Here’s a profound statement from none other than Rajdeep Sardesai: “Bless social media! Power with zero responsibility! Have a good day”. (Twitter April 17, 8.41 am). I can use this particular statement for many debates. That can wait. In a ‘friendly fire’ article Firstpost, the online sidekick of CNN-IBN, dismissed Rajdeep’s silly tweet as sweeping generalisation. Alright, in another tweet (Wee hours of February 5, 12.14 am) Rajdeep says “Tonight time to say F off to those who call us ‘paid media’.We are journalists, not sensationalists or elitists. Gnight”. Hmm! Just months back one of Rajdeep’s colleague, Pallavi Ghosh, tweeted: “..That’s the unfortunate part, came to know yesterday that some journos who I work with closely in Congress are on their payroll”. Pallavi’s tweet was made at 9.53am on October 14, 2011.
Now, would Rajdeep and Pallavi make those statements on their TV channel? I doubt it. But that’s how journos themselves use social media and then complain about it. In response to my post IWJ-2012 another prominent journo tweeted it was “hate”. I asked her how she categorised “lampooning” as hate. She responded stating it was contained in the mail that forwarded her my post and not her own statement. Well, if one stored up all the quotes of journos, most of them would find it hard to believe they actually said those words. Self-righteous shills usually forget what they said or did in the past. That is what brings me to the RTE Act. While much has been said and written about the SC upholding the constitutional validity of the Act it really hasn’t been debated as well in the MSM as it has been in the social media. So Rajdeep would do well not to dismiss social media as having “zero responsibility”. Many of the analysts and writers on social media are far superior to the ones in MSM. Those in the MSM have typically discussed the RTE in a literary flourish rather than with cold logic and facts. Do read on…
“Otherwise, let's be honest - we had become the sort of people who were inured to the sight of a barely-clad shivering child, his tiny stomach ballooned into hugeness by the absence of nutrition, as we indifferently drove past the sight of him huddling with his mother for warmth on a tiny patch of pavement every night. At the traffic lights - where our cars came into enforced confrontation with poverty - and we saw a small hand stretched out for alms, or a disabled man trying to wave a red rose or a magazine at us, imploring us for help - we would barely look up from behind our over-sized designer sunglasses. We would, in fact, sink back into the plush leather of our seats and be extra determined that the story of India would no longer be told in picture-postcards of poverty…. Over the many years that we - the upper middle class - have lived in aggressive denial of the inequalities in our social order, we have become more and more cocooned by our elitism. … That is why the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the constitutional validity of the Right to Education law for all schools - even in unaided private schools - is such a potentially seminal moment for us as a people. And nowhere is our intuitive social snobbery more apparent than in our resistance to the idea of an economically and socially heterogeneous, inclusive classroom…. Others have cloaked their subliminal social biases in apprehensions of a so-called clash of cultures or possibilities of social maladjustment….” Do I hear applause? Thank you!
Ah well, my momentary flash of literary genius has to be exposed though. I didn’t write the paragraph above, it was another literary classic from Barkha Dutt. Extracts from her article “Writes of passage” in Hindustan Times, April 13. That is how you discuss a matter of an Act of Law: in literary flourishes devoid of much logic or cold facts. And pray who is “WE”? Add “Designer sunglasses” and “Plush” leather seats in cars. Is that “WE”? When champions of MSM like Barkha want to transfer their personal life experiences as being of a larger population you don’t need sound logic or arguments for any discussion or article. That is where social media wins and does a better job.
Being in the education domain and one who has interacted with more than 3000 schools, thousands of teachers, thousands of children and parents I do know a little bit about schools and their problems. I was associated with an organisation whose directors built one of the finest schools in India from scratch. The school has become a near pilgrimage for any education professional who visits my city. That school wasn’t built by Barkha’s ‘elites’ for the elites. It was built by a group of IIM-Ahmedabad graduates who set up new standards for schooling and even for teacher education. Even before RTE that school had a practice of enrolling a certain number of slum children along with other students from upper classes. One of the founders lived in a slum for months to understand their needs. And no, they aren’t ‘Jhollawalas’ or NGOs and they don’t wear “designer sunglasses”. Those guys started another organisation with negligible capital to improve the quality of school education in India which is helping schools and even State govts. In another case, a sinking Municipal school was taken over by a private body and turned into a well-functioning school now known as ‘Mahatma Gandhi International School’. To me, the RTE Act is more a political act rather than any real act for ensuring education for all children. And just like child-labour laws it is destined for failure. Why? Govt failures cannot be passed on to private citizens by strangling their freedoms and enterprise.
But let’s get back to Barkha Dutt. She is the Group Editor of NDTV and while writing so passionately about changing caste and other equations and our “middle-class” biases she forgets what her own organisation does for schools and people. If you go back to first few paras of this post you will be reminded how journalists often forget what they did or said in the past. Barkha forgot to remember that in recent times NDTV joined Coca-Cola in some school campaign. Now, would they have done the same campaign if Coca-Cola weren’t involved and some other body without similar financial muscle had undertaken it? I doubt it but still, it’s fine if, by the campaign, some good comes to some schools somewhere.
Barkha forgets something else too; NDTV does promote a certain set of schools – Elite, Rich, Luxurious schools. More than just promote, NDTV is the ‘media-partner’ in that campaign. Yeah, it’s called “Good Schools of India” and NDTV promotes them through the directory. The news-channel had also carried a number of advertisements promoting the directory. And what’s the directory about? It’s a directory about the best residential schools in India. Ever visited any of these schools? I can assure you most of them are luxury schools which will be the biggest opponents of the RTE Act. These are hardly the very "..economically and socially heterogeneous, inclusive classroom" in schools that Barkha talks about. However, most of them won’t even be affected because no ‘disadvantaged or poor’ parents would even remotely think of sending their children to these schools. So while the MSM, like Barkha, sheds tears over the poor and disadvantaged, they haven’t really debated the finer points of the RTE at all. Like in most other cases they failed to do their job.I wonder what Rajdeep would call that: "Zero responsibility" plus hypocrisy?
So, as my answer to Rajdeep Sardesai who claims social media has zero responsibility I would recommend that he read the following posts by different writers on RTE and evaluate the quality of the discussion. It’s far superior to what one will find on TV channels and newspapers:
Is the Right to Education quota really for the poor ? and On the EWS category in the Right To Education act both by @RealityCheckInd and another one Analysis of the RTE Judgment:Part I – The Question of Severability by Dilip Rao (CentreRight India). Also (update) a great analysis by Sudhir Kumar: Right to Education Act - The Devil is in the Detail.
There are many frivolous and even bad laws that get enacted because the MSM does not do its job. Next time you see a child working at a tea stall or restaurant, next time you see a child buying cigarettes or tobacco products from a pan-shop, next time you see a child buying alcohol for another from a shop remember the worthlessness of the related laws. The biggest Act of ‘Rights’ that the govt should pass is irreversible one that ensures they never intrude in the lives and activities of private citizens and entities. The govt’s courage to do the opposite is partly driven by the self-righteous shill in the mainstream media who have nothing at stake and who, like Rajdeep and Barkha, look down on ordinary people as much as the govt does.