On the day I posted a blog about the Nobel season, and used it as a platform to rue the lack of women in science, the Peace Nobel got announced and it was shared between a Pakistani woman (Malala Yousafzai) and an Indian man (Kailash Satyathi). As compared to Science (17 of 319), women have done slightly better in the Peace category (16 of 95) . The average age of Peace prize winners is higher than of Science (62 versus 58) and would have even been higher before this years winner joined the list – Malala is just 17!! This is probably the only prize that does not seem to have any sort of age limit.
As I have said before, the Peace prize has not been without controversies. I thought that this year’s prize may not raise much controversy, as both winners are apolitical figures and the cause they espouse is one which few would disagree with – or do so in public at least. But that is not be, it seems!
First, there is the deep felt dismay amongst large number of Indians, that they had never heard of Mr Satyarthi. But they should not have taken their ignorance to heart, since the public ignorance was a direct result of media silence! So. there were frantic scrambles for the cell phone to google the name and within minutes the media drowned every one with the usual information overkill – but in this case a few hours too late!! Our sources of information have narrowed down considerably, as the media which is the major source is not independent and has to work within the popular perception of what people want to hear !! The 24h news cycle has only increased quantity at a huge cost to quality. So, we only know as much as we are told – and we are told what seems to be what we want to hear – clearly boxing us into a near Orwellian world. If you are not sensational, or shout for attention, you could spend many decades out of the media’s vision, as Mr Satyarthi seems to have done.
But wait a minute, beside the print and digital media, what of the unimaginable tera- and pets- bytes of digital information, which should keep us better informed. Well, that’s another myth – because one needs to search for relevant information and we look for what we want to see…. The machine stores our preferences and during each subsequent search, it refines the responses according to these – further narrowing down what we see. So, unless “child labor’, ‘trafficking’ and related tags are what you look for, Mr Satyarthi would have stayed out of your vision even online.
And the other winner was everything the media loves – young, feisty, articulate with a truly courageous tale to tell of survival – and not shy to tell it! As a result, there is hardly anyone who has not heard of Malala! And I have watched her live interviews with admiration – her poise, her confidence and her views expressed so clearly in a language she has learnt only in the last couple of years. But, it did raise a few questions marks in my head!! At 17, she maybe a symbol of courage and has become a spokesperson for the right to education, especially for girls – but the award cannot be a recognition for her work – it seems to be a recognition for the symbolism of Malala.
And, over the last 3 days there are articles galore out there, questioning the funding sources of Satyarthi, his motivations, his associations etc….. and more notably the motivations of the Nobel Committee, their choice of words in the citation (Hindu and Muslim), the timing. So, the media has found its 9 minute wonder, and will feed us with minute to minute details of his journey, his motivation etc… till the next eye catcher turns up.
I hope that Mr Satyarthi will be able to negotiate this mine field (Mr Kejriwal being a recent example who seems to have burnt himself out in all the glare) and get on with his work, as he seems to have been doing for these decades. I, an ordinary trying-not-to-be-cynical citizen, will not look at the negatives, salute him for his work and the way he has gone about it and wish him all the best for his future efforts.