Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Justice for Jessica - Hallejulah!

The verdict on Jessica Lall's murderer/s is out. Manu Sharma did kill the girl. Champagne bottles are being popped. It's a victory for the Indian civil society. It's a victory for the people. It's time to celebrate the power of the media.

Now, I don't grudge Sabrina Lall or the families of Priyadarshini Mattoo or the other murdereds at all. It's obviously fantastic for the families of the people who were murdered...justice is being given finally. The Indian judiciary is being proven dependable, resposnible, and not a body that gives verdicts according to the power of the victims or the accuseds. It's fantastic that families that have fought long and hard for justice are finally winning. That their faith in the 'system' is being restored.

What bugs me though is the attitude of the people, the media. Victories in the Jessica or the Priyadharshini cases are being seen as huge successes for the people and the media. And I don't understand this.

I don't want to sound like a college political wannabe who is always picking out the negatives. Or a 1970s arthouse hero who likes to talk about the wide world of the downtrodden. But I do want to question the logic behind an entire people getting excited, giving up their daily routines, to light candles at India Gate for justice to be given to a model, a pretty socialite, in another case an actor...another model, an air-hostess....

Why do these people matter so much to us? Why is it important to masses of not-too-privileged people to see victims of a drunken brawl or some such incident in a high-end Page Three party being given justice? Is it only because we like to think that if the powerful are brought to book, the less powerful can also be brought to book? I don't think that's possible. These judgments - or reversals of older judgments - were possible because of the immense media scrutiny, the constant limelight, the constant questioning. That will not be the case with the case YOU are fighting, brother, because you aren't a pretty woman, you aren't a good-looking college boy who's waiting for a ticket to your higher studies in the United States.

What happens to the millions of Indian girls who get raped everyday? What happens to the millions of poor people who are murdered over farmland scraps? Often, powerful political people, people with connections with political people, not-too-powerful but politically-connected people commit these crimes. Why don't we light candles for them, if we are fine with lighting candles when Bina Ramani or Ritu Beri's dog is killed in a road accident?

What about the multiple cases of BMWs and Mercedeses and Hondas running over beggars in Delhi or Bombay streets? Why does the media forget about these cases after a couple of days? Because the dead is not a pretty girl? Most probably, because that's the only difference, seeing that the man who mows down those six beggars is a powerful-enough bade baap ka beta - the kind we like seeing brought to book.

That's what bugs me. What also bugs me is the number of hours all our television channels spend on a really serious story that they have gotten into pains to dig out - maybe in a Rajasthan village or in a MP small town. Minuscule. Compare that to the number of hours they spend on Jessica. Why? You know, these channels do a bloody good job of digging out these stories. Maybe, if a pretty woman was involved, we would have done more.

And then, if Aamir Khan was doing a film on farmers' suicides, we could have got Aamir in Jantar Mantar for a couple of days, raving for justice for the farmers - YSR Reddy jawab do! After all, that's what the Aamir Khan-NBA dharna was about, isn't it? Once Rang De Basanti was a hit, Medha Patkar could go to hell. Because Aamir had bigger things to do, like convincing the world that Coke is the best thing for kids since mother's milk.

It sucks! I try to avoid getting too het up about all these things that bothered me when I was a kid...but then the whole goddamn world goes and messes it up again.