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  • Who is the Sleaziest of Them All?

    Shilpa Phadke, Anjali Monteiro and K P Jayasankar ask why the reportage of the recent sexual assault of a young woman plumbs new depths in insensitive, unethical and sleazy journalism.

    The print media has, on many occasions, been a good friend to the women’s movement. By giving space to gender issues, specifically those related to violence against women, it has played a role in the popularizing of a feminist politics. Many sections of the media continue to be at least liberal and sympathetic to the cause of gender equality. What then permits the kind of sensationalist reporting that not just undermines all those progressive values but actually violates, in spirit if not in letter, the law? Does the logic of the market and the imperative to titillate override all ethical and professional norms?

    The Mumbai Mirror has been particularly reprehensible and unethical in making public the contents of the entire FIR in the case of the rape of an international student of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai this month violating her right to anonymity and dignity. Such reportage is clearly counterproductive and sends a strong negative message to the survivors of sexual assault. In the future, many would hesitate to come out and complain, for fear of being torn to shreds by the media and in some ways facing a second assault at the hands of the sensation seeking media. Nor despite demands from women’s groups has The Mumbai Mirror adequately apologized for their irresponsible journalism. Apart from a token and wholly inadequate apology for offending their readers’ sentiments, the paper has failed to even acknowledge that it has erred terribly.

    Nor have most other papers been very careful in whom they quote or the facts they print without verification. The Times of India, on the first day, chose to put in its headlines, on page 1, “US student raped by batchmates in Mumbai”, despite the fact that later in its report it mentions the police said that they were Tata Institute of Social Sciences students but this was denied by TISS. Interestingly, none of the other English language papers seem to have had access to this police source, as all of them reported that they were students of other colleges. While the TOI corrected its statement the next day, many people still believe that the criminals were students of TISS. This irresponsible, if not malicious reporting has attempted to tarnish the reputation of not just an institution, but also of hundreds of students who study there.

    The press has not balked at giving prominent space to the comments made by the accused who seek to slander the survivor or to the parents of the accused who can only moan that their ‘golden boys’ can do no wrong. Oddly enough one of the first comments made by the papers about the accused were that they were all from “good families”, whatever that means, demonstrating not just a lack of ethics but also a lack of journalistic accuracy. The mud slinging has begun and the press shows no signs of exercising restraint in their printing of slanderous comments by the accused questioning the morality of the young woman. ‘Blaming the victim’ is a common social response to violence against women, and the media on its part is doing little to prevent this from happening. If the media continues to report in this vein it could well bias the trial against the young woman seeking justice.

    Meanwhile women’s hostels in the city are seeking to tighten rules for their residents and restrict them further. The International Students Hostel, where many of the accused resided, has closed their mess to women without offering any explanations. Some hostels have informed women students that they will have to leave immediately after exams. These repercussions of assault then are already being felt by women whose access to the city is further restricted. Yet one has not seen a single journalistic piece of reporting that focuses on this. In their reportage thus far the media have shown not just a lack of responsibility but also a lack of insight.

    What we need now is a reportage that will focus on the larger picture, one that will be able to contextualise this one woman’s quest for justice within the larger question of women’s right to have fun with being constantly threatened with violence and then blamed for it.

    Protests and debates on the issue:

    Women’s groups and students have protested and demonstrated outside the Mumbai Mirror offices.

    Only one newspaper, The Hindu, saw fit to cover this. There has also been some comment generated on the subject and a debate on the loss of ethics of the media is ongoing.

    And a blog has been started to debate the issue.

    ***

    Shilpa Phadke is a sociologist, researcher and pedagogue. Anjali Monteiro and KP Jayasankar are documentary film makers and academics; they teach and research in the area of media and cultural studies.

    The Shaming of Scarlett Keeling

    THAT VIOLENCE against women rarely grabs any attention except for in the presence of gruesomeness, sensationalism, drama and tragedy is already known. But more disturbing by far than the fact that the murder of a teenage tourist in Goa last month has been making headlines precisely due to its cocktail of all the above elements is the level of moral sanctimony that accompanies the media coverage, the ensuing debates, and even what are ostensibly the responses of those who knew Scarlett Keeling and her family. Continue reading

    The ‘Spoils of War’. Again.

    THE NANDIGRAM situation once again brought to the fore the political demons that have been unleashed on this country. I am not only angry about what happened and continues to happen in Nandigram, but on how it has yet again carved out its violent path on women’s bodies and lives. The first few stories of sexual assault trickled in early this year with news of a 14-year-old girl who had been raped and hung from a tree. The stories have only become more sickening. Continue reading

    Remember Each Howl: Gujarat 2002

    KAUSER BANO’S story has become a familiar one by now. It has been talked about time and again in various reports and accounts about the Gujarat pogrom and has come to represent the worst face of the evil that’s become commonplace in the state.

    Kauser Bano, was nine months pregnant that day. Her belly was torn open and her foetus wrenched out, held aloft on the tip of a sword, then dashed to the ground and flung into a fire. Bajrangi recounts how he ripped apart “ek woh pregnant… b*******d sala”; how he showed Muslims the meaning of wrath—“If you harm us, we can respond — we’re no khichdi-kadhi lot”.
    ~ From the Tehelka report on Gujarat 2002

    Continue reading

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