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Aamir Khan’s show could do with better research. But the social transformation agenda at its core is creditable

Written by Ravinder Kaur |
June 23, 2012 3:13:50 am

Aamir Khan’s show could do with better research. But the social transformation agenda at its core is creditable

Aamir Khan’s television show Satyamev Jayate has made waves by taking up contemporary,contentious issues,not in the format of popular soaps but in a straightforward “talking to the people” mode. Each show has raised hackles in some quarter or the other. Feminists have been bothered by aspects of the episodes on marriage and “sex-selective abortions”,while doctors are up in arms against what they feel is unjustified maligning of their profession. Others feel that Khan is doing this for mere publicity and some have dubbed him India’s Oprah Winfrey,who gets people to display their lives and troubles on national TV,giving him an opportunity to emote.

The show comes at a time when many important actors,such as Amitabh Bachchan,Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan,have realised the potential of television. It is not that these actors need more publicity,but TV gives them a forum to build a different persona for themselves — a persona that is their own and not only that of the many film characters they play. Television is attractive because it takes you straight into the viewer’s home. In the case of Aamir Khan’s show,the topics have been such that even Doordarshan has found it worthwhile to tie up with him. There is a social transformation agenda at the heart of the show,which is creditable. India needs transforming — especially in the areas that Khan has chosen to bring forth for discussion. He is right when he says that we have a rapidly changing society,a huge youth population (the demographic dividend that may turn into a demographic disaster if we do not pay it sufficient attention) and people pushing the envelope,whether in the rapid exploitation of resources to make money,or in demanding personal freedom in families and relationships. The exposure to choices,even alternative lifestyles,through various types of media leaves many without a moral compass. A little handholding would not be amiss. There are thousands of people out there looking for answers,solutions and help,and television — the hidden persuader — can make you not only buy things but also develop a viewpoint.

I feel qualified to venture an opinion on Khan’s show,because many of the topics have been the subject of my own research for over a decade. In the din of economics and politics that occupies air and video waves,we forget that demographic changes impact economy and society deeply. We forget that intimate life,domestic or otherwise,can make us happy or unhappy,or satisfied or dissatisfied. We forget that there is a political economy of sex ratios,marriage and family change.

Scholars familiar with the topics picked up by the show can easily pick holes in the research and presentation. Some may even feel that Khan is glossing over issues,such as the difficult terrain of protecting women’s right to abortion while fighting against aborting daughters — a tirade against “bhroonhatya” can easily became a blanket pro-life stance that takes away a woman’s right not to have a conceived baby if she so wishes. Yet others may feel that by focusing on the shortage of brides in states like Haryana,he may be placing undue importance on the necessity of marriage or reiterating that women are simply instruments for reproduction and labour. And finally,many believe that male patriarchy and its role in influencing decisions is not sufficiently exposed when only women sufferers are brought on the screen. Where are the missing male culprits — the husbands,the fathers-in-law,men indulging in child abuse or NRIs who abandon wives after exploiting them?

If one were to admit many such lapses in research on complex issues — which require both theoretical and ideological stances — should one say that the show therefore has no merit and may even be sending out wrong messages?

In recent visits to Kurukshetra in Haryana and Kangra in Himachal Pradesh to study the issues of imbalanced sex ratios and their impact on society,I was surprised to come across,without any prompting or reference,people referring repeatedly to Khan’s show. In village Khanpur Kolian in Kurukshetra,a group of women struggling against dowry,sex-selective abortions,alcoholism and the lack of toilets for women felt their hands strengthened by the show. In distant villages Bheth Jhikli and Chogaan in Kangra,several men and women brought up the show and stressed the need for more such shows so that people could develop a nuanced understanding and be on the right side.

Yes,the show could do with some tweaking and better research can only help. What would help more are multiple shows that explore the various dimensions of each of these complex problems.

The writer teaches at IIT Delhi

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