By Balaji Tumke

I grew up hearing my father advice, “You should read the newspapers daily. Otherwise how will you get knowledge of the world, and how will you grow to be intelligent?” I did read them sincerely and believed the reports as gospel truth. Arguments and discussions would beresolved if someone said, “It’s in the papers, you know. I read it myself.” Our teachers in school also encouraged us to believe that the newspapers are holy texts, and the journalists are fearless seekers of truth. However, a series of personal experiences over the years, and the shocking contrary reporting in the papers, has led me to seriously question the credibility and integrity of the print media. Just one story would suffice here. 

In 1994, I regularly visited a small ISKCON temple at Girgaun, Mumbai. One evening, a lady created excitement in the temple campus, claiming to be a reporter of the ‘Asian Age’. As all young saffron clad monks and an elderly swami posed for the group photograph, the reporter was in command. The innocent, unsuspecting members of the ashram allowed her to photograph the rooms, the adjacent school building, and even the toilets. The next morning, the front page of ‘Asian Age’ carried a photograph of the temple toilet, saffron monks, and school girls in uniform. The headlines screamed, ‘Sex scandal at the Hare Krishna temple. While the news sent shock waves all over Mumbai first, and then to the ISKCON world, I was personally deeply hurt and angry. As frantic, panic calls came from all over the world, the temple members patiently explained to those who enquired, that this was a baseless allegation. As a teenager I would often stay at the temple with my parents and had complete access to all the rooms, the private quarters and even the bathrooms. All the men living in the campus were from highly cultured families, and well qualified as professional doctors, M.B.A’s and engineers. I was convinced this claim of ‘Asian Age’ was unfounded. Even the lady principal of the adjacent Tinker Bell School, which was also needlessly dragged into the controversy, was outraged at this irresponsible reporting. She lambasted the newspaper, and gathered all supporters to protest against this violent coverage. As television channels streamed in to get the latest scoop, I saw the monks answer the reporters’ challenges with dignity, and soberly appeal to set right the wrong coverage. While I saw the temple management pained at the insensitivity of the media, I also noticed that being peace loving and saintly, the ordinary sadhus and members of the temple community silently tolerated the humiliation inflicted by the ruthless newspaper. After much protest and pressure, a week later, the ‘Asian Age’ carried a two sentence clarification in a remote corner of page seven, saying there was an error in reporting the ISKCON story. But the damage had been done and the clarification wasn’t noticed by the world.


I then thought of the thousands of youth, who, like me are growing up to accept the media as the savior of the Nation. What would they think when someone next invited them to a Hindu temple or spoke of Vedic philosophy? I wanted to tell the world this is unfair, but felt like a helpless, tiny fish amidst the giant sharks of Media Barons. I suffered the pain silently, but had my lesson well learnt- the media is powerful and dangerous.

 

The intelligence and discrimination power of a teenager is not developed enough to question the credibility of information that he or she is bombarded with. All visual and print images, and stories, enter the system of the impressionable youth and form a strong foundation. Certain prejudices, opinions and values are determined at a nascent stage, even while we are innocent and naïve in worldly matters. Later, when the young boy grows up to hear or see something that is contrary to the information that has already formed his personality, he protests, and perceives the new information as threatening. For example, we never question our teachers if man actually evolved from monkeys, or Emperor Akbar was indeed a just and secular ruler, or there definitely was a Big Bang that caused life on this planet. Later if we come across people presenting an alternate view of the world and the reality around us, the mind protests against this ‘invasion’, and we are alarmed at the ‘brain washing.

I now seriously ask myself who is brain washing the world? Is it the Hindu gurus and cult groups or the media? I have found my answers and wish you too are open- minded to check who’s for real and who’s out to con you.

 


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