Being in the media isn’t easy these days. The profession is increasingly getting unenviable. It is becoming tough for a media person even to get out of office or home. For, wherever he or she goes these days, be sure to be bombarded by a flurry of fuming queries from all around. “How much low you can get?” “Why do you keep running around such riff-raff like the Sarithas and Bijus?” “Don’t you have anything good or serious to discuss?” “Why do you guys pander to that woman’s wild charges?”
Many of these moral inquisitors watch the TV bulletins repeatedly and even know the number of times Saritha appeared on a particular day. Never nurse a doubt that perhaps these vigilant couch potatoes were also driven by the Malayalee male’s favorite past time of voyeurism. No, they bore this agony only to hone their arguments against the wrongs of media. Many eminent men are more appalled because it is a “woman” who gets all the media glare!
I dread these days to go to media seminars – they have now become indispensible for even village festivals!- where we get mercilessly dissected by those ultra-vigilantes. They narrate how morally outraged and scandalized they are by the shameless depths to which present day media has sunk. The bleeding hearts include even honorable judges. But never ask them why they keep mum about the charges of corruption eating into the core of judicial system. Never ask them why judges make sensational oral observations during the course of trials, knowing well they would make headlines immediately, but simply forget to include them in their final order when they cannot be irresponsible. Aren’t they smart? One stone, two birds.
Even feminists and fiery activists slam the media for reporting the charges “shady” women like Saritha make against our honorable leaders. Forget all those long battles women activists had waged to convince the society not to rake up a woman’s past when she complains about exploitation. They also mock the media for airing live, the hot pursuit by police of the mysterious compact disc from Kochi to Coimbatore and end up looking like idiots when there was no CD to confiscate!
I am aghast. I have also been deeply disturbed by the increasing spectacle of dumping down, commercialism and sensationalism that one comes across in present day media. Yet, I don’t know how the media could look the other way when Saritha spoke, just because she had a “dubious past”. The media could have certainly ignored her if she was speaking about something else. But wasn’t she saying such grave things about those public men and women who sit over our destinies? And why those deeply hurt by Saritha’s charges, appear unperturbed about our big leaders being caught pants down in the process? And about the mystery CD, would media anywhere in the world sit idle when a judge sends police to seize a CD which allegedly contained shocking things about the head of the government? That the CD was not found at the end would hardly justify if the media had failed to be at the site of potential action. Imagine the huge political storm that would have engulfed the state had a CD containing serious stuff was found at the end! Wouldn’t our inquisitors then blame the media for failing in its duty?
I am surprised when our critics lament that it is our media alone that indulge in such “sensational over-kill.” Did the global media keep mum when Monica Lewinsky or Christine Keeler made their stunning revelations about those powerful leaders of their times? Yes, even during those days too there were many moralists who thought those wily women and the muck-raking media should have refrained from mud-slinging at respected leaders like Bill Clinton and John Profumo!
Thatrikkutty, the young Nampoodiri woman who lived in the last century, is a near parallel to Saritha in our history. Thatri too had similar encounters with the moralists of her time. But she was the only one who chose to hit back. When she was sought to be ostracized by a social jury on charges of having “illicit sexual relationships,” Thatrikkutty, like Sarita did now before the Solar Commission, started revealing the names of all the prominent men who had used and abused her. The story goes that the exasperated jury hurriedly asked Thatrikkutty to stop when she reached the 62nd name. For, the 63rd was feared to be the king of Kochi. However, the Solar Commission did not prevent Saritha from naming the Chief Minister for having duped her.
Throughout history, morality, sexuality and chastity have been convenient weapons for men to silence women who dared to cross the lines they drew. The *Lakshmanarekha* around Sita. They called a woman ‘loose’ for having illicit sexual links with men. But only she got branded “loose” while all those men who made her morals loose, went scot free. Saritha, like Thatrikkutty defied this convention of morality. She couldn’t care less for the “shame” that fell on her on account of her sexuality.
Modern Victimology talks about a strategy called “Blaming the Victim”. The term was coined by William Ryan in his eponymous 1971 book in which he said it was an ideological tool deployed to defend racism and social injustices. This tool is used to find fault with the victim’s own past or tradition for the miseries he or she suffers in the present and lets off the hook the tormentor in the process. Much before Ryan, philosopher Theodor Adorno had called similar ways as “most sinister tactics of Fascists.”
One is reminded of this when Saritha’s own past is raked up to rubbish her present. But, was Saritha a victim? Not quite. She cleverly manipulated a corrupt system for her own ends. Yet, wasn’t she a victim too? Of a decadent system where women had to offer their bodies to advance in life. But unlike the others, Saritha kept a record of all those names and dared to shout them out when those charlatans broke their promises even after using or abusing her.
I know that many readers are now dying to ask this. All this is fine, but where the hell is the evidence for her wild charges? But how on earth can one get evidence after they got destroyed systematically? Now I hear the howl again: “Where the hell is the evidence for the destruction of evidence?”
Well, wasn’t it the former Director General of Police (DGP) in charge of Prisons, Alexander Jacob, who deposed before the Solar Commission that the controversial letter Sarita wrote inside a jail in which she accused 13 VIPs of having had links with her, was spoiled in order to cover up the names? That the 21 page letter was later reduced to 4 pages. The moral brigade, now increasingly looking like a Chandy Brigade, would then respond: “Oh, that DGP. Didn’t he have a score to settle with this government which had taken punitive action against him while in service?”
Fair enough. But then, how about T.P. Senkumar, this government’s current DGP deposing before the commission that an Inspector General of Police (IGP) had destroyed all the details of Saritha’s telephone calls to VIPs? And also, why does this IGP, caught for cheating in examination too, continue to adorn the state police force? And what about Thampanoor Ravi and Benny Behanan, both Oommen Chandy’s right hand men, who tutored Saritha on how and what to depose before the Solar Commission?
Forget the 45 minute-long chat between Chandy and Biju Radhakrishnan, the content of which the CM refuses to reveal till date. Forget the “automatic” erasure of the webcast footage of CM’s office of the day he was alleged to have met Sreedharan Nair along with Sarita. Forget the Advocate General’s plea in the High Court not to confiscate the telephone records of Salim Raj, CM’s gunman accused in a land scam and who along with Chandy’s three other personal aides, was in regular contact with Saritha.
We are slammed by friends from outside the country as well. A dear friend from the U.S. asked me how the Kerala media could debate ad nauseam the likes of Saritha and Biju Ramesh, characters one would never see in the great America. Well, I told him we were only trying to catch up with great Americans and might soon graduate to discussing oral sex and Presidents.
Media is a product and mirror of its society. Whatever is rotten or good in the society is likely to get reflected in its media. Its role as a social reformer is only a derivative function in modern democracies. By holding a mirror to ourselves, it tells us how we look and indirectly reminds us that it’s perhaps time to set things right. As the Malayalam proverb goes, why break the mirror for the ugly face that it reflects? Media and perhaps even Saritha too are messengers of a deeper malaise that afflicts our times. Don’t shoot the messenger. Save the energies to address that malaise instead of chasing the symptoms.
Remember what the messenger told Cleopatra when she threatened to kill him for bringing the news about Antony’s marriage to Octavia; “Gracious Madam, I that do bring the news not the match”.