• Pages

  • 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.

    PUCL-K Report: Cultural Policing in Dakshin Kannada

    Anindita SenguptaTHE PEOPLE’S Union for Civil Liberties, Karnataka (PUCL-K), has put together a very comprehensive report on Cultural Policing in Dakshin Kannada. The fact-finding team (which included our contributor Usha BN) traveled to Mangalore and conducted extensive interviews with key groups, activists, academics and the police. The report provides interesting background information on Dakshin Kannada as a region, looks at the current climate of fear and lawlessness, and examines the multiple factors involved in this. It points out some very interesting things — the intersection of communalisation and criminalisation, cultural policing as ‘social apartheid’ and the role of the media, police, civil society. Read / download the entire report for free. Please spread the word widely as well by pasting extracts on your blogs or websites if possible.

    Excerpts:

    As one observer, who has been covering the events in Dakshina Kannada, put it, “Today saffron is the colour of power. You just walk around with a big red tilak and see how people treat you. Right from the shop keeper to the bus conductor to the policeman, everybody gives you respect. Without the tilak you are nothing, with the tilak you become a power structure.” Munir Kattipalya of the DYFI echoes this sentiment when he says, “This district is not only communalized but also progressively criminalized.”

    What is indicated by such statements is that there is a strong link between communalization and criminalization. It is precisely because the state has chosen not to act when criminal activities are perpetrated under the garb of religion that criminal elements now feel that they have the sanction to perpetrate violence and Cultural Policing in Dakshina Kannada other forms of intimidation by using the garb of religion. This possibly explains the proliferation of vigilante groups in Dakshina Kannada.

    And:

    Cultural policing in turn leads to forms of ‘social apartheid.’ By ‘social apartheid,’ what we mean is a policing of community boundaries through laying down what manners of dress and what manners of expression are appropriate for each selfenclosed community. The conventional understanding of apartheid as it was practiced in South Africa refers to a structure of segregation of the people of South Africa through law. By social apartheid, we mean a practice of segregating communities on the basis of religion and gender by self-styled vigilante groups as well as prescribing appropriate behaviour and conduct for the separate communities. Social apartheid is successful only because it has the implicit support of the state, and hence enjoys immunity for its patently lawless actions. It is important to stress that social apartheid is not just about segregating communities but it is equally concerned about the culture, dress, and deportment of individuals within the community.

    Protest against Mangalore incident in Delhi

    Protest against Assault on Women in Mangalore Pub and State Inaction

    We condemn the brutal assault by members of the Sri Ram Sene on young women in a pub in Mangalore, Karnataka, on Saturday, 24 January 2009. We are shocked by the response of the State administration, police, and political leadership, some of whom have dismissed this as a ‘minor incident’, while others have blatantly justified the violence. We believe that such threats to the democratic freedom and human rights of citizens, cannot be treated as ‘minor’. This incident, and the unabashed justifications of it are part of a larger trend to curb the freedoms of women in the name of a regressive and distorted notion of Indian culture and tradition.

    To strongly condemn the disturbing trend of violence against women and ‘moral policing’ as a means to enforce a particularly regressive interpretation of culture, there will be a protest on Tuesday 3rd February, outside Karnatak Bhavan, Chanakyapuri (near Samrat hotel), Delhi, at 3 pm.

    Jagori, Nirantar, Saheli, Sama

    An Open Letter to the State Government from the Women of Karnataka

    We fear for lives of women in this state… is the Government listening? Is there a Government in this State at all? Or is it only a political party whose highest priority is its own regressive right wing agenda, which violates the responsibility of governance?

    In one of its latest acts of bigotry and intolerance, members of the Sri Rama Sene and the Bajrang Dal barged into a lounge bar on Balmatta road in Mangalore and viciously attacked the girls who were present there. Their crime: Firstly they were indecently dressed and second, despite being Hindu, they were daring to socialise with Muslim boys. Prasad Attavar, State Deputy Convener of the Sri Ram Sene said that it was “a spontaneous reaction against women, who flouted traditional Indian norms of decency.”

    And what was the spontaneous response from the government to this absolutely uncultured act of violence against young girls in the name of culture? Not surprisingly a studied silence from the powers that be and total inaction and apathy from the subservient police force in South Canara. Continue reading

    Interview with Madhu Bhushan (cont…

    THIS IS Part 2 of the two-part interview with Madhu Bhushan of Vimochana.

    UB: The feminist movement has always been very critical of militarism and war. Can u tell us more about your involvement with these issues?

    MB: While Vimochana’s specific concern was and is the socially sanctioned personal forms of violence perpetrated on women within the home and outside (dowry tortures, murders and other forms of marital violence, sexual harassment and rape of women, trafficking and commodification of women), our wider preoccupation has always been with the larger forms of violence in society. So our engagement is also with the more public and political forms of violence stemming from ideologies like that of communalism, fundamentalism, nationalism and militarisation which are leading to greater human insecurity, institutionalised intolerance and the increasing brutalisation of patriarchies both within the home and outside. Continue reading

    Interview with Madhu Bhushan

    VIMOCHANA IS one of the oldest women’s rights organization in Bangalore. They have been part of the Indian women’s movement and have significantly contributed to the rights of women facing violence in Karnataka. They have a crisis intervention center for women facing violence called Angala and campaigns against dowry deaths, harassment and female infanticide. More on their website. I spoke to Madhu Bhushan, activist at Vimochana, about terrorism, fundamentalism and women’s rights in a two-part interview.  Continue reading

    Taxing the Taxed: The Case for Differential Taxes

    WORLD OVER, tax is the highest source of government revenue. Even as the finance minister in India was raising the ceiling on taxable income for women, there was a petition in the Madras High Court questioning this. The petitioner alleged that the provision of taxing women less violates men’s constitutional right to equality. The HC, in turn, asked the Union Government to respond on why tax benefits should favour women. So why should men and women taxed differently? Continue reading