Talking of Ramzan TV shows

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By Yasmeen Aftab Ali

Giving prizes is fine. It is the manner of giving the prizes that I object to. Each time a gift of a mobile, a dress, a battery is randomly given to guests, the name of the sponsor is repeated and repeated and repeated

In most Ramzan TV shows being telecast by different channels there are poor women and aged men in economic need, along with children who are ill and have no money for treatment. The other participants are different organisations and individuals awarding cash prizes, while some calling in live in the programme. Their magnanimity and their love for humankind would lead one to throw up one’s hands in awe and wonder.

My question: Is this not a compromise on the dignity of those poor people who these are organisations are supposed to help monetarily? If an organisation wants to help, can they not announce it without announcing who is doing it or are they more interested in publicity it generates? Alternatively, announcing the names without making spectacles of those being helped can be a viable option.

Momina Randhawa, a professor of law, hits the nail on the head by saying, “We live in a time where pain and indignity are commodities that can be used for economic gain.” I could not agree more. Watching the tears of grief falling from women’s eyes, more often than not with accompanied by terminally sick children, held up for better viewing by the programme host, mothers wringing their hands in deep distress, followed by their duas and tears of relief at being awarded cash packets; the entire scenario is nauseating.

We have often heard that if the right hand gives, the left hand must not know about it. However, I am not a religious scholar and my contention is not based on religion. My contention rests on the pillar of human dignity.

Immanuel Kant is considered to be the spring source of the very concept of philosophy of human dignity. Unfortunately, few understand the relationship he tried to build between human dignity and human values, and the need to respect others. Dignity is, as Kant says in a passage from the Metaphysics of Morals, that “by which” rational beings “exact” or demand respect from one another. (MM, 6: 435)

Human dignity was referenced in the secular world when nations affirmed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declaring that, “All humans were born free and equal in dignity and rights” (UN General Assembly) and have the right to realise their accompanying social, economic and cultural rights in keeping with their inherent dignity.

Yet, when we view these demonstrations of indignity, as seen in the Ramzan shows (not Ramadhan please) day in and day out, are we awarding dignity to these individuals? Would any of us like to be placed in (God forbid) such a sad position or wish any of our beloved ones to be so placed? Do not announcements by organisations have a strong ring of publicity to it?

An educationist from Karachi Ayela Nasruddin Qaisar, when asked about her opinion, wrote back, “Highly disgusted with the media in our country. Shame on you people. Shame on you. Trying to get ratings by bringing disabled, dying human beings to their shows on stretchers asking for money. Shame on you, the producers. May you people be answerable to Allah one day. Shame on the multinational companies sponsoring these shows. Shame on the hosts who are putting up a show of being sorrowful for these people.”

One appreciates that unless these organisations know about such needy people they cannot connect to help. One way to achieve this is to give the details of the individuals to the organisations and secure their support, and in the TV programmes not to show the individuals being helped on screen but to simply announce their names and organisations helping. This will fulfill their publicity purposes and at the same time not injure the dignity of the people being helped. They can be a part of the audience but they should not be the focus of the show. Obviously, these decisions have to be taken before the announcement in the show and not be impromptu.

Tenveer Zuberian educationist from Karachi, drew my attention to another aspect of these shows, “The worst thing is giving children away for adoption in these shows. What psychological impact will these orphans have when they grow up and come to know about it? They can also question their legitimacy. Moreover, you know how the people around us are like, always adding fuel to the fire! All such public activities should be banned.” Yes, I too have seen these shows. Is this the proper way to handle these delicate matters?

One thing that is clear, from talking to nearly a hundred people from different walks of lives and using selected responses to include in this piece, the impact sought by organisations is not exactly the impact being created. Among the educated masses, the feeling is one of revulsion. Recoil.

Another side to these shows is literally throwing the gifts at them, audience grabbing at it, pushing each other to get to the bags. Wild people, all wanting a free lunch. Kids jumping on stages asking for various things available for giving away, all depend upon the bounty of the host (read mood of the host). Those stupid, undignified demeaning games where participants have to eat foodstuff in a given time, faces smeared with mango pulp or whatever else have to be eaten. Participants jumping across the dais on fat air filled toys. I mean give me a break, someone, please. I got an interesting picture sent via WhatsApp with a sentence, “In a month where Muslims should be praying for Jannat, we have encouraged them to pray for a motorcycle.”

Giving prizes is fine. It is the manner of giving the prizes that I object to. Each time a gift of a mobile, a dress, a battery is randomly given to guests, the name of the sponsor is repeated and repeated and repeated. So much so that, as a friend says, ‘her ears ring with the names even once the show is over’. Before this makes the hosts of the shows and sponsors happy, let me share the disgust on his face when he said this will make you blanch. Does this not smell of so much of publicity that it overrides any sense of helping, thereby self-defeating? Please ask yourselves and know that your viewer today is no fool.

I will also question the participants who throw their self-respect in air for an electronic gadget. We must respect ourselves before we expect others to respect us. Can people demeaning themselves in this manner feel good about themselves or is their self-respect or self-esteem equivalent to a gadget? That is selling oneself short.

Joan Didion describes the power of self-respect as, “Without it, one eventually discovers the final turn of the screw: one runs away to find oneself, and finds no one at home… To live without self-respect is to lie awake some night, beyond the reach of warm milk, phenobarbital, and the sleeping hand on the coverlet, counting the sins of commission and omission, the trusts betrayed, the promises subtly broken, the gifts irrevocably wasted through sloth or cowardice or carelessness. However long we postpone it, we eventually lie down alone in that notoriously uncomfortable bed, the one we make ourselves. Whether or not we sleep in it depends, of course, on whether or not we respect ourselves.”(Didion is an American author best known for her novels and her literary journalism. Her novels and essays explore the disintegration of American morals and cultural chaos, where the overriding theme is individual and social fragmentation)

A moment of introspection is desperately needed. Is this lack of self-respect reflective of a national psyche that has been taking a bashing at national and international fronts? Should not our media play a strong role in helping build up the bruised self-respect rather than take apart what is left of it by making a free lunch and public begging a matter of reward — and totally acceptable?