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Wait outside the temple, mate!

Wait outside the  temple, mate!
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Telugu television news channels would like us all to believe that they are fighting for a better world. Your definition of better world and their...

Telugu television news channels would like us all to believe that they are fighting for a better world. Your definition of better world and their definition may or may not always match. But when the mismatch occurs at an increasing frequency and begins to intrude into the basic freedoms one wishes for, it is a cause for alarm.

When we look at the way the Telugu TV news channels dealt with the issue of Nalsar students, many things are still unclear. What started the problem? Are the channels objecting to the students consuming liquor? Are they objecting to the girls getting into a fight? Are they objecting to the dressing of the girls? Are they objecting to the girls protesting against media intrusion? Do they see it as an intrusion at all? Was the media intervention in public interest? The news reports carried by most of the channels reiterated that the girls were punch drunk and brawling.

If a sari-clad woman was to be photographed by the TV cameras without her permission would she not be upset with the cameramen? Would she not object? Would you look sober if a camera is trained on you like a microscope while you are vehemently objecting to it? Were the girls upset without any provocation offered from anyone present there? If someone photographs a woman in a public place without her permission, is it harassment or not? Should the media stand against such harassment of women or reinforce the idea that women are coming out of a club and therefore deserve this intrusion?

Liquor consumption: Are our media houses generally against liquor consumption? Are they champions of prohibition? This cannot really be deciphered but the owners of the media establishments have unproblematic relationship with the liquor industry and its various bastions of support. In some cases, liquor money as investment is also welcome. They also had no problems in accepting surrogate advertisements for liquor brands till the regulatory intervention prevented it. So it is not just liquor or its consumption. There were male students accompanying the girls but the cameras were picking on the female students alone. If all of them have come out of the same party, shouldn't the men be also of interest?

In response to severe online criticism of the incident, The Electronic Media Journalists' Association of Andhra Pradesh dug out an invitation video for the farewell party made by the Nalsar students and sent it to some of the online campaigners, saying that it revealed the 'plans' of the girls. The video is just juvenile hype to make the party sound exciting for their friends. The fact that a video of this kind was made is no proof to claim that the students actually indulged in anything excessive. Since drinking is not illegal, and as a graduating group, the students are definitely of legal drinking age, the objection of the channels boils down to the fact they happen to be girls.

And girls dressed in western clothes. All the channels refer to their dresses � one says it gives the jitters just to look at their clothes, another calls it insane adoption of western clothes and culture, another reporter holds forth saying that it is dressing like this that leads to 'disasters' (anardhalu), another hyper-ventilates saying that in these times when women disappear and show up as dead bodies in unknown places, such dressing is shocking. Each of the channels has reiterated in various ways, the problem with girls dressed in a certain way. Not a single channel asked the question: why were they being filmed on mobile by an unknown character? Is it wrong to object to that? Again the question, how might responsible TV cameramen intervene in a situation of this kind? By blaming the harassed girls or dealing with the harassers?

We have seen this kind of mindset playing out all over the country when foreigners are sexually assaulted and sometimes killed. Women from the North East are regular targets of this mentality. This has been discussed ad nauseum on media, but does not seem to have trickled down to the Telugu channels. Dress and drinking are partly cultural and partly personal choices and media have no business to sit in judgment over women who exercise their choices. Foreigners and westernized urban women are subjected to intense harassment in public places in many parts of India. The street opinion of women who dress in a certain way, who choose to drink or smoke, as loose women without morals, is insular to say the least.

Our mainstream cinema has dinned it into us that true Bharat nari will be sari-clad, preferably cover her head in the presence of 'other men' and keep her eyes down. She cannot have opinions or the right to assert her freedom. A heroine who does item numbers to titillate the viewers earlier on in the film becomes a demure shy woman covered from top to toe once she is married. The paradox is TV news channels are avid consumers of film events with raunchy clips to garner advertising money. They have no moral compunctions when such footage is peddled in the prime time news bulletins. One need not even speak of the late night shows the channels carry to extract more advertising rupees. They have swooning interviews with actresses who do item numbers and build them up as youth icons.

On the one hand, the media are playing a primary role in changing perceptions of youth about what is desirable and what is not in entertainment. On the other, the female anchors duly dressed in a jacket and sporting short hairstyle hold forth on how the Nalsar girls' dressing and behaviour left Indian traditions and morals in tatters! This would be funny if it was not real.

Why has the standard dress code for female news anchors on Telugu news channels so un-Indian? Why are all the male reporters in the odious western trousers and t-shirts when they should be in dhotis? If they want to promote Indian culture, why are they lying in wait outside clubs at odd hours? Who were they expecting to see? Why don't they wait in front of the various mutts and temples before sunrise and showcase the Bharat naris coming out of them? No TRPs there, I guess.

Media have to first introspect and mature. Blatant double standards in conduct cannot take us too far. The hope is that media learn to respect differences in lifestyle and culture and play a role in educating the general public rather than acting like Khap panchayats.

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