Satire Shot

How Indian television’s scariest people celebrate Halloween

Vampires and zombies are passé. There are scarier beings among us.

Welcome to Indian Television’s House of Horrors. Prepare yourself for a night of abject terror. Unlike other Halloween-themed amusement parks, we don’t have to rely on clowns or zombies or vampires to scare the bejeezus out of you. We have managed to gather the scariest people on Indian television for your entertainment. Enter at your own risk!

Don’t miss our popular attractions. In the awkwardly named India Today Scare Room, you can play Patriotic Improv with Gaurav Sawant. You give him names of things that you like to do, and he in turn will tell you how a disgrace like you is hurting the Indian soldier. Don’t be alarmed by the flak jacket. That’s just a thing he started wearing a few weeks ago even though the only danger he will ever face is Rajdeep Sardesai cornering him in the washroom to talk about Kishore Kumar for half an hour. No one says anything to Sawant about it because he loves to play dress up and comes to the office in different costumes all the time. Someday he pretends to be a soldier, someday a cowboy. One time he even dressed up as a journalist but we haven’t seen him don that disguise for a while now.

In the NDTV Horror Hall of Fame, the self-proclaimed august news organisation celebrates a made-up capitalist holiday whose only purpose is to get the masses to buy more things. As soon as you enter this hall, their anchor Ravish Kumar dims the lights and you’re suddenly transported into the middle of a We the People episode. Afterwards, Dorab Sopariwala takes you to a tour of his home, which is a tiny cottage under the huge table NDTV uses during Election Day broadcasts. In the finale, you get to moderate an hour-long debate between Sambit Patra, Sanjay Jha and Ashutosh.

Of course, the biggest show is at the main auditorium and is hosted by Times Now. They took it over before anyone even came in and claimed they had a right to, because they have 2565% higher ratings than any other channel. Even though the Times Now representative manning the ticket counter yells at everyone passing by without a ticket, accusing them of being anti-national, not everyone is welcome inside the hallowed auditorium. You can’t enter if you are Arundhati Roy or if you’re a student at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, or if you’ve ever received a Sahitya Akademi award, or if you aren’t excited about a nuclear war, or if you’ve ever had a thought that does not align with the opinions of Arnab Goswami. Those lucky enough to be allowed entry have to leave the following things outside: working brain cells, sense of shame, every shred of self-awareness, humanity, commitment to ethical behaviour, and blood pressure medicine. Then, they have to sign a standard disclaimer indemnifying Times Now and Bennett Coleman & Co. Limited of any physical, moral or psychological problems that may arise from attendance of the event.

The first attraction at the News 18 Fiesta Room is a mock interview with Bhupendra Chaubey in which he asks you uncomfortable and probing questions about your sex life in a sanctimonious and judgemental tone while he takes copious notes of your answers. Then, as you feel an urgent need to take a shower, you’re accosted by Zakka Jacob who only lets you go once you agree to buy a Reliance Jio 4G connection. The pièce de résistance is an hour-long speech by Swapan Dasgupta, in which he forcefully expounds about how Narendra Modi would have got more things done in the last two and a half years if only he hadn’t have to face all those distractions that are part and parcel of his job.

You may want to skip the dilapidated News X stall, though. They blew their entire budget on the neon X that adorns the entrance of the stall. Their only attraction is Rahul Shivshankar and Ashoke Pandit falsely accusing all the visitors to their booth of being under investigation by the Intelligence Bureau for connections to international jihadist groups.

Patriotic shtick 

Over the last couple of weeks, our news channels have been going after the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. But it’s not because they think what the MNS is doing is wrong. It’s more like professional jealously. They’re angry at the MNS for stealing the self-righteous patriot shtick they have got going these days. They’re mad that someone else used faux patriotism and the visage of dead soldiers for their advantage.

Gee, you dedicate a large part of your programming to unnecessarily whipping up people’s sentiments, constantly encouraging them to be angry with people who don’t agree with your conveniently adopted opinions and then you are shocked – shocked! – that someone else took advantage of that? Okay, then.

A political party metaphorically kidnapped a producer’s movie and the chief minister brokered a meeting between the kidnappers and the producers to work out the ransom amount that would have to be paid. This was a failure of so many of our institutions. The media for creating an environment the MNS could take advantage of. The police for failing to protect theatres and moviegoers. The various organisations that joined the boycott for not standing up to the bullies. And the state government, for reducing the writ of the state from a mere bystander to a ransom facilitator.

Which is why those who tell us that we shouldn’t question our institutions need a civics lesson. All our institutions are run by humans and humans are not infallible. Not even the ones who claim to be appointed by god. If you’ve ever had to deal with a local, state or central government entity, you would know how far away from infallible they are.

So yes, there shouldn’t be a blind trust of any institution. No one should get a free pass – not even the army. There is a reason there is civilian oversight of the armed forces. We have a parliament, not a military junta. We’re a constitutional republic, not a tinpot military dictatorship. There are some people who don’t like that. We need to protect our democracy from such pseudo-nationalists.

Snake-oil salesman

Pseudo-nationalists are the sort of people whose love for their country only exists to serve their nefarious purpose. Their patriotism seems to wake up the minute they start losing an argument. Because their love is superficial, they tend to over-compensate by pretending that the object of their fake affection is perfect and should not be subject to any criticism at all.

So all those people who want to shut down any sort of dissent, you’re only fooling yourself. You’re not patriotic. You’re like a child in old-time movies selling newspapers with sensational headlines. Extry, extry! You don’t care about the country. You only care about making money. You don’t care about our soldiers. If you did, then you wouldn’t be trying to create a situation that would risk many of their lives.

Yes, you can have your high ratings. You can emotionally manipulate the thousands of people who share your sense of emasculation. You can sit behind a camera and pretend to be brave. You can wear camouflage jackets and play dress-up all you want, but you’ll remain nothing more than a snake-oil salesman who specialises in selling empty boxes of phoney patriotism.

We already have an example of a country that doesn’t question its army in our neighbourhood. A country that exists to serve the army, instead of the other way around. A country where the army chief has more power than its elected representatives. We’re far away from ending up like it, but that is the path this cosmetic hero worship will leads us to.

I guess what they say is true. You do turn into the very people you hate.

Who’d a thunk it?

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
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India’s urban water crisis calls for an integrated approach

We need solutions that address different aspects of the water eco-system and involve the collective participation of citizens and other stake-holders.

According to a UN report, around 1.2 billion people, or almost one fifth of the world’s population, live in areas where water is physically scarce and another 1.6 billion people, or nearly one quarter of the world’s population, face economic water shortage. They lack basic access to water. The criticality of the water situation across the world has in fact given rise to speculations over water wars becoming a distinct possibility in the future. In India the problem is compounded, given the rising population and urbanization. The Asian Development Bank has forecast that by 2030, India will have a water deficit of 50%.

Water challenges in urban India

For urban India, the situation is critical. In 2015, about 377 million Indians lived in urban areas and by 2030, the urban population is expected to rise to 590 million. Already, according to the National Sample Survey, only 47% of urban households have individual water connections and about 40% to 50% of water is reportedly lost in distribution systems due to various reasons. Further, as per the 2011 census, only 32.7% of urban Indian households are connected to a piped sewerage system.

Any comprehensive solution to address the water problem in urban India needs to take into account the specific challenges around water management and distribution:

Pressure on water sources: Rising demand on water means rising pressure on water sources, especially in cities. In a city like Mumbai for example, 3,750 Million Litres per Day (MLD) of water, including water for commercial and industrial use, is available, whereas 4,500 MLD is needed. The primary sources of water for cities like Mumbai are lakes created by dams across rivers near the city. Distributing the available water means providing 386,971 connections to the city’s roughly 13 million residents. When distribution becomes challenging, the workaround is to tap ground water. According to a study by the Centre for Science and Environment, 48% of urban water supply in India comes from ground water. Ground water exploitation for commercial and domestic use in most cities is leading to reduction in ground water level.

Distribution and water loss issues: Distribution challenges, such as water loss due to theft, pilferage, leaky pipes and faulty meter readings, result in unequal and unregulated distribution of water. In New Delhi, for example, water distribution loss was reported to be about 40% as per a study. In Mumbai, where most residents get only 2-5 hours of water supply per day, the non-revenue water loss is about 27% of the overall water supply. This strains the municipal body’s budget and impacts the improvement of distribution infrastructure. Factors such as difficult terrain and legal issues over buildings also affect water supply to many parts. According to a study, only 5% of piped water reaches slum areas in 42 Indian cities, including New Delhi. A 2011 study also found that 95% of households in slum areas in Mumbai’s Kaula Bunder district, in some seasons, use less than the WHO-recommended minimum of 50 litres per capita per day.

Water pollution and contamination: In India, almost 400,000 children die every year of diarrhea, primarily due to contaminated water. According to a 2017 report, 630 million people in the South East Asian countries, including India, use faeces-contaminated drinking water source, becoming susceptible to a range of diseases. Industrial waste is also a major cause for water contamination, particularly antibiotic ingredients released into rivers and soils by pharma companies. A Guardian report talks about pollution from drug companies, particularly those in India and China, resulting in the creation of drug-resistant superbugs. The report cites a study which indicates that by 2050, the total death toll worldwide due to infection by drug resistant bacteria could reach 10 million people.

A holistic approach to tackling water challenges

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Recycling and harvesting: Raw sewage water which is dumped into oceans damages the coastal eco-system. Instead, this could be used as a cheaper alternative to fresh water for industrial purposes. According to a 2011 World Bank report, 13% of total freshwater withdrawal in India is for industrial use. What’s more, the industrial demand for water is expected to grow at a rate of 4.2% per year till 2025. Much of this demand can be met by recycling and treating sewage water. In Mumbai for example, 3000 MLD of sewage water is released, almost 80% of fresh water availability. This can be purified and utilised for industrial needs. An example of recycled sewage water being used for industrial purpose is the 30 MLD waste water treatment facility at Gandhinagar and Anjar in Gujarat set up by Welspun India Ltd.

Another example is the proposal by Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) to recycle and reclaim sewage water treated at its existing facilities to meet the secondary purposes of both industries and residential complexes. In fact, residential complexes can similarly recycle and re-use their waste water for secondary purposes such as gardening.

Also, alternative rain water harvesting methods such as harvesting rain water from concrete surfaces using porous concrete can be used to supplement roof-top rain water harvesting, to help replenish ground water.

Community initiatives to supplement regular water supply: Initiatives such as community water storage and decentralised treatment facilities, including elevated water towers or reservoirs and water ATMs, based on a realistic understanding of the costs involved, can help support the city’s water distribution. Water towers or elevated reservoirs with onsite filters can also help optimise the space available for water distribution in congested cities. Water ATMs, which are automated water dispensing units that can be accessed with a smart card or an app, can ensure metered supply of safe water.

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Public awareness and use of technology: Public awareness campaigns, tax incentives for water conservation and the use of technology interfaces can also go a long way in addressing the water problem. For example, measures such as water credits can be introduced with tax benefits as incentives for efficient use and recycling of water. Similarly, government water apps, like that of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, can be used to spread tips on water saving, report leakage or send updates on water quality.

Collaborative approach: Finally, a collaborative approach like the adoption of a public-private partnership model for water projects can help. There are already examples of best practices here. For example, in Netherlands, water companies are incorporated as private companies, with the local and national governments being majority shareholders. Involving citizens through social business models for decentralised water supply, treatment or storage installations like water ATMs, as also the appointment of water guardians who can report on various aspects of water supply and usage can help in efficient water management. Grass-root level organizations could be partnered with for programmes to spread awareness on water safety and conservation.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.