Aamir’s Satyamev Jayate is indictment of TV journalism and call for renewal
Just when you thought that the news media was dissipating itself in the purposeless eddies of irrelevance, trying to keep people excited without engaging them here comes Aamir Khan with an exquisite piece of journalism. Satyamev Jayate is a television program which is ambitious in scope, thorough in research, unrelenting in questioning, singular in focus, simple in presentation and yet searing in its indictment – of much of journalism as it is currently practiced, of the medical profession, of the keepers of law, the deliverers of justice and the political leadership. Khan has shown that there is not dearth of issues, only of imagination and that the television rating points game can be played without social regression or dumbing down.
Who would have thought that an issue like female foeticide could be the stuff of prime time television and keep the country riveted? Khan is dramatic without being theatrical. He is understated but the facts are not. (Thirty million girl-children killed in the womb in the past six decades – as many as were killed by starvation during Mao’s Great Leap Forward in the 1950s as China tried to catch up with the west in steel production). Khan does not let those figures be mere statistics as he drives home the terrible implications of mass murder committed within the oppressive confines of domesticity or the sterile walls of the operation theatre. Using 3G technology he brings us face to face with a group of Haryanvi youth in their mid-30s forced into bachelorhood (known colloquially as kanwar fauj or army of the unmarried) -by the ravages of the sonogram. A social worker says that in his native Alwar district of Rajasthan, an adverse sex ratio has resulted in a thriving market for Bihari brides. He estimates that at least 15,000 are bought every year. The lucky ones are those that stay bought. Many are sold onward. A Jain lady from Bhilwara (Rajasthan) gives a personal attestation: her cousin fetched a wife all the way from Karnataka’s Belgaum district. A lady ‘protection officer’ of Haryana says the degradation is not limited to females in the bridal market. Any woman who speaks out against the practice is questioned about her ‘aukath’ (worth), when women are ‘available’ for Rs 10,000 a piece.
Khan also summons eyewitnesses: women whose lives were made hell by husbands and in-laws because they conceived the ‘wrong’ gender. A lady from Ahmedabad’s Vastrapur locality, Amisha Yagnik, narrates how she was forced to undergo six abortions in eight years without her consent and with the doctor’s connivance, till she plucked the courage to walk out of marriage and bring up a daughter, now eight years old, on her own as a single parent while working in a call center. The testimony of Parveen Khan from Morena in the badlands of Bundelkhand, an area known for mispalced machismo, was moving as much from her courage and grace as for the viciousness of the attack she was subjected to. Her face, badly disfigured by a furious husband but surgically reconstructed later courtesy of a doctor in Jaipur, was emblematic of the intense loathing that drives men insane when thwarted in their obsessive quest for the male child. Nor are these instances confined to poor and illiterate families. Khan rattles middle class Indians in their comfort zones.
The example of Delhi’s Mitu Khurana, herself a doctor, is proof that education need not be ennobling or that wealth is an antidote to greed. Discovered carrying twin girls, she has to face the combined wrath of her husband, an orthopaedic surgeon, and in-laws – one a professor of history in Delhi University and the other, a school vice-principal. When born prematurely because of violence-induced shock, the grandmother is gleeful that the girls have a slim chance of survival. And when she kicks the mobile crib carrying one of them two flights down the stairs, it is the mother’s prudence and sheer luck that saves the child.