usually makes matters worse for their families. Money lenders continue to harass widows and family members of the deceased. My friend told me that by looking at the widows, he could tell many of them were considering suicide themselves.

There was one final stage to this rural crisis. Wherever things got really bad, Naxal rebels found easy breeding ground. According to him, the Naxalite movement was spreading hand in hand with rural indebtedness epidemic.

India_map_Naxal_Left-wing_violence_or_activity_affected_districts_2013.SVG.png

Naxal affected districts in India (2013) – Wikipedia

What really surprised him was the fact that though this had become an almost daily occurrence in most of India, the mainstream media rarely paid attention to it. A few times a year, they would quote statistics, fulminate against the government and then move on to other urban affairs.

According to the 2011 census, 68.84% of Indians (around 833.1 million people) live in 640,867 different villages. Look at any Indian newspaper or website and check how much column space is devoted to 2/3rd of India’s population. There are some journalists who do act as conscience keepers, perhaps the most famous is P. Sainath (watch his documentary, Nero’s Guests). But they are few and India is a big place.

psainath

P. Sainath

In college, I once participated in a political march (once was enough). I think it was against the government’s new reservation policy. One day, we found posters plastered all over campus inviting students to assemble after classes at the gate. A friend convinced me to accompany him there and we arrived at the appointed time. Soon a sizable crowd gathered and a few organizers appeared. We all walked out of campus to the nearby rose garden and were told to sit comfortably. Duly, a TV van arrived with a camera crew and ‘journalist’ who went around ‘interviewing’ protesters.

A couple of organizers stood up supposedly ‘at random’ and gave what were clearly rehearsed speeches. The news segment was complete within five minutes and we were asked to disperse. The whole affair lasted about 25 minutes.

So if someone asks me, how anything (demonetization, corruption, technology penetration, Modi govt., water shortage, religious tolerance etc. take your pick) is going on in India, if I want to be honest, I have to say, I really wish I knew but I don’t have a clue.

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