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opinions that matter

This story is connected to the 1950s. But, let’s fast forward 50 years; today we have an overdose of media and self-proclaimed representatives of public doling out their outdated ideas in the name of public opinion. This “opinion” is taken to millions by loud, biased and TRP hungry news readers (or should I call them opinion makers) thus creating and propagating our “collective conscience”. They shout and demand answers and provide adrenaline rush which rivals thriller movies or serials (with which basically they compete for viewer’s time). The misleading of public opinion was always there but nowadays it has become torpedoing rather than simple biasing. Media can create heroes and make a villain out of the same person in a split second. They beatified the Defence minister Antony when he moved decisively against the corrupt defence deals. He suddenly became the beacon of hope among the corrupt ministers of the government. But when the cancellations came, again and again, the saint was slowly brought down to human levels and is now in the process of moving into devilish boundaries.

In April 1959, KM Nanavati, a commander in Indian navy, shot dead his friend for 15 years Prem Ahuja. Ahuja was having an illicit relationship with Nanavati’s wife while the commander was away on work. Nanavati surrendered after the act and was trialed by a jury of 9 members of Greater Bombay sessions court. Though it was clear from the beginning that Nanavati had killed Ahuja in cold blood, the commander acquired a hero image during the trial. Thousands used to gather in front of the court when the arguments happened and Nanavati used to get an arousing welcome with slogans and clapping whenever he arrived at the court. A tabloid Blitz eulogized his act as a loving and wronged husband avenging the wrongs done to his family by a playboy. This version of the story became so popular that Blitz sold for Rs 2 per copy whenever it ran this story while its original price was 25 ps at that time. Rallies happened in Mumbai supporting Nanavati and finally, the jury acquitted Nanavati with an 8-1 verdict.The “collective conscience” was obviously for setting Nanavati free (or, at least, it seemed so) though he committed a murder in cold blood. But 1959 was very different from 2005 and the honorable justice of the sessions court didn’t think that the judgement was objective and impartial. He dismissed the jury’s verdict and referred the case to the Bombay High court. Subsequently on retrial, the Bombay High court found Nanavati guilty of culpable homicide and sentenced him to life imprisonment; the judgement was upheld by the Supreme court later. Taking Nanavati’s case as an example, the government of India abolished jury trials stating that jury can get influenced/misled by media and public opinion and hence cannot provide justice without bias.

There are many things our “collective conscience” represent. One of the most detrimental among them to our diverse nation is intolerance. When an unknown religious organisation claimed that Viswaroopam hurts their religious sentiments, every single news channel in the country ran prime time coverage on it. There were discussions and debates about the issue before the movie even released (and hence obviously none of the speakers knew what is really there in the movie). Seeing that one organisation is stealing all limelight, 20 more joined in a matter of days and the controversy blew over in no time. Ever since the Delhi rape case, our “collective conscience” has grown to include intolerance towards anything said against women. Though curiously, Bollywood is kept out of this intolerance category. I guess that may be because if the idea is applied on Bollywood there will be hardly any movies coming out. With the idea hotting up, an old rape case called Suryanelli case has resurfaced and prominent politicians are finding themselves in the middle of the controversy. I agree that the comments made by justice Basant and Sudhakaran MP were insensitive but what surprises me is the reluctance to even consider the premise that the girl may have been used as a child prostitute when the evidence does point to the same. The same aspect was highlighted when news channels made a ball out of the jocund comments made by Vayalar Ravi to a journalist who asked him about Suryanelli case. People who understand Malayalam could easily make out that Ravi was trying to put the journalist in a spot for her open ended question but according to a popular news channel, the sexist comment severely traumatized the female journalist.

Though I borrowed the usage “collective conscience” from Afzal Guru verdict, I didn’t write anything about the verdict itself because a lot have been already written and analysed about the same. This is just an attempt to introduce the readers with the word collective conscience.

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