Mass media surrounds Medha at Ejipura frenzy

Medha Patkar of Narmada Bachao Andolan visited the Koramangala EWS site, in support of the evicted residents. A volunteer reflects on the impact on the media coverage.

The big media arrived. Some stood around in groups, near their motorcycles and cars, exchanging pleasantries with fellow media-personnel. Some did not even bother to get out of their cars till the sole object of their interest came by the EWS Ejipura site. A few decided to talk to some of the evicted residents. But everybody clearly was conscious of why they were there in the first place, and had one question – “When will Medha Patkar come?”

She came. And then she was mobbed. By at least 15-20 journalists, some with their pens and papers and some with their long lenses.  Medha Patkar, a national coordinator of National Alliance of People’s Movements and Narmada Bachao Andolan has vociferously stood up for the rights of displaced slum-dwellers in Mumbai over the last few years. Having come to Bangalore for a different purpose, she decided to express her solidarity with the EWS Ejipura evictees and spoke to a few affected residents and some local leaders. Unfortunately for the affected residents and the large media contingent, she was rushing to catch a flight back to Mumbai and left within 30 minutes.

After their big show got over sooner than expected, the media contingent turned to the residents nearby to hear from them. These were brave women who had been through police intimidation, arrests, humiliation and even brutality and yet, few had cared about their fate once the main protests had died down a week back. At least until that day. One photographer, after getting a woman resident’s story, turned around and told me that the woman’s leg had been badly injured in police custody.  Unable to hold myself back any longer, I retorted along the lines of "I know. We have been here every day since she got beaten up – where were you guys all this while"?

A couple of us even tried to get the attention of some journalists to a new-born baby in the locality, the first life to begin at the EWS quarters after the demolitions.  Just 4 days old, the baby, her parents and old grand-parents are still living in their makeshift shed beside the now-fenced EWS quarters. They are unable to raise the Rs. 40,000-50,000 typically needed for rental advance. I shudder to think what will happen to this baby if there’s a sudden downpour here. 

But then, this story was not interesting enough for those assembled there. One photographer I knew was candid enough to admit that Medha’s arrival will be the only story from the site today and that he would come back the next day to take a look at the new-born baby and its family. Probably some were rushing to cover Bangalore’s “One Billion Rising” events at the Cubbon Park. But some just seemed plainly disinterested.

These were journalists from some of India’s biggest newspapers and Karnataka’s most popular TV news channels.  They ensured the day’s newspapers carried reasonable-sized stories from EWS Ejipura that had been neglected for a while. However, apart from a few honorable exceptions, it required the presence of a “mini-celebrity” like Medha Patkar for their attention to turn this way.

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