In my columns, I generally explain how I handle a specific complaint. In this column, I am compelled to break this norm and discuss two different complaints. This is because I had to skip writing a column on October 25, Ayudha Puja, as there was no edition on October 26. While addressing complaints, I see whether it is within my remit to do so or if there would be an overreach in my doing so.
A complaint about an advertisement fell in the grey area between remit and overreach. Some readers, including K. Balakesari, former member, Railway Board, asked about the newspaper’s policy on accepting advertisements. They were uncomfortable with the publication of a full-page ad on behalf of the People’s Republic of China celebrating its national day on October 1. Mr. Balakesari asked: “Was it necessary for the paper to needlessly wade into a controversy by accepting an ad at this juncture from a country with which relations at present are far from normal, also knowing fully well that hardly anyone has the patience and time to wade through what is essentially propaganda?” He further asked: “Will the paper publish an ad from Pakistan on the eve of its national day extolling its achievements? Will you accept an ad from the RSS on the eve of its founding day?”
I must also record the fact that Mr. Balakesari’s mail came on October 18, and subsequent mails complaining about the Chinese ad that was published on October 1 came after October 19. As my remit ends with the editorial content of the newspaper and does not extend to advertisements, I am not familiar with the advertisement policy of the newspaper. I will talk to the management team and find out the advertising policy in place and share it with the readers as early as possible.
In a polarised political environment, the dominant ideology always seeks to not only suppress other views but also obliterate the inherent nature of a plural society. In its desire to become exclusive, it tends to create a frighteningly monochromatic imagination that erases the multiple hues that make a society inclusive. With the series of electoral successes of strong leaders across nations, the binary between ‘an exclusive society’ and ‘an inclusive society’ becomes stark and the information ecosystem is not immune to this virus. Mails from a reader from Tiruchirappalli, S. Pushpavanam, are always critical and the tone and tenor of his missives are generally harsh.
Misogynism in texts
Mr. Pushpavanam did not approve of the report “VCK buoyed by response to ‘ban Manusmriti’ campaign” (Tiruchirapalli edition, October 29). He asked what happened to the fact-check which I often mention in my column. His other arguments were: “This correspondent has not cited a single quote from the other side. It seems he is oblivious to the fact that there is another side. This is, by no standards, balanced journalism. The so-called buoyancy is from his own party men and from a Professor who is unheard of. The VCK leader’s speech has created disgust and aversion among the reading public. The correspondent has acted as a PRO of VCK. This is shoddy journalism and it could be a planted news item.”
I am not sure what is the other side Mr. Pushpavanam is referring to. If he means representing the votaries of Hindutva, which is vastly different from Hinduism, what he suggests is a false equivalence. Feminist scholars over the last five decades have documented the overt and covert patriarchy in the texts of various religions — be it Hinduism or Christianity or Islam. There is rich literature about the misogynism in the theocratic texts.
I was puzzled when he attached a letter in Tamil by a person whose opening line was: “I know neither Sanskrit nor Manusmriti” and who then cited Tamil translations of verses about women in the Manusmriti. Mr. Pushpavanam must realise that Dr. B.R. Ambedkar burnt the Manusmriti on December 25, 1927. The erudite scholar who gave us our Constitution read multiple translations of the text before coming to the conclusion that the “Manusmriti dehumanised the Sudras, untouchables, and women, ruled the Hindu psyche for centuries and created the greatest obstacle to any serious attempt at eradicating the caste system.”