Little Babu and his pal Shankar did not come to pwhy yesterday. It is not because they did not want to, quite the contrary: the love pwhy. They did not come because their parents, simple illiterate folks, fell prey to to the misinformation and fear spread by vernacular TV channels about the outcome of the CERN experiment.
We were aghast when Sitaram called to inform that no parent from the Okhla slum was willing to send their children to the project. They were convinced that the world would come to an end at 12 pm and thus did not want to send their kids away. We were also informed that many menfolk had not gone to work and decided to stay home. The Okhla slum where these kids come from is home to migrant labour most of them illiterate and extremely naive, being recent arrivals in the city. Nevertheless most if not all have acquired TV sets, their only lifeline in their abysmal lives. For the past few days some TV channels catering primarily to such people have been running doomsday stories in graphic and dramatised ways that have succeeded in scaring naive viewers to the point of panic. Talks of tsunamis and earthquakes, black holes that would suck in the entire world and such horrors created a fear psychosis in the simple minds and hence children were not sent to school. Though the maximum absentees were in the creche, attendance was very poor in all classes. Fear was visible on the face of our hearing impaired girls who hugged each other with tears in their eyes.
I must confess that I saw red. I have always feared the power TV hodls on simple minds and seen time and again how it affects their lives. The quest for TRPs is acceptable to a point but when the result is the kind one saw yesterday one has to question things particularly when nothing of what was said or shown has any scientific basis. What is worst is that people believe what is shown without an iota of doubt. No matter how much we explained that a tsunami for example was not possible in Delhi, our logic was pooh poohed away as the TV had said it!
The other question that came to mind was the disturbing yet indubitable reality that people are always willing to believe bad and negative things and rarely positive ones. This probably stems from a feeling of deep insecurity. And nothing you can do or say can free them. The issues are too deep seated. And sadly this is what soothsayers, dubious astrologers and other such people play on, something that TRP seekers have understood and mastered.