Archive for the ‘Society’ Category

The role of women journalists in strengthening democratic processes

“Many people think that in order to be powerful, a journalist has to reach a huge audience. No, in order to be powerful, a journalist has to reach the audience that can make a difference to an issue. It can be one person.”

— A speech at West Bohemia University, Pilsen,
Czech Republic, on 2 November, 2000
(Quoted in”Journalism and Citizenship”).

The role of woman journalists in strengthening the democratic processes cannot be underestimated. Firstly, the power of the press is noted to be more penetrating than the sword, and has even been known to make or break governments by swaying public opinion, and secondly because more and more women are entering the media profession, be it as reporters, editorial staff or in the more visible electronic media sector. Even if they have not broken the glass ceiling, woman journalists still make a difference. Said a roving reporter from Chennai, “I usually submit three copies that my boss wants, and then one copy that I as a woman hold dear to me.”

Democratic processes: a definition
“The success of democracy is largely measured by the public’s participation in the process and the responsiveness of the system to popular demands.”

— The art of teaching democracy: The theory, by Ruud Veldhuis

A democratic country has more citizen participation in the form of voting for elected representatives, implies more accountability of the government and protects the political and personal rights of citizens, including those in the minority.

John Patrick, an American social scientist and lecturer at Indiana University in Bloomington (USA) defines democracy as: “A political system institutionalized under the rule of law. There is an autonomous civil society, whose individuals join together voluntarily into groups with self-designated purposes to collaborate with each other through mechanisms of political parties and establish through freely contested elections a system of representative government.”

Citizens are those persons who live in a state permanently and enjoy civil and political rights. In return they are expected to owe allegiance to the State and the State is obliged to protect the citizen’s life, liberty, property and political rights.

A civil society that functions well is perhaps indicative of how well a democracy works. Whether democratic processes work better in homogeneous or heterogeneous societies is a matter of speculation, but India with her culturally and ethnically diverse groups is known to be the world’s largest democracy.

A sociological perspective
That democratic processes involve the interaction of the state and the citizen is beyond doubt, but which should have more influence has been a debate raging since time immemorial. While Durkheim believes that society is real, that it is an objective reality constraining us, Weber believes that it is the individual that is real and that society is an abstraction.

“Sociologically the state cannot be defined in terms of its ends. There is scarcely any task that some political association has not taken in hand, and there is no task that one could say has always been exclusive and peculiar to those associations which are designated as political ones…Ultimately one can define the modern state sociologically only in terms of the specific means peculiar to it…namely the use of political force.” (Politics as a Vocation, 1919). Friedrich Engels and Marx developed this idea by saying that the state is an instrument of force that is only needed when society is built on the conflict of classes

In “Politics as a Vocation” (1919). Weber also writes “there is only the choice: leadership-democracy (Fuhrerdemokratie) or leaderless democracy.” He defines leaderless democracy to be “the domination of “professional politicians” without a vocation, without the inner charismatic qualities that alone make a leader.”

Perhaps a symbiotic relationship between the government and the people is an ideal medium in which a Government by the people remains accountable enough to recall that it has been instituted for the people.

Woman journalists and democracy
“No press is truly free unless women share an equal voice.”

— International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF)

One must not assume that by virtue of being a woman, every woman journalist automatically strives to fight for women’s rights. There are many professionals who regard themselves as journalists first and women second.

However, those who are actively involved in the cause of women’s upliftment can surely make a difference, not only by actively encouraging more media coverage of women with more female-centric articles, but also by being more visible as reporters and covering what have been regarded to be hitherto male bastions, such as Barkha Dutt in Kargil.

Whilst women are increasingly reporting and presenting the news, they are rarely news subjects. This was the finding of the Global Media Monitoring Project 2000, which involved 70 countries. The startling finding is that while women account for 41 per cent of the presenters and reporters of the world’s news, they are only 18 per cent of news subjects.

According to another survey more urban housewives —from 21.7 million in 1999 to 25.4 million now —read a daily newspaper at the cost of reading magazines. The reach of magazines has declined from 93.8 million in 1999 to 86.2 million in 2002, a 22 per cent loss, taking into account the population growth during the same period. Surely democratic processes are going haywire if women, who constitute about 50 per cent of the population, do not get adequate coverage, be it in the political or the apolitical spheres.

Highlighting stories on successful women, who in turn can serve as role models, is also something that woman journalists can be actively involved in. Although the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action (PFA) affirmed that women should have, at least, a 30 per cent share of decision-making positions, women have not yet reached parity in any of the world’s legislatures. In fact, in 1995, women represented less than 1per cent of all heads of state, top executives and land owners. They made up less than 5 per cent of UN ambassadors, less than 8 per cent of cabinet ministers and less than 12 per cent of all political party leaders. At the same time, they performed over 65 per cent of all unpaid work hours, accounted for 70 per cent of all of the world’s poor, and women and children made up over 75 per cent of the world’s refugees. (Waring, Marilyn. If Women Counted: A New Feminist Economy San Fransisco: Harper & Row, 1988.)

Woman journalists can also strengthen democratic processes by becoming involved in civic journalism, a journalism which involves an “explanatory” story frame to cover public issues instead of the “conflict” frame, which often reports two opposing viewpoints.

Civic journalism has increased public deliberation, civic problem solving, volunteerism and has led to changes in public policy, wrote Professor Lewis A. Friedland and doctoral student Sandy Nichols, of the Center for Communication and Democracy.

A US study, “Measuring Civic Journalism’s Progress,” analyzed 651 projects published between 1994 and 2002 and collected by the Pew Center for Civic Journalism. It traced the development of civic journalism and reported that about 85 per cent of the projects provided space for citizen perspectives. “The findings in this category are among the most unequivocal and important in our research,” the study noted. “Civic journalism clearly extended the reach of journalism, incorporating new voices of citizens that simply would not have been otherwise heard.”

Another important contribution could be focusing on journalism with a long-term impact. Reporters strive to get a good story for a quick byline, just as democratic governments tend to work on policies with a short-term impact in view of the next impending election. As a result, important issues that have global repercussions, such as environmental issues, are often put on the backburner. Journalists need to liaison with government representatives to concentrate on stories with a long-term impact, which may not necessarily merit a byline.

Journalists are the watchdogs of society and the newspaper is the fourth estate of a democracy. Journalists ought to make democratic processes work so that gaining access to government institutions is as easy as picking up a newspaper. And for this to take place a considerable amount of introspection within the press has to take place.

“Work at perfecting the journalism that democracy deserves…[is] worthwhile because the stakes are high…and both the citizens and the journalists need to see what they might be.”

— Journalism and Citizenship


The generation gap

There she was, the plump, loving mum who came and spent at week at her daughter’s university out of concern for second degree burns that the young girl had sustained when boiling water spilt on her while she was pouring tea. And so at every given moment the mother would lovingly change her bandages and warn her to be careful.
And then there was the pretty daughter. She was full of conflicting emotions: so excited about coming to a great university, and so embarrassed by her mum being around her, when all the other students had come to campus independently. One day when she was attending an open lawn party with the other freshers, her mum walked by and told her to be careful and not dance too much so that her burns could heal.
“Go away mum. I am with my new friends. You are embarrassing me,” she said.
The mother walked away, sighed, and thought of how she had sacrificed promotion opportunities at work so as to be able to devote more time to her children. And for what? For this day, when her daughter effortlessly put a group of new friends on a pedestal, and who chided her for dressing up in an old fashioned way.
The social exchange theory of Homas is based on the idea that all relationships are based on give-and-take. This perspective argues that people calculate the overall worth of a particular relationship by subtracting its costs from the rewards it provides.
I wonder what ‘reward’ this mother got for the relationship with her daughter?

No fairy godmother for this Cinderella!

Priyanka searched for the best online flight ticket deal to take her to Raipur to attend a competitive exam. She was also attending a crash course in coaching for IIT, where she was being taught maths and science by highly-paid competent teachers.
Maithali was not so lucky. Born into a not-so-privileged family, her mother washes utensils in other peoples’ houses, while a father is a tailor who does not believe that time or money should be wasted on the education of a daughter.
Both the girls are distracted by boys. Priyanka became friends with several boys, and enjoyed the attention that was showered on her, considering that there were 60 boys and four girls in the coaching class. Maithali was seated in an area of the class surrounded by boys. At the time of an exam she would be pinched hard until she was forced to tell the boys the answers to a few of the questions, for which they had obviously not prepared for.
Although worlds apart, both the girls knew the meaning of bunking a class. Priyanka would bunk to meet up with a boy she found to be special, while Maithali came to the class of her Government school after a half an hour walk, to find that the teacher had decided not to turn up.
Priyanka wanted to be something in life and she knew she would. Maithali wanted to do something in her life other than the work that her mother did. Intelligent, confident, beautiful and vivacious, the odds were stacked against her. Life was pulling her back into the quicksand of poverty, and there was no fairy Godmother or Prince Charming to come to her rescue.

Let’s lean on the pillar of humility

Jesus paved the way, through his actions, to what management gurus today refer to as servant-leadership. His strength was in his utter simplicity and humility, epitomized by acts such as washing his disciples’ feet.
In contrast, so many academics I interact with as part of my profession, seem to believe that having acquired a lot of knowledge entitles them somehow to always brag about themselves. I was aghast when one Indian professor introduced himself at a workshop for doctoral scholars by saying, “I have been a brilliant student ….” Needless to say, his sleep-inducing monologue about his scholarly exploits continued for a good 20 minutes.
And yet, a few days later I was hosting dinner for two renowned scholars from the UK, who are on editorial boards of ranked journals. It was refreshing to witness their humility. The conversation hardly veered towards them and their academic successes, but rather, remained focused on the present research work they were conducting.
In the same vein, talking to an Indian professor I met at a conference recenty, when I jibed that he had the perfect resume, with St Stephens, Oxford university and Harvard university as his alma maters, he just shrugged, laughed and continued talking about his current research.
These cases beautifully illustrate an Indian saying that goes something like this: A pot that is half filled with water makes a lot of noise, but one that is full of water is silent.
A seasoned academic or researcher realizes after some time that no one individual can be the repository of all knowledge. Infact, the more one gets one’s teeth into research work, the more one realizes how little knowledge we as individuals have actually acquired. So let’s be humble about it! Jesus was.

Relative value for money

At times all it takes is for a small incident to make a theoretical principle both more meaningful and memorable. While the concept of relative value for money was taught to us by an erudite economics professor in the confines of a classroom, the richness of this principle was actually brought home to me by an encounter with a rickshaw puller.
As we know ‘value’ is how much a desired object or condition is worth relative to other objects or conditions (wikipedia), and relative value of money depends on where and when you are spending that money. So Rs 500 would go further in a small town like Patna, compared to a metropolitan city like Mumbai.
On a visit to pay homage to Lord Krishna at Jagnnath temple nestled in the town of Puri, Orissa, the taxi driver had warned me, “Madam be careful. The priests will surround you like vultures, all after your money.”
So I went into the temple precinct with some amount of hesitation and trepidation, and spent much of my energy in simultaneously clutching my purse and shooing away the priests. It could hardly be described as an ethereal experience. In fact it was quite a relief for me to buy the Prasad (holy offering) and make a hasty retreat.
I beckoned a rickshaw puller to take me to the taxi stand and after some negotiations we settled for Rs 40 for this service. As soon as I reached the taxi stand I told him to wait as I searched for my taxi amongst the hundreds lined up in the car park. When I returned to pay the richshaw puller I couldn’t find him anywhere and nor could I trace the packet of Prasad that I had asked him to safeguard. So much for trust.
Then I did some calculations. Obviously the rickshaw puller had figured out that he would be better off by stealing the Prasad which was worth Rs 60 rather than wait to be paid Rs 40 by me. It had never occurred to me that he would steal the Prasad because in Delhi Rs 20 is really of no real value (one could buy a cold drink with this sum), whereas in the poverty-stricken city of Puri this so-called meager amount had enough value for the chap to risk theft.
Anyway, this story has a happy ending. Apart from it making the principle of the relative value of money more meaningful for me, I did return to Jagannath temple a few months later, and this time I made sure that I left the temple precincts clutching both my purse and the Prasad!

Why are we Indians so oblivious to etiquette?

 I recall cringing as a child on a flight from London to Delhi, when a fellow Indian traveler decided to change his attire from trousers to a dhoti right in the middle of the aisle. Needless to say a harried air hostess ushered him rather rapidly towards the lavatory. This passenger was blissfully unaware that he was the cynosure of all eyes.

Take a more recent case of Cavalleria Rusticana, an opera in one act from Italy, which was performed last week in India for the first time at Siri Fort auditorium, New Delhi (this was a collaboration of the Embassy of Italy, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and The Delhi International Arts Festival).

Agreed that even I was unaware of the finer nuances of the no-applause rule, in which the audience at an opera is not meant to applaud until the end of the final movement, and had to be informed of this rule by my friend who has more experience of attending operas than me. But again I cringed when I saw no less than the chief guest Delhi Lt Governor Tejinder Khanna and his entourage making an exit after about 40 minutes of the show. It was not the exit itself, but the way in which this was executed that was painfully embarrassing. The dignitaries climbed the stage and made an exit through the wings, as the audience and the performers looked on gobsmacked.

And here is yet another example of ‘perfect’ manners. Picture a panel discussion of luminaries in front of a select audience. While a noted academician was in the midst of a well prepared speech on feminist knowledge, an elderly couple decided that they had to leave the venue. They shuffled up to the stage to pay their respects to the main protagonist of the evening, and then with considerable difficulty made their way to the exit through the crammed hall, distracting the audience in the process. The speaker, luckily, managed to remain composed and finished her talk seamlessly, in spite of the commotion.

In this day and age of globalization and internationalization, we Indians need to learn to mind our Ps and Qs at a rapid pace. How much longer can we be oblivious to the social embarrassments that we at times unwittingly cause?

A train journey

Rolling landscape passed by the breezy windows. It was only when the train halted that we realised the importance of breeze. A 13-year-old girl sitting beside was soon feeling sleepy. Unknowingly she rested her head against my shoulder and slept. We realised the importance of the cushion of security for our young ones.

 The democracy of choice reverberated throughout the compartment, with several passengers playing any music on their mobile phones, sans headphones, for all to hear. We realised the importance of tolerating diversity, for no one uttered a word of complaint. The jesters came and went. From the boy who performed magic tricks, to the blind singer, to the transvesites who made it a point to touch passengers, and out of this created discomfort, earned their living.

A journey in a second class compartment is certainly more entertaining than Colours TV! But in the end, we realise how far the two Indias still are. Is anybody really listening?