It takes a smart marketing mind to decide what a winning issue is, and make it his own. Aamir Khan, producer of the much-ballyhooed Satyamev Jayate reality show, got off to a headstart last Sunday wit h his programme on female foeticide. No one in his right mind will support female foeticide (male foeticide, maybe, but female foeticide, god forbid), or gender discrimination, or violence against women or any such crimes. These are abhorrent not only to Aamir, but every right thinking person. However, let’s ask ourselves: is Aamir saying anything that the media has not consistently drilled into our middle-class consciences? Over the last five years, every newspaper, every TV channel, and even state governments, have been obsessed with this issue and the chances are that attitudes are already changing. This does not mean Aamir is too late with his campaign, but we ought not to give one showman’s efforts more importance that the work of thousands of well-meaning Indians who have fought for the same cause – and are finally beginning to see results. Aamir is, therefore, coming to battle now that the tide is turning – and the winning side is clear. In fact, the 2011 census may already show that the sex ratio at birth (once skewed against girls) is clearly shifting away from a mindless preference for boys. The chances are his show will be credited with a change that has already begun to happen – though much more has to be done. Aamir is right to say that ultimately this battle has to be fought in every house, in every person’s head, but that is what every public-service campaign is supposed to do. However, he is being too simplistic in presuming that this is only an individual cause: the truth is, female foeticide is more a social cause than an individual one. It is society that needs a gender balance, not the individual couple. When I have, say, one girl as first-born, it is not unreasonable to want a boy (or vice-versa) for family balance. But what is right for an individual couple may be wrong for society. So that’s the issue. Hats off to Aamir for flagging an issue – but we also need to congratulate him for picking a winning cause. It can do his halo much good
Aamir does in the show what celebrities do when they endorse causes: generate heightened awareness and attention to a cause. With this heightened attention and awareness, even if the proposed abortion of one female child (in the context of the first episode) is reconsidered, it is a gain. Every woman pregnant with a girl child who is not tortured is a winner; every girl child saved is a winner. Satyamev Jayate will draw attention to at least 12 issues (one presumes the last episode will be a wrap) and, in each instance, there will be beneficiaries, as in the case of female foeticide. How much of an impact Satyamev Jayate will have on each issue will depend on how closely viewers can relate to it. Satyamev Jayate sees a ‘call to action’ (in the female foeticide case, for example, a petition that Aamir will send to authorities’) and this will add pressure on those responsible for the issue. Aamir is an incidental and almost inconsequential winner. Society will be the bigger winner.