Thursday, December 22, 2011

India's Post Colonial Overhang

Just as government spokesmen voice the suspicion that foreigners are behind the Koodankulam anti-nuclear protest, comes the news that the rules restricting foreign investment in Indian media organizations are to be relaxed.

Will the real Government of India please identify itself?

No one has explained why foreign investment in the mass media is being  "liberalized" now. If it is merely to show that there is no policy paralysis in Delhi, it is ill-advised. Having foreigners in control of our mass media will unnecessarily complicate a task that must be taken in hand sooner or later: getting rid of the country's massive post-colonial cultural and intellectual overhang. It has remained largely unexamined, except in travelogues by people like Dom Moraes and V.S Naipaul.

The failure to address the issue is obvious in the embarrassingly low quality of our English language newspapers. (For some examples see herehere, here. here, here and here) It is also evident in the imported sewage spread 24/7 by "entertainment" broadcasters.

A quick scan of the Western films and television series on offer will show that I am not engaging in verbal overkill. It's mostly vampires, werewolves, zombies and serial killers (under which category I would classify the James Bond, Rambo, and other cowboy fantasies). These genres reflect the Western socio-economic experience (especially the relationship with the rest of the world), and have no cultural meaning for Indian audiences.

What pases for Indian cultural content on television is pitiable. There are soaps with lavishly overdressed characters, and low-quality retelling of stories from the epics. There is a cluster of channels providing wall to wall religion. There is the Cartoon Network with adventures of "Chota Bhim" and the blue boy "Kris." (This should effectively kill any possibility that the Indian devotional tradition, the sheet-anchor of our civilization over the millennia, will continue in the young.)

With the honourable exception of Aamir Khan's movies, most of the output from "Bollywood" is no longer "Indian" unless the term is stretched to include outright trash subversive of our cultural mores. (I have too little acquaintance with films in other Indian languages to make any judgment.)

As for "news," all the major English language broadcasters are hooked up to foreign companies and reflect their biases. Only Doordarshan tries to analyze international news but makes a hash of it, mainly because producers seem to have little knowledge of the subjects. (A talk show about the India-China relationship had as panelists a Chinese journalist spouting the Beijing line and a JNU academic who agreed with everything he said.)

The fact that nothing in our media environment provides an Indian perspective on the world is an untenable situation for a democracy with a growing role in international affairs. If the opening up of our mass media to foreign investment is intended to signal to the now dominant Western elite that India will be a team player and will not seek to have an independent view of things, it is extremely shortsighted.

The acute political, economic and environmental problems now threatening world order indicate that industrial Western Civilization is in a state of terminal crisis. India's traditional civilization, as Mahatma Gandhi pointed out in Hind Swaraj, offers a path of escape; in fact, it is the only one.      

No comments: