Category Archives: Media

User discretion is required

Here is a thought-provoking article in Indian Express that advises Internet users to use their own discretion instead of simply following the algorithmic contents additions that are thrown at them.

Undoubtedly the world is experiencing the greatest phase of democracy (up till now) through the advent of the Internet. To get educated, to inform yourself, to get aware, all you need is a smartphone to connect to the Internet. All the information is available at your disposal with a few taps, provided you’re receptive.

“Being receptive” is the key here.

Since anybody can publish anything on the Internet, the instances of fake and fabricated news are much greater compared to conventional media. But it isn’t like fake news and fabricated/biased opinion didn’t exist before Internet. The problems that we are facing currently are the results of an unmitigated access to publication media and information dissemination mechanisms to a select few. We used to have a very lopsided information ecosystem. Their writ ran large. The leftist intelligentsia completely controlled what we read, what we watched and what we listened to.

So, fake news and fake opinion and twisting facts have always been there. The difference is, due to the Internet, since it’s easier and faster for people to express themselves, fake news and fake opinion can be immediately countered.

Interestingly, the writer says:

One of the primary reasons this is so is because we don’t know how to navigate the internet’s fast-paced and wide-laned information highways. And, as editors, we don’t have the ability to be the traffic wardens we once were.

The writer begrudges the fact that unlike the pre-Internet days, a select-few cannot now act as “wardens”. Although we have all known since time immemorial that the flow of information was always controlled by these “wardens”, actually reading such expressions is a bit unnerving. It is like hearing about someone being murdered and someone actually being murdered right in front of you.

Why does he think that the general public requires some sort of “wardens” for supervision? Why does he think that people are not capable of judging for themselves what’s right and what’s wrong for them, especially considering the fact that he thinks that the “wardens” know what’s right and what’s wrong?

A few months ago when Donald Trump became the US President, the writer of this Wired article suggested that maybe people are not ready for democracy and they’re not ready for free availability of information. Just because the politician of his choice didn’t get elected, he questions the very existence of democracy and information access. The same sort of questions are routinely raised in India after Narendra Modi (to great extent) and Yogi Adityanath (to marginal extent) used the Internet to directly communicate with their core supporter base.

Actually, it is this mentality that disturbs people. Controlling the flow of information these days is very difficult and in fact, the information flow can only be controlled for those who allow it to be controlled.

Yes, algorithmic content suggestions are bad and people shouldn’t go for them. If your Internet platform asks you to “personalize” your feeds refrain from doing so. The writer of the above Indian Express article rightly says that the more you read a particular opinion (a particular point of view), the more of the same opinion you are recommended by the algorithm. This is the reason if you are reading fake news, there’s a great chance you will go on reading fake news unless you make an extra effort to find something different, something contradictory to read or watch.

Overall I agree with the writer’s point of view, the only thing that got my attention was the quote that I have presented above, that, people need “wardens” to form an unbiased opinion. This is not so. People are intelligent enough to differentiate between different opinions and then make their own choices. Yes, aberrations can occur but public opinion and democracy are a number game and eventually everything evens out.

Gurmehar Kaur & Blatant hypocrisy of the left-lib intelligentsia

Note: This post was originally published on Huffington Post but their love for “freedom of expression” compelled them to remove it so I’m republishing it on my own blog.

We all have our own political and ideological views and it’s all fine. This is what makes our world diverse, wonderful and chaotic.

Our different opinions often create conflict and when political and financial interests clash, these conflicts turn nasty.

But most of the nastiness originates from the left-lib intelligentsia that never tires of calling itself liberal and inclusive, but is the most illiberal lot. And on top of this, they’re also blatantly hypocritical. They can throw their hypocrisy right at your face without blinking an eyelid and you are left thinking, are they for real? Unfortunately, they are.

Although you can write multiple books compiling instances of hypocrisy among the left-libs, I’m going to talk about the current incident.

Recently a talk was to be organized at Delhi’s Ramjas College, and perhaps just to incite an unrest, the infamous JNU student Umar Khalid, who has multiple criminal cases against him for his anti-national and seditious public utterances, was also invited. Naturally there was an uproar and there was a clash between the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad that didn’t want a student of such a dubious background giving speech at the campus and the Student Federation of India that supports Umar Khalid for whatever twisted reasons.

There was a photo of a student beating up another student. Newspapers like The Hindu published the photographs  claiming that ABVP students beat up the hapless and peaceful SFI students, which was proven to be a total lie later on. It was the other way round. The SFI students actually beat up ABVP students and it has been well-documented in posts like these. The actual violence came from the so-called “victims”  and it was perpetrated upon the so-called “culprits”. But the left-lib media twisted the entire event to give it a different colour.

As you can see in the image below, the same Mukherjee is seen beating up a student and then claiming in the TV studio that he and his friends were attacked while the police looked on. The image for the shows that he is from the SFI.


After having totally twisted the narrative, nobody from the left-lib media later and said that they had misreported the entire thing. Mischievous hypocrisy at its peak.

The usual stuff happened.

But then, some daughter of a martyred soldier, Gurmehar Kaur surfaced, opposing the ABVP stand and supporting Umar Khalid, in the name of supporting right to freedom of expression. Her picture carrying a paper sheet with the message “I am a student from Delhi University. I am not afraid of ABVP. I am not alone. Every student of India is with me” was splattered all over the social media.

gurmehar kaur 1

Naturally, as it happens in such situations all sorts of responses began surfacing and not all the responses were appropriate. In fact, some could have even been deplorable. This is the risk of expressing political and ideological opinions on the Internet. It is not acceptable, but the sad reality is, it happens.

The girl first expressed something that goes totally parallel to the discourse favoured by the left-lib intelligentsia and she immediately became the darling of the leftist media and anti-BJP political establishment.

On top of that, she also said how she was being abused  on social media and she had even received rape threats. She was immediately called to the NDTV Studios. Issuing rape threats is a serious offence and she should have immediately lodged a police complaint but instead, she decided to give interviews to eager TV news anchors. Another bout of victimhood started in which all the usual suspects came out with heart-wrenching statements of support for the girl.

In between, Gurmehar Kaur even managed to say that his martyred father was not killed by Pakistan but by the “war” between India and Pakistan. This turned into meme that culminated into cricketer Sehwag posting a picture of himself holding a placard that said “I didn’t score two triple centuries,  my bat did.”


Such a comment coming from the cricket celebrity who cannot be criticised lightly riled up everybody and on top of that, even Bollywood actor Randeep Hooda endorsed Sehwag’s comment, which further escalated the panic.

randeep hooda

It isn’t clear whether the girl has been brainwashed or she really has strong political and ideological opinions, but one thing that clearly stands out is the hypocritical approach the left-lib intelligentsia follows when it comes to recognising victims and abusers. There was a response from Shekhar Gupta decrying the stand taken by Sehwag and Hooda.

shekhar gupta

Strangely, there was no response from him  when this happened:

When the Kanhaiya fiasco was happening, a 14-year-old girl challenged Kanhaiya for a debate. Large-scale trolling of that girl happened from left-lib and AAP supporters. Even the Twitter head couldn’t resist trolling a 14-year-old girl just because she had a different opinion and she had challenged the left-lib buffoon Kanhaiya.

There is always selective outrage. Pin drop silence if something happens and talking about it would be  inimical to their sustained agenda, otherwise, turn even a small incident into an international outcry.

This is not a rant. I’m just trying to throw some light on the blatant hypocrisy that takes place among the left-lib intelligentsia in the name of protecting the right to freedom of expression and other such lofty, intellectual legerdemain.

Disability in literature, mythology, folklore and films

Captain Hook

Have you read Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham? The central character of the novel is a young man with a club foot. If you haven’t read this book do read it not just because it has a character that has a disability and has something “different”, it is a story that tells you how failure and success, sadness and happiness and intelligence and stupidity go hand-in-hand and despite that, we move on. The disability of Philip Carey affects every part of his life and it doesn’t allow him to live his life the way he would have liked to live, but that is not the central theme of the story. These are the problems that he has, but aside from these problems, the major problems that he faces are quintessentially related to the volatile human nature that is extremely unpredictable. He can be mean and judgemental just as people can be mean and judgemental to him. His disability doesn’t necessarily make him sensitive and if he is sensitive compared to his friends and colleagues, it is because that’s the way he is and it has got nothing to do with the way he walks. The greatest thing about this novel is that Philip doesn’t have to prove anything because he has a disability. He just tries to live his life the way he wants to live irrespective of the fact whether he succeeds or not.

These thoughts were triggered while I was reading this blog post that was published on the occasion of the Blogging against Disablism Day. I never knew that the word “disablism” existed, but it has a nice sound.

The author rightly says that people with disabilities are often depicted as vile, scheming and demented characters in various works of fiction:

There are far too many books out there that portray characters with disabilities and chronic illnesses in ways that are deeply destructive and have a seriously negative impact on the understanding of disability in general. However (and this is a big however), most of these books are clearly written by authors who have not considered their portrayal at all, and who clearly fail to respect experiences that are different to their own. These are the authors who fail to realise that disabled people are also, actually, people. These are the authors who consistently portray disabled characters as, for example, useless and/or monstrous. But these aren’t exactly difficult tropes to avoid if you treat disability as a genuine character trait, part of the full colour of your character’s depiction, rather than an easy symbol or device for your plot.

This problem arises from the fact that disability is not mainstream. You don’t see disabled people roaming around in the streets, catching public transport, getting into arguments with other people on the street, fighting elections, watching movies, doing shopping at a grocery store, visiting prostitutes, getting married, becoming successful professionals, going on dates, going to office and doing all sorts of things that people are seen doing matter-of-factly. Coming across a person with disability is always a special occasion.

Whereas situation in the comparatively developed countries might be improving and you may come across persons with disabilities more often than not, in less developed countries like India, they’re mostly seen when they are struggling with basic necessities. A visually impaired person is totally at the mercy of someone who can see especially at public places like roads, stations, stairwells and markets. A person with physical disability is often seen being helped with climbing stairs or walking across the road or something like that. Worse, you see disabled persons begging. You never see a disabled person simply going on with his or her life without having to bother about getting some sort of help. This is the problem with the environment, the infrastructure. We haven’t reached a state when public places, offices and institutions are made in such a manner that they can be universally used rather than just by people who fit in a conventional box of able-bodiedness. Once this happens, we will see persons with disabilities depicted just the way they are in literature, hypothetically.

Another problem is that we take visual cues as behavioural patterns. We have a very strict definition of what is pretty and what is not, what is beautiful and what is not and how good people look and how bad people look. For example, in most of the TV ads you will never see an intelligent person taking intelligent decisions despite being on the heavier side. He or she is always shown fumbling, unsure, doing stupid things. And then there is this slim, fit-looking, preferably taller person who has a very confident expression about him or her and takes the right decision at the right time and solves a problem that a person on the heavier side does not seem to be able to solve. It’s not just shape, even the colour matters. A darker person is shown to be under confident and not doing much in life. And then he or she suddenly uses a face cream that makes him or her fair and lo and behold! The world is nothing but a plethora of successes and happy moments.

This stereotyping is also extended to ages, social backgrounds and professions. Younger students are always making fools of their teachers and professors. In mobile phone ads, people in their 40s and 50s are often shown fumbling with their gadgets while their teen kids are shown totally cool about the latest features in their mobile phones.

Recently I saw an awareness ad in which a person from a socially disadvantaged background is shown to be gawking at a good-looking girl in a public transport vehicle. A college going well-off-looking yuppie sort of a youngster notices that and comes stands between the girl and the gawking guy. The stereotypes would have totally gone topsy-turvy had they shown a well-off guy gawking at the girl and the dark looking person from a socially disadvantaged background feeling offended and coming between the girl and the guy.

So I think more than disability, it’s the perception that is at work. You want to show a bad person or an ill-mannered person in the visual form and because you’re not very sure of your writing abilities, you use disabilities like a crooked eye, or a stuttering way of talking or walking with a limp.

As I have mentioned above, to a normal (read able-bodied) person disability is quite alien. It’s like for the directors of art movies, especially in India, depicting poverty used to be an exotic activity. That is why people like Satyajit Ray would make voyeuristic movies about how poor people live, how they dress up, how they eat and procreate. Then these movies were shown to foreign audiences because they had never seen such glaring poverty and the behavioural attributes attached to it. That is why when there is a disabled person in a movie, the highlight is his or her disability, and not what sort of life he or she lives.

Even in Indian mythology and folklore, disability is used to exaggerate villainous as well as saintly characters, or they are used symbolically. In Mahabharata, you have a limping uncle (Shakuni mama) who is the most scheming person in the entire plot. Then you have the visually impaired Dhritrashra who can see nothing and he is totally indecisive as well as impotent. Ashtavakra (having 8 physical deformities) in Ramayana had to prove his worth by showing exceptional intelligence. The jealous and evil uncle of Heer, Kaido, also had a limp and walked with a stick, but his character is a bit complex because his evil and jealousy originate from the raw deal that he gets from the society for having a disability.

Anything that is not ordinary becomes a stereotype, and I think in most of the stories, disability, whether depicted in good light or bad light, is used as a stereotype rather than making a statement. So when a writer writes about a villain who has a limp, he or she is not trying to say that people with limps are bad, he or she usually just wants to express it stereotypically. I’m not saying this is right, but this is how stereotypes are used.

Will this change once disability becomes mainstream? I don’t think so. Things will surely improve, but do you really think people who create stereotyped characters using race, color, regional accent and body shapes will be open-minded enough to depict persons with disabilities in a non-stereotypical manner?

What is the future of news and journalism?

Have you noticed the pattern of news broadcasting especially on the Indian news TV channels? Normally there is no “news” no matter how loudly some channels scream “Breaking News!”. Most are predictable political controversies. Then these controversies are used to target political parties and individuals. It normally begins with the statement or a declaration and then there is a litany of debates where they invite known and unknown panelists to scream their brains out until you can’t make sense of what they’re saying and what they want to prove, to each other, and to the viewer.

For instance, as I’m writing this, a woman NCP leader who also leads the Maharashtra Women’s Commission said yesterday that women get raped because of the way they dress or the way the stay out late. About the Nirbhaya rape she said, why was there need to go watch a movie late in the evening? Predictably, all TV news channels today are going to hyperventilate on the insensitivity of the leader, the patriarchal mentality that ails our society and whether the person should resign or apologize. Parallels will be drawn to various other personalities from various other political parties and fields who have previously mouthed such rubbish and the crescendo will be reached in the evening during prime time TV debates. I’m not saying that such debates shouldn’t happen and such characters shouldn’t be held responsible and taken to task, but when they go on and on, it becomes a bit overbearing. It becomes an obsession.

That is why from 8 PM onwards normally there is no news. There are debates. No news, just debates, and even if it is humanly impossible to ignore some major news, it is shown in flashes, between the debates.

Anyway, I’m talking about this just to stress upon the point that news these days doesn’t mean gathering information at various spots and attempting to inform people in a timely manner unless there is a catastrophe. Panelists and anchors are more famous than journalists and reporters; in fact many anchors unabashedly call themselves “journalists”.

Newspapers in the West are mostly dead (if not in terms of circulation or viewership than certainly in terms of revenue) although this might not be the case in India where a majority of population still relies on newspapers – mostly local, vernacular newspapers – to access news. The roadside chaiwala is everyday witness to highly charged up debates on various bits of news published, including politics.

The same happens on social networking websites like Twitter. A majority of links posted over there are from newspapers – both online versions of conventional newspapers as well as web-only newspapers. Then people discuss these links. They debate on the data and information contained within the link and then many post counter information and this goes on every day. Blogs and articles are written contesting the disputed article. However much powerful social media is, the main source of information remain conventional news agencies. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook cannot generate news themselves unless there comes a day when professional journalists start posting the news and investigative works on their own profiles rather than through newspapers and magazines. This may happen if a workable financial model can be developed.

Merely having an opinion doesn’t make you a journalist. It can make you a columnist, it can make you a writer and in some cases it can also make you an analyst (fair enough, and you can also make money). A journalist needs to go out to the places where an event is actually taking place and then give a first-hand experience – “first-hand” is the key word here. If you are not writing a first-hand experience you are merely gleaning information from here and there and then compiling it just the way one writes a blog post. In the early days of the Internet I came across many such “journalists” who would visit various news websites (very early in the morning) scouring the information needed for their own articles. I stopped tracking consciously, but I’m sure most of the journalists work like this these days. There may be very few journalists who visit places and events in order to write about them. Of course there are many niches where you cannot work without visiting actual places such as travel, entertainment and even technology summits.

As social media becomes more and more a part of our daily grain I think the quality of written journalism is going to improve tremendously. I’m not sure about TV news channels because they are more noise and less voice. A good thing about social media is every journalist is held accountable the moment he or she says something factually wrong or culturally/socially repulsive. This may force journalists to do their research and represent the actual truth rather than creating their own individual versions as they used to do when there was no direct way to hold them accountable and they couldn’t get immediate feedback. There are many journalists who don’t like this trend but this is because they are forced to work harder or they miss their ability to run political and ideological propaganda unencumbered and uncontested.

Just 5 minutes of watching NDTV

While having our morning chai my wife was flicking news channels and suddenly she stopped at NDTV Hindi as some reporter was interviewing the locals in Bihar regarding the imminent split between JDU and the BJP. It was quite refreshing to see common folks sitting around a tea stall sipping tea and talking politics (my wife often says this proudly, that only in UP and Bihar you will see people sitting by the roadsides talking about important national issues).

Most of the people said that it was wrong of Nitish Kumar as it was only because of the BJP that he was in power and was able to defeat Laloo Yadav. Most were of the opinion that once the BJP support was missing, Laloo, along with his lawlessness, will come back to power. There was even a Muslim sitting who downplayed the negative propaganda being run against Narender Modi.

Hearing all this, the reporter said, “Galat group me phans gaya, yahan to BJP supporters jada hain” – I ended up talking to the wrong group as they are more BJP supporters here.

Although it is NDTV and such behavior is expected, we immediately noticed the “galat group” expression. Why does it become a wrong group if it talks in favor of the BJP? This is why…

Then he comes across a couple of folks who say that Nitish Kumar was doing the right thing and he should severe his ties with the BJP. The reporter says to the camera, “Yahan kuchh secular log bhi hain jo BJP ko support nahi karte” – we also have some secular people here who don’t support the BJP.

So within 5 minutes the reporter told you that if you support the BJP you belong to the wrong group, and if you oppose it, you are secular.

This was just 5 minutes of viewing because we cannot take this channel more than that and we quickly had to change it.

Harsha in the comment section has shared the link of the video I’m talking about.