This is a list of ten articles that were read the most on The Wire in 2018. They were on topics as diverse as the depiction of women in Bollywood, media exposés, the PM’s Research Fellowship and the realities of the education system in India. And they’re worth revisiting on this last day of the year: for a snapshot of 2018’s most popular preoccupations.
In an open letter to director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, actor Swara Bhaskar spelled out how his movie Padmaavat glorified Jauhar and Sati, and reduced women to simply being “walking talking vaginas”. Condoning such practices at a time when ‘honour’ killings and the practice of Female Genital Mutilation only aid in propelling patriarchal, misogynist and problematic ideas is a mistake, she argues.
Practices like Sati, Jauhar, FGM, Honour Killings should not be glorified because they don’t merely deny women equality, they deny women personhood. They deny women humanity. They deny women the right to life. And that is wrong. One would have assumed that in 2018, this is not a point that even needs to be made; but apparently, it does. Surely, you wouldn’t consider making a film glorifying FGM or Honour Killings!
The context of art, any art is the time and place when it was created and consumed. And that’s why this gang-rape infested India, this rape condoning mindset, this victim blaming society is the actual context of your film, Sir. Surely in this context, you could have offered some sort of a critique of Sati and Jauhar in your film?
Second on the list is a deep dive into the Cobrapost exposé which revealed how some of the biggest names in the Indian media agreed to business proposals by an undercover reporter seeking the promotion of the Hindutva agenda.
For the sting, an undercover journalist, Pushp Sharma, posed as “Acharya Atal”, a man who identified himself as a representative of an unnamed “sangathan”, or organisation, but who gave the impression that he was a member of or close to the Nagpur-based Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS).
The biggest name to be stung by Cobrapost was Times Group owner and managing director Vineet Jain. In a number of videotaped conversations, Jain and the group’s executive president, Sanjeev Shah, can be seen and heard discussing the proposed deal in which Acharya Atal said he would pay Rs 500 crore in exchange for advertorials and events that that would be presented as programming on Krishna and the Bhagvad Gita but which would serve as a cover for Hindutva and its political agenda.
In an open letter to the BJP, Shivam Shankar Singh, who worked on the BJP’s election campaigns in the Northeast, broke down why he could not support the BJP any more even though he had believed Narendra Modi was a ray of hope in 2014.
Hindu khatre mein hai – they’ve ingrained it into the minds of people that Hindus and Hinduism are in danger, and that Modi is the only option to save ourselves. In reality Hindus have been living the same lives much before this government and nothing has changed except people’s mindset. Were we Hindus in danger in 2007? At least I didn’t hear about it everyday and I see no improvement in the condition of Hindus, just more fear mongering and hatred.
Speak against the government and you’re anti-national and more recently, anti-Hindu. Legitimate criticism of the government is shut up with this labelling. Prove your nationalism, sing Vande Mataram everywhere (even though BJP leaders don’t know the words themselves, they’ll force you to sing it!). I’m a proud nationalist and my nationalism won’t allow me to let anyone force me to showcase it. I will sing the national anthem and national song with pride when the occasion calls for it, or when I feel like it, but I won’t let anyone force me to sing it based on their whims.
There’s a lot that India can do to improve the cause of science within its borders and but doesn’t because of the way it thinks about the subject. Perhaps the most notable example is Science Day itself – one day reserved to celebrating science when in fact that should be every day. Its historical basis doesn’t inspire much confidence either.
We’re not faced with a group of ministers bungling their jobs but a group that knows exactly what it’s doing: angle for what they say is the ‘national interest’, and force everything else to tag along. By cornering our reasons to celebrate science into the confines of a single workday, we’re at risk of abetting what our ministers are doing: abdicating responsibilities towards science on other days.
… Science is an everyday endeavour; celebrate it, scrutinise it, share it, demand it on every day of the year. Just the same way marking ‘Earth Hour’ is doing nothing to help Earth if you’re not going to have environmentally conscious daily routines, you might as well not mark ‘Science Day’ if you’re going to mark it on just one day.
In the fifth spot is an excerpt from Karan Thapar’s book Devil’s Advocate: The Untold Story that told the complete tale of his infamous interview with Narendra Modi in 2007 where the future prime minister ended the interview abruptly when Thapar raised questions about the 2002 Gujarat riots.
‘Why can’t you say that you regret the killings that happened? Why can’t you say maybe the government should have done more to protect Muslims?’
‘What I have to say I have said at that time, and you can find out my statements.’
‘Just say it again.’
‘Not necessary I have to talk about in 2007 everything you want to talk about.’
‘But by not saying it again, by not letting people hear the message repeatedly, you are allowing an image that is contrary to the interest of Gujarat to continue. It’s in your hands to change it.’
Right through the two or three minutes this exchange lasted, Narendra Modi’s face remained expressionless. But it was also clear he wasn’t happy. His eyes were cold and hard. Perhaps he was making an effort to keep his face calm and steady. But now his patience or, perhaps, his resolve snapped. He had had enough and ended the interview. With the words ‘I have to rest. I need some water’ he started to take the microphone off.
In an explosive exclusive in August, former ABP News anchor Punya Prasun Bajpai wrote about the circumstances of his departure from the channel and the official diktats which preceded it.
Say, a channel does not confine itself to showing the Modi regime in a positive light at all times but occasionally includes stories with a negative tone or, on the basis of facts, shows the Modi government’s truth to be a lie. Immediately, BJP spokespersons are told to stop appearing on those channels; that is, they do not participate in any political discussion conducted by that channel.
This started happening on ABP News from the last week of June this year – BJP spokespersons stopped appearing on its debates. A few days later, BJP leaders stopped giving bytes to the channel. The day the truth of the Prime Minister’s ‘Mann ki Baat’ was outed on Masterstroke, RSS ideologues too were told to stay off the channel.
At the seventh position is a story by Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar that blew the lid off the harassment faced by an IAS officer in Gujarat for having acted against Narendra Modi.
IAS officer Pradeep Sharma spent another day in Sabarmati central jail in Ahmedabad on Friday even as his son is getting married in the United States since a special anti-corruption court in Bhavnagar on March 27 denied him bail – both regular as well as temporary for a week – to view his son’s wedding from India via a video link, and the high court too refused an urgent hearing in the matter.
A close relative of Sharma insisted that the family was clear in its mind that Pradeep Sharma – who has seen 10 FIRs being filed against him over the last eight years – has suffered all these years “because of that girl” who is at the centre of what has come to be known as the Snoopgate scandal.
Next is Karnika Kohli’s unravelling of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Twitter feed and his conspicuous silences on issues that took the country by storm.
Like Manmohan Singh, Modi the prime minister has remained conspicuously quiet about issues that make his government look bad. While he is quick to wish his foreign counterparts on their birthdays – and express condolences after minor attacks in their countries – Akhlaq’s brutal lynching, people who lost their lives waiting in queues after demonetisation, cow vigilantism, the Una lynching, the brutal rapes in Kathua and Unnao and many other incidents didn’t make the cut.
Predictably, the prime minister has maintained a stoic silence on the police firing in which 12 people protesting the Sterlite unit in Thoothukudi were killed on May 22. People in the coastal Tamil Nadu town have been protesting for over 100 days, claiming that the unit is polluting the environment and has resulted in illnesses.
The first year of the PM’s Research Fellowship, already much criticised for severe conceptual issues, didn’t help its cause. The MHRD awarded only 135 scholars with the fellowship out of a promised 1,000 and didn’t clarify how the money allocated for the unselected 865 would be used. Together with a host of other issues, this only strengthens the impression that the government wanted to rebut in the first place: that the PMRF has been “designed to pile privilege on privilege”.
The 1,800 students who applied from this pool of candidates were those who had already cleared many levels of implicit selection. An analysis of the student composition of IITs shows that not all economic and social backgrounds have equal representation in these elite institutions. There is a whole chain of filters based on economic and caste status, quality of schooling, the ability to afford the coaching required to clear the various entrance exams, and the ability to pay the prohibitively expensive fees that several of these institutes charge – along with hostel fees, mess fees and peer-pressured booze and pizza fees, which introduce inequality in the opportunity available to Indian students to avail a world-class education. It is only a half-joke that the IISc is often called the “Iyer-Iyengar Institute of Science”.
In a scathing attack on the education system in India and how it destroys young minds, Avijit Pathak defines why the idea of ‘success’ has failed students.
Anyone familiar with school education in India knows how parents and teachers pressurise children to opt for science/commerce even if they are not inclined to it. In fact, many of them are never given the space to look at themselves, and understand their unique traits and aptitudes. This is the beginning of alienation in the child’s life. This alienation is further intensified when the societal pressure restricts their imagination, and forces them to believe that life is necessarily dark and bleak without medical science/engineering/management.
In this reckless preparation for ‘success’ their alienated selves find no joy, no ecstasy; coaching centres have no humour, guide books are devoid of creative imagination, ‘success mantras’ require war strategies, not the spirit of wonder, and the joy of learning is replaced by the neurotic urge to be a ‘topper’.
However, this ‘success’, as I wish to argue, has its own discontents. The reason is that, for most of them, it is an immensely alienating experience. It kills one’s creativity; it makes one one-dimensional; it robs one of the spirit of positive life-energy.