Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Vernacular Killing Fields

Frankly I had never heard of Gauri Lankesh before she was assassinated. I say assassinated because there is surely a political undertone to such a planned killing and it is unlikely that it was done due to personal enmity. However, I have not only heard but also read her divorced husband Chidanand Rajghatta who is the New York correspondent of the Times of India. This huge difference in visibility between the two underlines like nothing else the insecurity that bedevils the vernacular in this country not only in the sphere of journalism but in every sphere because of the domination of English.
When I learnt that she was the editor and publisher of the Kannada print magazine Gauri Lankesh Patrike the first thing I wanted to know was how was it doing financially because running a print magazine has become a very difficult proposition these days, especially in the vernacular. A little digging revealed that the magazine was not making enough from its sales of about 15,000 copies and had to be cross subsidised by earnings from publications of books and also through writing in English by Gauri for other papers and magazines. Since the magazine was a hard hitting people's magazine it did not carry any advertisements, which are the lifeline of tabloids and even of the very high brow Economic and Political Weekly, so that Gauri could retain her editorial independence. Neither was the Patrike funded by philanthropists or capitalists like say the Wire, Scroll, Catchnews and such new internet magazines that are anti establishment are. Indeed Gauri Lankesh Patrike was the successor to the highly successful Lankesh Patrike launched in 1980 by her father P. Lankesh which at its peak had a circulation of 2.5 Lakhs and a readership of 4 million. It had a distinctly pro-people leaning but after Lankesh's death in 2000 and especially after internet news began catching on its influence and circulation have declined. Lankesh's writings remain influential still and it is mainly by selling these in the form of books and also publishing guide books that Gauri Lankesh was keeping the magazine afloat. 
Vernacular journalism as I have seen it at close quarters in Madhya Pradesh is a killing field. The stringers are mostly part time scribes and have to survive by publishing trash or extorting money from the corrupt in addition to holding down a distributorship of the magazine or daily for which they are stringers and they also have to collect advertisements. Those stringers who try to be honest and do fact finding to expose corruption are targeted and sometimes killed. It is revealing that all the fifteen or so journalists, including Gauri and Ramchander Chhatrapati who exposed Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim , killed since the turn of the century are from the vernacular press. So on the one hand it is difficult to make ends meet as a vernacular scribe and on the other one has to put one's life on the line if one wants to do honest anti establishment reportage. 
Makes me wonder whether English isn't the worst curse that the British colonialists have foisted on us!! When I first came to Alirajpur I gave up writing in English altogether and read extensively in Hindi to improve my writing in it. For ten long years I did not write in English at all. Then when it came to earning money to survive, it turned out that there was next to nothing for writing in Hindi. We used to publish a monthly magazine called "Nai Chetna" in Alirajpur and I tried to survive and raise funds by selling this for some time!! It was a futile effort as it was only when I did research reports or evaluations in English that I would get paid heftily. It is the same as with journalism. Like Gauri funded her vernacular journalism by writing in English on the side so also have I been funding the vernacular activism of the Bhils, whose language incidentally is much worse off than Hindi and despite many efforts still does not have a magazine or daily, by researching and writing in English. In fact I got a prestigious fellowship for promoting literature in the Bhili language but all the proposals and reports of the work that I did were written in English!!
Gauri was a journalist writing in English when after her father's death in 2000 she took a conscious decision to quit that to take forward P. Lankesh's legacy of advertisement free Kannada journalism. It was a brave step which was reaching its end as it was becoming more and more difficult to sustain the magazine without advertisements and she was planning a Diwali issue for which advertisements would be sought. Her assassination is all the more tragic not just because of the silencing of a liberal and activist voice but because it comes at a time when honest vernacular journalism is in serious financial trouble and it has lost one of its accomplished practitioners who might have found a way out of this morass. 

No comments: