John Lennon could be as pithy with his words as he was expansive with his lyrics. He summed up hypocrites like no one else could: “One thing you can’t hide – is when you’re crippled inside.”
Following the harrowing and tragic gang rape in Delhi on the night of December 16, 2012, there has been moral outrage in the country like nothing ever seen before. This was the first time in recent history when men and women were out on the streets of Delhi and elsewhere braving batons, water cannons and tear gas shells — not for a political cause but for the rights of women to live with dignity and honour. This was the first time the nation resolved to no longer silently look away against a rising tide of sexual crimes against women. This was the first time the nation resolved to no longer tolerate misogynistic bigots. Everyone was up for questioning and a national mood was built around the sentiment that misogynists must be first named and shamed and then socially boycotted. Abhijit Mukherjee, a sitting Congress MP and son of President of India, faced the full wrath of this national mood when he gave a glimpse of his ‘dented’ mind.
Honey Singh, a Punjabi rapper could not escape this national mood either. NDTV had dubbed him the voice of 2012 in a report on its website in mid December 2012. However, as the national mood changed, his abominable lyrics glorifying rape came into question and NDTV too changed its track. Honey Singh was slated to perform in a private show in a hotel in Gurgaon on New Year’s eve. This was not a public event and anyone who had a problem with him was free not to go. But this was a new India.
Even private functions had to conform to new public morality. Barkha Dutt (Group Editor, English News, NDTV) was leading the charge to get his New Year’s show cancelled. Through her Twitter feed, she not only demanded that the show be cancelled but also put in dock the people who might jive to the ‘sexist rubbish’ of Honey Singh. NDTV, through its broadcast arm continued to build pressure. Ultimately the show was cancelled, thanks to the new, unsparing national mood.
One would think that this new national mood against misogynists would cut across all sections of society and all sexist bigots would be named, shamed and shunned? But when it comes to NDTV and Congress, this neither held in the past nor does it it seem to hold now. Consider the following:
Bhanwari Devi, a nurse in the primary health centre in Rajasthan was sexually exploited for many years and finally murdered. A former Minister in Congress-led Rajasthan Government, Mahipal Maderna, is the prime accused in the case and is facing trial. There are other Congress leaders also in the dock in this case. How did NDTV cover this case? In a poignant piece, Sunanda Vashisht, writing for CRI, summed up the frustrations when a woman, the victim, is herself besmirched, her character insinuated against for a sexual crime against her. Is that not also how every misogynist reacts when confronted with a crime against women — the blame must lie somewhere with the woman herself?
Sunetra Choudhury, anchor and reporter at NDTV, wrote two back-to-back pieces in 2011 in DNA, a newspaper published from Mumbai, about a ‘pervy politician‘ who had passed lewd sexist comments (invited her to share a bed with him as per her column) on her when she had gone to cover him on the insistence of her editor. While she did not name the politician, and the politician could be from any party, the online world has been abuzz with speculation that the politician was from the Congress. Why else would a reporter and a channel with the power of such a powerful news medium and a fiery feminist editor-in-chief not name and shame such a pervert politician?
Sanjay Nirupam, Congress MP from Mumbai, while in a debate on ABP News on December 20, 2012 with BJP spokesperson Smriti Irani, used vile and abusive language on live TV that has no parallel in memory. This caused shock across political lines, since it was not about partisan politics but about the way we treat women. The BJP officially decided to boycott Sanjay Nirupam from all platforms and this was announced by Ravishankar Prasad. Twitter was ablaze with rants against Nirupam for days. It was not a question of politics anymore. In the new national mood, everyone was united against all forms of misogyny. Or were they?
NDTV hosted a panel discussion on its 9 pm show on January 7, 2013. The show was about Raj Thackeray’s comments on increasing crimes against women in Mumbai. Sanjay Nirupam was one the panelists on the show. This was the first time he was on national TV after his grotesque performance on ABP News. NDTV did its best to rehabilitate such a person. Consider that Nirupam is not an officially nominated spokesperson of Congress. TV channels are not obliged to have him on their shows. The only way Nirupam could be on TV is if he had been individually invited. A new brand of public morality was sought to be imposed by NDTV on, among others, a private show by rapper Honey Singh. Yet, the same channel was bringing back into public space a person who had demeaned women with his comment against Smriti Irani.
The question must now be squarely asked — why? The question should also be asked with respect to the honourable rehabilitation of Abhishek Manu Singhvi. Why is it that NDTV’s standards differ when misogynist from Congress are involved? What is the message that NDTV is sending out? Surely NDTV was aware that BJP has announced a boycott of Nirupam. Why did they not inform in advance the BJP panelist on the show, as has been alleged, that Nirupam would be a co-panelist? The inescapable conclusion is this: if a Congress man abuses a woman, and the woman is from BJP, too bad for her. NDTV will rehabilitate that person.
But questions must be asked of the BJP as well. Arvind Gupta, national head BJP IT cell, through his Twitter feed, has implied that Venkaiah Naidu, who was on the same show as Nirupam, was not informed of his presence in advance. Although Naidu did strongly protest against Nirupam’s presence with the anchor during the break, why did he not walk out? Politicians walk out from shows all the time, mostly when faced with tough questions. If ever there was a valid reason to walk out, it was this. If the BJP itself would not stand up to its announced boycott, who will?
Finally, questions must be asked of Barkha Dutt. Why was Sanjay Nirupam rehabilitated by NDTV? The buck stops with Barkha Dutt. Between boycotting a rapper and a sexist MP, what is more important and which one will have more of a long-term effect in the struggle against misogyny?
But then again, Nirupam is from Congress while Honey Singh was not. John Lennon was pithy indeed.