Shining light on inequities like the rampant abortion of female fetuses, caste discrimination and the slaying of brides in dowry disputes, actor Aamir Khan has reached an estimated one-third of the country with a TV talk show that tackles persistent flaws of modern India that many of its citizens would prefer to ignore.
“Satyamev Jayate”, or “Truth Alone Prevails,” is a clever blend of hard news and raw emotional appeal _ part “60 Minutes,” part Oprah Winfrey. Its influence has even prodded the notoriously lethargic government machinery into action, though it’s too soon to know what policy changes may be in the works.
Indians haven’t seen anything quite like this. Hard-hitting talk shows are rare and certainly none has acquired even a fraction of the popularity and buzz Khan’s has generated since it debuted 11 weeks ago. And Bollywood superstars have ventured into television only to host glitzy game or reality shows.
For many middle-class Indians _ comfortable in their belief that their country had moved beyond most of these problems _ Khan’s show has been a gut-wrenching and poignant dose of bitter reality.
“Definitely it’s reminding people that there are problems within our society,” said Narendra Kumar, an environmental researcher in New Delhi. “It’s also creating discussions and sometimes helping people find solutions to the problems.”
The show forced Paromita Dey to confront an act she had tried to bury.
Four years ago, Dey and her husband Souporno _ already parents to a teenage daughter _ ended a pregnancy because she was carrying another girl. Like millions of Indian families, they wanted a son.
In the opening episode of Khan’s program in May, Ameesha Yagnik haltingly recalled how her husband forced her to abort six female fetuses in eight years. How he threw her out of the house but refused to let her meet her infant daughter for months until she agreed to divorce him.
Both Khan and his audience were in tears.
So were the Deys when they watched the show.
“Yes, I killed my baby because she was a girl,” a shaken Paromita Dey said, sitting in her home in a posh neighborhood in the northern city of Lucknow.
That India’s highly skewed gender ratio is a cause for concern isn’t new. Census after census has revealed that fewer and fewer girls are being born, despite strict laws against sex-selective abortions and a slew of failed government incentives and programs.
Yet Khan’s show created such an outpouring of outrage that the government of the western state of Rajasthan, with one of the worst gender ratios, promised action, and a village head there formed a committee to check against the practice.