Exactly a day after the world witnessed the humongous response to #SelfieWithDaughter, seemingly to support daughters in particular and promote gender equality in general, I read this piece in Outlook India's Deep Throat Column, written by a female journalist.
"No Boring Babu
The portfolio of a junior bureaucrat, who is posted in the Telangana CM's office, is a mystery. She used to be posted in a district earlier. But things changed all of a sudden after the elections. The lady is present at every meeting and seen in almost every official photograph sent out by the CMO. But what she does exactly is a puzzle. She makes a fashion statement with her lovely saris and serves as "eye candy" at meetings, admit leading party politicians. In fact, it's this bureaucrat who calls up other officials in the CMO and asks them to come for meetings. She knows exactly what time the CM will arrive and leave the office. The lovely lady, known for her ethnic style, recently stunned all by appearing in a trendy trouser and frilly top at a fashion show. And for once, she wasn't sitting in an official meeting. But this appearance too made for a great photo op."
It also carried a cartoon, which was later removed.
Do you too think this is troubling, sexist and full of insinuations? Made more shocking by the fact that it is Outlook India printing this? (Alas! Like fools we cling to the hope that some reputed media houses are free from the scum of sensationalism.)
The young IAS officer under question, Smita Sabharwal, qualified in the UPSC exams with an AIR 4 back in 2001. Yes, that means she's been in service for 14 long years, and would not have been called a "junior" by the journalist if it was her own profession being talked about. Presently she is Additional Secretary to the CM of Telangana, Hyderabad.
In the two-and-a-half years she was collector, before coming to the CMO's office, the district she was in charge of saw visible changes for the better. Residents of Medak and Karimnagar swear by her honesty, her dedication and her work. They responded to this piece of irresponsible journalism by talking about programs and processes she initiated and executed. Sabharwal has also responded to the piece with a lawsuit.
Thank god for that. Else, I too may have lapped up Deep Throat's journalistic innuendos verbatim over dinner tonight, creating my very own version of this soap-y "truth"!
"It disturbs me that educated professionals from a sex we're trying to uplift have no qualms deconstructing clothes and provoking lines of thought based on invented reasons."
Which, actually, is a habit we as people are coming to enjoy -- that of swallowing-without-chewing news which at best is half-concocted and at its worst fully false and even defamatory. Three humour pieces, 30 status updates and 300 tweets on any issue of socio-political import are created and shared only by looking at the breaking headlines. Who has time to wait for the real news to come in, which, when it does after a few days of replayed tamasha on TV, is something no one is interested in? Of course we need the press. But it's time we asked ourselves - Are we giving the media too much importance? Are we laying at their feet the thinking caps we were all born with? And, are we killing with it our ability to critically examine, argue and really draw out a thought-process instead of hammering on tables because apparently the "nation wants to know" and it's always comfortable to take a #tag's side?
The nation does want to know. It should. But from whom? Now that is a question.
What is the nation if not the people who inhabit it? That's another question. Look at the language contained in the few lines of this article. By a woman, about a woman, but entirely sans responsibility and an overdose of sly insinuations. (If the journalist was playing Taboo and was not to use the word "slut", she'd had won with flying colours!) It isn't Smita making for a "great photo-op". It's the ignoble parade of most media houses which shame women even as they try to be pillars for exposing unfairness and injustice. It disturbs me that educated professionals from a sex we're trying to uplift have no qualms deconstructing clothes and provoking lines of thought based on invented reasons. Would this have occupied news space if this Additional Secretary was a man? The journalist didn't feel the need to do her ground work before talking about another woman. All she needed to do was ask politicians about this "not boring" "eye candy" and create mystery around a woman who "knows exactly what time the CM will arrive and leave office." And it gets published!
What role is journalism playing here, really?
I do wonder why this surprises me and angers me still -- this gall, this utter lack of respect towards public servants, for instance, and a fellow human being at large. If it isn't already fashionable to misread, mock and malign them with each passing prime time, it will be. Just like it is already in vogue to find the easiest scapegoat, the government, to disown our responsibilities as citizens. Please tell me how we as a collective seeking services motivate the ones who are working up good in the yellow corridors? Does few-and-far-between mean naught when it comes to good officers?
And if it's their job to serve you, pray, what is yours?
I don't know Sabharwal and nor how this story will unfold, but at a larger level I do know that no matter how many like her, #DespiteBeingAWoman, work their years away in public service, popular journalism will read and look like exactly this. Because as a nation what we don't want to know is where we as people are responsible, or even where we are being irresponsibly spoon-fed tasteless titbits 24X7.
Our taste-buds have been that dumbed down, and our antennae for Trending News always on alert. Not a good combination, don't you think?
This post first appeared on www.sakshinanda.com.