Friday, March 12, 2010
The Nithyananda Affair
I had a facebook conversation on this and I wanted to summarise my thoughts here:
1. The dumbest argument I have seen about this is that Nithyanada "cheated" people by engaging in false propaganda. I watched Sun TV for a half hour yesterday and I saw several advertisements for fairness creams, nutrition products that make your kids grow taller and claims about how Coca Cola makes you cool. ALL of that is false propaganda. Should we prosecute all of those companies and Sun TV for engaging in false propaganda?
We should realize that there is a religious industry out there; there is a market for their products. You may disagree with that - but the people who are gurus, devotees and followers have RIGHTS. You may think them delusional, but I think all "followers" and "devotees" of Jayalalitha or Karunanidhi are delusional.
Should we then arrest Jayalalitha or Karunanidhi, because they are engaged in "false propaganda"?
Whatever individuals think about other people's beliefs has no relevance to the law. Most people do not like other people in India. That does not mean we should go about prosecuting each other.
2. So, Sun TV telecast this video; and then police is obviously struggling to justify the completely unreasonable "popular" anger. If we had to prosecute people for their private affairs, most of us will be in jail. There is NO law by which a self-proclaimed holy man cannot have sex in private.
So we see the utterly ridiculous spectacle of a set of charges filed that make no sense. For example, Nithyananda has been charged with offending religious sensibilities! That law (more on section 295-A here) is so overly broad that anyone can be charged and noone can be convicted in a sane court.
The idea that holy men now better not have sex or otherwise they will be LEGALLY prosecuted is just hilarious. This is a moral issue, not for courts. The case will be thrown out of court and rightly so.
3. Let us consider the following cases:
- a politician declares in a party meeting that he/she will go in a bicycle to work every day. After he/she comes to power, can they be sued if they take a car to work? Can the police file charges? No
- a product says that consuming it makes people strong. Can the people who consume it then sue the product for not making them strong? No.
- a holy man says he is celibate. People follow him. Can the police sue him if he is proved to be not celibate? No (apart from the impossibility of proving whether someone violated celibacy. Masturbation violates celibacy - so I bet Sun TV is going to have a video of this guy's bathroom coming out soon)
4. I have not touched upon Sun TV's utter arrogance in telecasting this in prime time. In a sane country, their license will be revoked. I do not know if the newsroom guys consulted with their lawyers.
We are now entering a new age of "proto-fascism" in Tamil Nadu.
Sun TV and the Karunanidhi family now control television, cable distribution, movie production, FM radio, and newspapers. I think this is their first demonstration that they are not answerable to anyone and can manipulate Tamil people as they want to.
We have a long fight ahead to rid ourselves of this family's control.
5. One of the factors that surprises me is the contempt that people express for followers of such "godmen" as the media calls them. I have seen a bunch of people shaking their heads (on television) and talking about the followers as if they are sheep.
In the modern era, we are ALL sheep. We either worship digital products, celebrities, businessmen, politicians or godmen. I don't know why we pretend that followers of religious gurus are uniquely dumb. The average DMK, ADMK or Congress worker worships at politicians' altar. Why are they better than devotees?
6. More than anything I want to highlight a subtle problem in Tamil politics. For a long time the Kazhagams (DK, DMK, PMK and ADMK) have been calling themselves rationalist. The truth is these guys are far removed from any rationality or scientific approach to anything. A rational movement will not have made such a nasty issue of Kushboo's statement about women a few years back.
But this guise of a rational base has twisted popular culture in Tamil Nadu and taken it towards such unreasonable response to the Nithyananda scandal. I have seen NO public or media figure come out and call this affair for what it is - a violation of privacy by Sun TV is the core issue here. That a corporation can telecast the private affairs of an individual is shocking. This means that you and I are not protected from such violations either. Sun TV is not just the press - it is a media corporation that has stepped in forcefully into a citizen's privacy.
THAT is the chilling aspect of this "scandal". yet, I don't see ANY media or public figure come out and call a spade a spade.
The reason is that lynching Nithyananda (a religious figure) gives people the impression that it is a very rational thing to do.
That is, the narrative has become:
A public person was cheating people. The brave Sun TV folks exposed his true face. they performed the role of a true press.
The above story is appealing, but is FALSE. I am all for Sun TV exposing public corruption such as by the political parties. But I have never seen such coverage by Sun TV. Instead here they have violated the law and broken the privacy of a private citizen. As I explained above, I can be a god man, say anything and people are free to believe or disbelieve me. That does not violate the law. IF THAT violates the law, then every politician, banker, and most businessmen will be in jail.
The function of society is a balance between private rights, freedom of speech, government powers and press freedom. In this particular case the violator of this balance is Sun TV NOT Nithyananda.
But (I may be wrong), most people are unaware of such distinctions in India. They confuse morality and legality.
Sun TV has now moved one step more in getting into our lives. Being the most powerful network, the above perspective will not even make it into any media coverage.
No one is going to talk about the absurdity of prosecuting a person under section 295-A for having sex.
I missed another aspect of this issue. One of the reasons why everyone sounds enraged about this issue (but secretly enjoys it) is the sexual starvation in this country. This is a state in which women cannot travel freely in buses because of the constant groping by sex-starved men. Slowly the TV media have been ratcheting up the levels of sex and violence in reality shows, television serials, movies and advertisements. The public has been told that we are "modernising"; but no modern society tolerates this level of objectification of women in their media. I know that the US media constantly gets pushback from parents and consumer organizations. Their society is not as sex-starved as we are.
The Nithyananda affair is probably less about any exposure of wrong-doing; it seems to be more about pushing the boundaries of such sexual exposure. Anyone in advertising knows that the cheapest and easiest way to be "creative" is to go directly to sex appeal.
By showing such sick voyeuristic images, Sun TV has reserved the option to push the sex envelope to the extreme. They now know they have their audience captured and unable to fight back. Now, our kids and family will be sitting and watching news when they will be shown naked images of Sun TV's choice. We will all be told that these are features of a modern society. Every other media house will follow through.
Kalanidhi Maran owns us.