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Time To Get Things Started

Our Media Critic talks about starting up India on young entrepreneurship, caste-based discrimination and on how-not-to interview a porn star

Policy Pulse
Publish Date: Feb 3 2016 6:22PM | Updated Date: Feb 4 2016 6:49PM

Time To Get Things Started

As the PM was delivering his speech at the Start-Up India event at the Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi, my sixty-five year old father was glued to the TV set and could not hide his excitement; teary-eyed he said that he felt that with Narendra Modi’s help youngsters would now change the future of the country. I think he felt that almost every second youngster in India would be starting their own company and become millionaires. 

I don’t blame him for this simplistic interpretation, simply because the media portrayed it to be so. The start-up India event created a perfect Media Storm – it had an A-liner guest list from politics and business at one venue talking about how much India could achieve. The media played the most interesting headlines, though hardly any of them bothered to analyse if it would actually help start-ups. 
Prima facie, the initiative looks great, but hardly any correspondents really discussed the issues around the policy: like how start-ups would require certification from an inter-ministerial board set up by the DIPP or Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, and if it would publish a negative list of funds which aren’t eligible for the initiative. 
As the media hailed the scheme for being given a tax holiday for the first three years, to my surprise no one wondered how start ups would actually benefit by this as hardly any start up makes profits in the first three years! 
This type of coverage reminded me of the frenzied coverage of PM Modi’s visit to Pakistan – an over excited media was taken aback by the Indian PM’s surprise visit to meet his Pakistani counterpart. Almost every headline the next day was about how the PM had breakfast in Kabul, lunch at Lahore and dinner in Delhi. 
While many TV panellists called the move bold anyone who is familiar with history knew that this was a futile exercise and how it would not go beyond a photo-op, at the maximum winning some applause for the two leaders, and then things would relapse to business as usual. And just days after the visit there was the Pathankot terror attack. 
In stark contrast to the optimism Start-Up India generated, was the tragic suicide of a Dalit scholar – Rohith Vemula - in Hyderabd. It has been at the centre of news reporting storm since it happened on January 17. The incident became the tipping point of the caste bias debate in our country. While we saw politicians from Rahul Gandhi to Arvind Kejriwal and many others visit the victim’s family, even a teary-eyed PM finally spoke about the issue, which garnered enough media attention. 
There were two other suicides in the same university, one of Senthil Kumar in 2008 and another student in 2013, again allegedly because upper caste teachers had refused to be their guides. Even the students we spoke to in Delhi University had similar experiences to narrate.
Puran who is pursuing a BSc from Satyavati College also said that he felt discriminated against by his own classmates who made fun of him because of his caste and class. In fact, there are many instances of students being discriminated against, scholarships kept on hold in many universities, but they aren’t highlighted as politicians don’t make a beeline to visit them.
This most recent incident in Hyderabad has brought the focus on not only improving policies but also ensuring ground implementation of the schemes meant to achieve stronger caste integration in higher education institutions. 
Meanwhile, the BJP which has already been under fire over the incident has shot itself in the foot again with Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan saying that there should be a “rethink” on caste-based reservations in the country, saying even Babasaheb Ambedkar had supported the same. 
Hopefully, the media won’t play to these statements by running just counter arguments sound bites from the opposition but ensure the focus from the main issue is not diverted.  
Also, another highlight of last week was CNN-IBN’s Bhupendra Chaubey’s interview with Sunny Leone and unless you have been lying under a rock, you would have known about this ‘interrogation’. 
The former porn-star, who was being interviewed by senior journalist Bhupendra Chaubey, was grilled about her past. Many saw the interview as degrading where the interviewer seemed to be taking a moral high ground. Though in his blog later Chaubey defended himself saying that the “interview was in the backdrop of India having become the top most consumer of porn and that the issues of censorship that are being debated today”. 
Sure censorship is a huge issue in the country. Last year the Government’s decision to ban over 800 pornographic websites had created quite a furore. No doubt, there needs to a be a debate on the larger issues of pornography’s impact on society in general, and children in particular, but surely there could have been better ways to discuss that than trying to shame a woman for her freely chosen profession. Whether she ‘regrets’ her past or not has no relation to the larger issues of censorship. 
Also if the interviewer really did want to interview Sunny Leone to discuss the issue of censorship, shouldn’t she have been informed earlier so that a better and more informed discussion on the topic could have taken place? In the end, the interviewer asked if he would become morally corrupt after interviewing a former porn star! Need more be said about its objective to discuss ‘larger issues of censorship’?