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Middle class activism at crossroads


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Supercop KPS Gill writes a monthly column on internal security issues


Middle class activism
at crossroads

Despite a few laudable examples, standing up for a cause is out. However, the attempts by journalists to do in-depth research is a welcome development

New Delhi, Aug 3

With the practice of reading books under severe strain, thanks to the electronic media, it is always heart-warming to find a book chain like Crosswords of Mumbai organising a panel discussion around a release. On August 1, the theme revolved around what middle class activists could do to change attitudes
and perceptions of society at large. The provocation was the release of Sanjay Sangvai’s book, The River and Life: People’s Struggle in the Narmada Valley
(Earthcare Books).

This columnist was asked to serve on the panel, which was chaired by Dolly Thakore, the well-known presenter and theatre personality. The theme and panelists were chosen by Rajni Bakshi, a journalist and activist who is also an author (Bapu Kuti: The stories of contemporary Gandhians). The catalyst for the discussion was simple, in that Sanjay Sangvai could have pursued a career as a journalist or academic, but chose to plunge headlong into activism with the Narmada Bachao Andolan.

Because of his media skills, he is often referred to as “Medha Patkar’s press attache”, an appellation which both would probably detest thoroughly! He is unfortunately not at all well, due to his intense involvement with this grassroots struggle, and was not even present for what should have been a celebratory occasion of the release of his first book.

Sanjay Sangvai
could have pursued
a career as a journalist or academic, but
chose to plunge headlong into
activism with the Narmada Bachao Andolan!

The respected sociologist, Dr Y.D. Phadke, whose student Sanjay was in Pune, was the first speaker on the panel and referred to how the book moved him because of its steadfast commitment to a cause. Dr Phadke referred to the role of middle class activists like Sanjay and cited Senapati Bapat, the veteran social activist in Maharashtra. He championed the cause of those
displaced by the Mulshi dam, which was erected by the Tatas in the 1920s to generate hydropower.

The tragedy is that for several decades later, the farmers who were evicted from their land had not received compensation and were rendered destitute. In other words, they were reluctant devotees prostrated before one of the first “temples of today”. Dr Phadke has in fact written Senapati Bapat’s biography and mentioned how Bapat could have pursued an illustrious career as an academic, with a British degree behind him. Dr Phadke said he had an “unfortunate” habit of wanting to read a book before commenting on it, which prompted this columnist to remark that journalist suffered from no
such inhibition!

I lauded the practice of journalists extending themselves by writing books, referring to Rajni Bakshi. One could have mentioned P. Sainath, whose Everybody Loves a Good Drought (Penguin India) has gone into several reprints. He was a former Deputy Editor of Blitz who
won a Times of India fellowship to write a book on the ten poorest districts of the country. The most heartening development is that this widely-acclaimed series sparked off similar investigations by so-called
mofussil journalists.


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