Today, the face of nonviolent resistance is that of Olga Misik, reading the Russian constitution to Vladimir Putin’s riot police during a crackdown on protesters in which over 1,000 were arrested. She takes on the mantle of Tank Man, the unidentified protester who had halted an armoured column in Tiananmen Square in 1989 by refusing to get out of the way. And of the anti-Vietnam war protester variously identified as George Edgerley Harris or Joel Tornabene, snapped by Bernie Boston during the March on the Pentagon in 1967, spiking the guns of military police with carnations. At the same protest, French photojournalist Marc Riboud immortalised Jan Rose Kasmir, a girl offering a flower to a police line. In an interview for Smithsonian Magazine, Riboud had said: “I had the feeling the soldiers were more afraid of her than she was of the bayonets.” Her image, titled The Ultimate Confrontation: The Flower and the Bayonet, is still widely seen in exhibitions and on posters.
The tyranny of the weak, which Mahatma Gandhi had once harnessed to deal a body blow to colonialism, is still alive and well. Interestingly, it is wielded by the young, who are generally perceived to repose more faith in aggression. Misik is 17, as Kasmir was during the March on the Pentagon. Tank Man’s identity is unknown, but a British newspaper suggested that he was a 19-year-old student. And the carnation-wielding man is visibly young.
These are powerful images of youth versus morally bankrupt authority, of disarming innocence facing down the armed might of the state. Their sheer ordinariness is powerful — the shopping bags in the hands of Tank Man are simply unforgettable. Now, a video of a girl sitting cross-legged in the street and reading out a toothless constitution has swept around the world. Putin had stonewalled accusations of assassination operations in the UK, and laughed helplessly when he was asked about Russian meddling in US elections. But the video of Olga Misik, who currently faces charges, will be much more difficult to shrug off.
In India, the speed with which the Zomato vs ritual purity story spread, it seemed like the entire Indian press — print, TV, radio and digital — had been dying to see a bigot ragged in public. Or, perhaps, they were just waiting for an affirmation that though the public display of bigotry has become commonplace, the majority is not bigoted. The story of the observing Hindu in Madhya Pradesh who cancelled a Zomato order because it was being delivered by a Muslim, whose demand for chaste Hindu delivery was stoutly resisted by the company, and who was then was taken to task on social media, was picked up by news providers across at least a dozen languages.
The obscure bigot is now internationally infamous, too, the story having been covered by the BBC, CNN, Straits Times, the Independent, Quartz, Mashable, Scripps TV and RT. Meanwhile, NDTV reported that the Zomato user was sent a notice by the Madhya Pradesh police, “warning of jail over tweets”. And in an intriguing change of strategy, Arnab Goswami bowled his fans a googlie by denouncing an “almost xenophobic bigot… shut up and shut down” by Zomato and calling the incident the beginning of a national movement against hatemongers.
But the story that really needs to be talked up is not as visible on television as it should be: the general slowdown in the economy. The Nifty closed below 11,000 on Thursday, when the US Fed tightened its fist, the automobile market is at its most sluggish since the 20th century, and housing and construction remain in deep trouble, Airtel, the pioneer in cellular telephony, closed a quarter in the red, and bad loans continue to be written off. This is being talked about in print and online, but TV remains obsessed with the troop deployment in Kashmir and matters of Hindu-Muslim disunity. Wonder why we call them North Korean channels. They’re actually Rwandan channels of 1994 vintage.
The coverage of two business stories could have been better. The death of Coffee Day group promoter VG Siddhartha was initially approached as a human interest story, and some Kannada channels were apparently distastefully intrusive, with images of the corpse and the family in its first moments of grief. Then, it developed into speculation about financial wrongdoing, blame for which Siddhartha had already accepted. The real burden of the story was ignored — that the Indian ecosystem is immature. Elsewhere, allegations about tax terrorism would have attracted an investigation, and investors would have been happy to shoulder the burden of a brand as valuable as Cafe Coffee Day. Indeed, Blackstone is now buying into its real estate, but after the event. Also, hardly any attention was paid to another story: that executives who failed to expend corporate social responsibility budgets would face jail. Obvious question: would the government apply the same criterion to its ministers and bureaucrats, and jail those who fail to spend allocated budgets?
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