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As I watch the Gorakhpur tragedy unfold, "Nero's Guests", a documentary by P Sainath, comes to my mind. It concludes with Sainath's speech where he shares a piece of ancient history involving Nero, the infamous emperor of Rome.

When Rome burnt and Nero could not control the fire, he decided to throw a party and invite "everybody who was anybody" to deflect attention from the fire. But there was no provision to illuminate the huge garden that was supposed to accommodate the laundry list of invitees. Which is when Nero had an idea.

He summoned the convicts in the Roman jail, particularly the ones about to be hanged or imprisoned for life, and burnt them alive in the periphery of the garden. The fire ensured there was no absence of light, and the party went on without any difficulties.

As horrific as it sounds, Sainath makes an important point. "The problem for me is not Nero," he says in the speech. "What did Nero's guests do? Did they speak out against it?"

The reactions to the Gorakhpur massacre and I use the word massacre with all responsibility, indicate we, as a society, particularly the urban middle class, have become Nero's guests. The government hospital does not pay 60 lakh rupees for kids' oxygen but spends 40 crores on cow ambulances. In the aftermath of what happened, the doctor who spent from his own pocket to save kids is sacked. One or two other people have been suspended, but the babus, and more importantly, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath have shrugged responsibility when the buck directly stops with him.

Yet, social media is flooding with comments normalizing the incident. We are being told how people have died at the hospital in the past, and how Gorakhpur is an ideal town. The doctor who saved kids is sacked and we are told how he is actually an immoral man being accused of crimes in 2009. So when Times Now anchor Navika Kumar asks her guest to not "rake up kids' deaths and divert from real issues" while debating Vande Mataram, she seems to be a mere reflection of Nero's guests who watch her show.

When a man is killed in Dadri, we discuss whether the meat in his fridge was beef. When a man is lynched in Rajasthan, we wonder whether he indeed had a legitimate permit, as if it justifies the lynching if he did not. The way we, in the media, report rural India, and the indifference with which the urban middle class treats the plight of those who are not "one of them", are all examples of normalisation that establish ourselves as Nero's guests. However, If 60 infants dying due to criminal negligence does not disturb us, then nothing will.

The normalization has severely and successfully diluted the value of human life. As George Orwell famously said, "All animals are equal, but some are more equal than the others."

The ways in which state governments have misrepresented farmer suicides in the NCRB data and the NCRB published manipulated data without audit.

5 ways NCRB data on is fudged. Based on an analysis by P. Sainath of the data state governments have provided to NCRB, which it has published without an audit.

How state governments fudged farmer suicide data and NCRB released it without audit
How state governments fudged farmer suicide data and NCRB released it without audit

No points for guessing who profits from this.

Based on information published in P. Sainath's excellent piece The slaughter of suicide data: Change the way of counting and the count change

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Business Standard has written a piece challenging the data on farmer suicides from Uttar Pradesh titled "As farmers commit suicide, Uttar Pradesh hides their deaths". It is a pretty good piece and necessary. In the interests of accuracy of information, I am pointing out a correction in the statistics attributed to P. Sainath in the article.

Over 20 years—between 1991 and 2011—more than 1.5 million farmers, distressed by crop failure and death, committed suicide across India, according to P. Sainath, journalist and Magsasay Award winner, who analysed National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data. The NCRB reports to the Ministry of Home Affairs, collecting data every year from states.

The article linked to from the Hindu site is indeed by P. Sainath, but provides no data that will offer the number of suicides as 1.5 million.

To the best of my knowledge, the number of farmer suicides, as per NCRB data and quoted by P. Sainath is "nearly 296,438 farmers between 1995 and 2013 (both years included)". This, being five times less than 1.5 million, deserved a clarification, though it does not detract from the point the article makes about fudged farmer suicide data in Uttar Pradesh in any way. For more information, you may read "Maharashtra crosses 60,000 farm suicides".

Disclosure: I (Vidyut) publish P. Sainath's blog.

The Election Commission has issued notice to Ashok Chavan for fudging poll expenses and asking him why he should not be disqualified (a pointless question, me thinks - what possible answer could be there?).

"The commission is of the considered view that respondent (Ashok Chavan) cannot validly claim ignorance about the publication of the above-mentioned 25 advertisements in which his name, the name of his constituency and also his photograph prominently appeared."

If you remember, this was the case broken in The Hindu by Sainath and others in 2009 that put "paid news" on our attention maps (leading to further delicious scandals, but little action).

A quick reminder of the creative accounting involved:

 

Ashok Chavan (of Adarsh Scam fame) submitted election expenses to the Eletion Commission of India stated that he spent less than 7 lakh on his total election campaign, inluding Rs. 5,379 on newspaper advertisements (for 6 ads in one minor daily) and Rs.6,000 on cable television ads. Burst out laughing, didja? The Hindu stated that it had collected 47 full page color advertisements in newspapers (including at least one full front page and major dailies ) like Lokmat (which is among the 10 largest newspapers in India and top in Maharashtra -NRS 2006). Essentially, Chavan submitted acounts that would give him a full color page in a newspaper for less than Rs. 200.

It opened a whole new can of worms that culminated in the Supreme Court drawing the line and issuing a deadline in the peak of the Election frenzy.

P. Sainath and others in The Hindu had covered painstakingly over a series of 21 exposes dogging every development in the case and collecting full page after full page of color advertisements in investigations, with this notice to Ashok Chavan.

It is unclear what reply the Election Commission now expects, but no surprises are anticipated and we may finally see a precedent that sets they way for further action in controlling this open secret of media-political corruption.

Absurdly, Ashok Chavan seems to have lost his sanity, as he seems to see himself being found guilty a vindication of the Congress stand - whatever that means, since the Congress had actually tried to disempower the Election Commission to protect him - and failed. For what it is worth, this is what he reportedly said:

"Our stand on the paid news issue has been confirmed by the Election Commission. Even the High court and Supreme court had taken a similar stand when our opponents had filed a petition. The courts had rejected their petition. Now this (EC) order is also very clear. There is no question of paid news,"

Or perhaps he means that he has been found guilty of fudging his bills for paid advertisements and not news. One never knows what fig leaf a politician will grab.

This comes at a particularly sentimental moment, as P. Sainath, the senior journalist who broke the case ends his career at The Hindu with a sense of closure on one of the major long investigations he did there.

Disclosure: I manage P. Sainath's blog with his writing in a technical and administrative capacity.

Association for India's Development produces a calendar each year and it reaches 5000 people with messages related to grassroots development and social issues. For 2014 our theme is performing arts.

We are looking for photographs of performing arts including music, drama, storytelling, dance, theatre, puppetry and other arts of performance, on stage, in the street, common spaces, popular festivals and other venues. Art with social theme or connected to resistance movements is especially exciting to us.

Please share this message widely in all your circles connected to movements, art, photography and people's culture and media. Contributors will receive credit and complimentary copes of the calendar. Please send entries to calendar.aid@gmail.com.

thank you!!!
Aravinda
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List of Association for India's Development Calendar subjects over the years:

2014 Performing Arts
2013 Bicycle: Pedaling towards Sustainability | video
2012 Safar: Along Roads Less Travelled | video
2011 Jivika: Living in the Margins
2010 Makan: A Place Called Home | video
2009 Roti: Sharing Food, Sharing Values | video
2008 Kapda: Clothing the Nation
2007 Nurturing Nature
2006 Pattachitra on Rural Living
2005 Looking Forward: A Journey through North East India
2004 Wisdom of Grassroots
2003 Women and Work (Photos of P. Sainath)
2002 Inspiring Changes
2000 Rethinking India (Photos from Narmada Valley)