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Incidents Thought and Reason

Satyameva Jayate or SMS Jayate?

Picture this scene – A picture-perfect dutiful daughter-in-law decked in all her finery, casting pensive looks, while trying to outwit her wicked mother-in-law and bhabi-sa’s plots to entangle her in controversy. Add to it a jilted lover, a current husband (usually categorically abusive or passive and lovey-dovey!) and a motley collection of uncles/aunties, not to forget the endless fights and tears – Voila! You have an Indian television soap that is bound to rake in TRPs and some moolah for the next couple of years.

Now what hits Indian television with a breath of fresh air, nay, a powerful gust of wind is Aamir Khan‘s new programme ‘Satyameva Jayate‘ (meaning ‘Truth alone triumphs’). I don’t remember being ‘hooked onto’ television in a really long time. The last programme I watched religiously was ‘Hum Paanch‘! So one can imagine what a huge TV-serial-fan I am.

However, after hearing rave reviews on Facebook about ‘Satyameva Jayate’ and reading this particularly intriguing post by Raamesh, curiosity got the better of me, and I tuned into good ol’ Youtube to catch the first episode, that talked about female foeticide.

First of all, let’s give credit where it is due. Aamir and team have done a great job of

* Researching the topic on hand, gathering verified statistics about the gravity of the problem, and highlighting facts that hit you in the gut! For example, the fact that in some parts of India where female foeticide/infanticide has resulted in a very low sex ratio, women are being ‘bought’ to be wives and are being ‘shared’ and treated like a commodity by the men in the family!

* Getting real-life witnesses on board to come and share their experiences. Like Harish Iyer for example (who also featured in the very impactful and gut-wrenching CSA Campaign last year) who shared his painful past about child-abuse.

* And quite literally, doing a pious job of ‘trying’ to spread awareness about topics that are rarely discussed and often swept under the carpet. Yes, we are all quite aware of these issues (like female foeticide and child sexual abuse), but it is not a topic of everyday conversation. Neither do we take any aggressive action against it!

Edited to add: Take a look at this article that talks about the national child helpline being flooded with calls seeking help against abuse!

Kudos to the Satyameva Jayate team! I would any day have this on my TV, as compared to the barage of nonsense in the form of ‘family soaps’!

But what I found rather unsatisfactory about the programme was the ‘action items’.

The first two episodes have followed identical patterns. Aamir writes a petition to the government, Invites people to send SMSes to support the cause (proceeds go to charity), he solicits charitable contributions (again, this is matched by a big corporate, who ultimately get more publicity through the show!) And ofcourse, leaves us with an impactful dialogue about ‘change has to begin with YOU this MOMENT!’ 

I think this is a great start. But having said that, doesn’t this seem too lame and Bollywood-ish?

For instance, will the written petitions TRULY impact government policy? If yes, then Aamir and team, please – take a bow!

But if not, then it becomes a farcical piling on people’s collective emotions (more of guilt than of anything else!) and meagre monetary contribution that could easily be achieved from alternate means! For example, the Rs.3 crore that Aamir is rumoured to be charging per episode! Or perhaps a portion of the money that Reliance has pumped into IPL!!

The show makes it very easy for people to ‘contribute’ by sending an SMS. ‘Female foeticide’ / ‘child abuse’ –  no problem! One little SMS saying ‘YES’, and we have done our bit! We are also rid of guilt! Guilt of what crime??! Nobody knows. 🙄 Simply send that SMS and get back to party-ing!

I’m intrigued by this new wave of ‘SMS-Charity’ culture. To be fair, it is ‘some’ contribution to society in place of ‘nothing’. Not too bad, actually. But Imho, a barrage of SMSes may not successfully bring about social change! I think we need more solid action!

Also, it will be very interesting to find out if the money raised after each show is MEASURABLE?

On another note, I have no clue why Sri Devi gets a ‘standing ovation’ from the audience???!!! She is an actress, for God’s sake! Not a humanitarian!!! If anybody deserves a standing ovation, it is the ‘victims’ who dare to come out in the open and speak about their very painful experiences!!!

Ok, I am in technically no position to criticise the show. I haven’t sent that SMS saying ‘YES’ yet. And neither have I donated any money online.

But tell you what? These are my 2 cents on how one could make this show more impactful.

1) Get those Criminals!

Don’t interview only the victims. Get hold of the perpetrators of the crime! Instead of asking the victim to describe the abuse/his emotions, focus on the abuser instead. If he refuses to appear on the show, try to catch him in a separate sting operation. And no discreet black masks for the abusers, please! Question and shame him in front of the country, so that neither he nor abusers like him continue this horrendous crime of child abuse! Talk to convicted criminals and show what sort of punishment is meted out for such crimes. Instil Fear (in the minds of potential criminals) and Hope (in the minds of victims/their families). And if the punishment isn’t sufficient, then interview the Judge who issued the ruling and find out WHY he/she did not think such gross crimes deserved more severe punishment. In short, SHAME the criminals, NOT the victims.

I have written about this in my earlier post on Aruna Shanbaug. We (media and masses) insist on shaming the victims and making their life hell, instead of grabbing the criminals and ensuring they don’t repeat their crime!

Some really strong action like this would take the show from a lame-Bollywood-entertainer to serious investigative journalism and an agent of social change!

2) Bollywood-crazy country!

We are a cricket and Bollywood-crazy nation, and we have no qualms about it! I’m sure Sri Devi increases TRPs of the show, and the organizers must need it, so the show makes complete business sense (in addition to social sense!) But for heaven’s sake, rope in some useful people on the show – police, politicians, judiciary .. invite a top Judge for example. Someone who is in a position to actually influence change in the country! Or if inviting a Bollywood celebrity, atleast get him/her to contribute say, a portion of the crores of rupees from his/her next film, to the same charity that the show is patronising!

3) Charity begins at Home!

Sending one little SMS and raising money for charity is quite creative. But honestly, charity begins at home. I would rather have Aamir try to influence the minds of the immediate audience, so they commit to something small but local, for example, sponsoring private education of their maid’s child! Or perhaps, teaching their servant-maid to read/write English. You see, these are the little things that will help our country grow.

4) Replace lifeless writ petitions with real-life commitments!

Instead of merely writing a petition to the Government, invite senior politicians to the show and hand over the petition in front of the country. In short, try to get any form of commitment in front of the public eye! It may or may not manifest in public policy change. But hey! Its worth a shot!

So people, enough of my criticism and rant. I honestly feel that the show is a great initiative, and at the risk of sounding repetitive, I would any day have this show on my TV.

But having said that, please feel free to share – what YOU would do, if YOU were producing ‘Satyameva Jayate’?