Satyamev Jayate. If you’d been watching the show, you know what a roller coaster ride it’s been. Even if you haven’t, you can’t have escaped the after-show talk, the opinions, the shock, the awe. The nation oscillated between tears and disbelief, anger and despair, criticism and pride. But many saw a ray of hope.
Kumar Gaurav Khagaria is one of them. The episode about the intolerance to love unearthed memories he and his family had buried four years ago, when the Khagaria home in Bihar was fired at and his father was kidnapped and tortured. Their fault? His brother had married outside the caste without parental and (crucially) community consent. "That episode made me realise that we were not alone. The past came rushing back but I drew strength from it. I am no longer scared," he says.
Many of the show’s 50 crore viewers have had similar catharses, rare for Sunday morning TV. But has it resulted in mass awakening or just made old issues simmer a new?
"You look at the garbage strewn around your neighbourhood but you [mostly] ignore it. But if someone was to dump it in front of your house, you would react. That is what the show has done," says Parvathi Om, a Bangalore based social activist. "It managed to dump the reality in front of people and made them react." That’s exactly what the show was hoping for. "Aamir [Khan] told us that we must work on concepts that incite people to wake up from this apathy," says Svati Chakravarty, head of research, Aamir Khan Productions and Star India for Satyamev Jayate.
Dil pe lagi, baat bani
For many, it has been enough that Khan, despite the tears, has managed to stir up the nation and the political system in a small way. It has urged the Rajasthan State Government to set up a fast-track court for female foeticide cases. It’s sparked protests against toxic food in Delhi. Clinics and doctors in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh lost their licences over their sex determination practices. Bhopal’s Child Welfare Committee received over a dozen new cases after the episode about child sexual abuse. Alcoholics Anonymous India had more than 1,67,000 phone calls after the one about alcohol abuse. "We do not advertise. But now people know that there is help and where to call" says the general manager of AA who goes by the alias Naneshwar.
As the credits rolled on the final episode, one thing was clear – change was inevitable. “The national advisory council gave its final verdict on the new law on disability: all four present laws will be ‘merged’ to avoid inconsistencies that plague the cause,” says Parul Ghosh, senior project coordinator (advocacy) at the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People. “I was a little disappointed since they only talked about education and schools. What about policies, laws, advocacy? That aspect was ignored,” she adds.
But even before the laws come into effect, change is sweeping into living rooms. Victims of domestic violence are bravely watching the show next to their abusive husbands. Sex abusers squirm when they’ve seen people like them on screen. “I faced child sexual abuse by my cousin brother for almost 12 years,” says a BSc student of Christian College, Lucknow. “It so happened that we watched the episode together and I could see the discomfort in his body language.” The abuse has stopped since that day.
The man behind the dream
Star India CEO Uday Shankar was the man who first approached Aamir Khan to do a different kind of show. Did it pay off? Poonam Saxena asks.
How did you come up with the idea of Satyamev Jayate?
Around three years ago I met him and told him that he was limiting his reach by restricting himself to Bollywood. He agreed. He said he recognised the power of TV. But he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, except that he didn’t want to do the regular stuff. Even then, we agreed that if we worked together, it would be in the area of social change. The needle really moved only a year later when he said yes.
Did you intend the show to become a sort of movement?
No, I don’t think movements can be created like this. But we wanted it to be something more than a TV show. There are issues that concern every Indian. We wanted to ensure that we got these concerns across to as many Indians as possible. That’s why it was telecast on every Star channel.
The show was discussed a lot online and in print. But is that a sufficient indication of success?
The total digital impression for Satyamev Jayate is a billion plus. If such a large number of people connected with the show, that’s something. We, the media, are not social reformers. But we can create an awareness and polarisation of points of view. Very few shows create a stir in society. Our job was to create that stir.
Wasn’t it a big gamble?
Yes. But you’ll notice that we put the most disturbing subjects – child sexual abuse – right in the beginning. We didn’t know how people would react but this is our show and we wanted to be upfront about it.
From HT Brunch, August 5
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