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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.

    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.

    Poster Colours

    Anindita SenguptaSOME OF YOU have asked how you can help in the campaign against the attacks on women in Mangalore and Bangalore. Running a poster campaign in your neighborhood, college or office is a quick and easy way.  Here are some posters I’ve received from different organizations. Click on the download link to get a large-size version which you can print out. Make copies and put them up wherever you can. Continue reading

    Weekend Protest Details

    Saturday, 7th March 2009, 3.30 pm – 4.30 pm
    Meet Director General of Police for Karnataka, Ajay Kumar Singh: A crowd will gather outside the DGP’s office while a delegation goes to in to present him with a memorandum. More details at Bangalore Aware.

    Sunday, 8th March 2009, 6 pm onwards
    Take Back the Night Walk: The main event will bring people together in different locations across the city between 6 pm and 9 pm. All groups will meet at Majestic at 9 pm where there will be a small performance and much boisterousness. More details at Blank Noise Project.

    Something wicked this way comes

    THE ATTACKS have not stopped. I have received at least three emails about attacks on women in Bangalore for wearing jeans / drinking / being free individuals.

    One victim has blogged about the horrific incident:

    And as soon as they turn around in protest, the car doors are flung open, and a stream of 4-5 rabid men run out towards these women, screaming obscenities in Hindi and Kannada against women in general, fists flailing. Some of us who came in running at the sound of the screaming brakes now stand in the middle in defense of our women, and then blows start raining down. One of the goons make a couple of calls over the cellphone, and in seconds a stream of other equally rabid goondas land up. They gun straight for the women, and everyone – a few well-meaning bystanders, acquaintances who know us from the restaurant, basically everyone who tries to help the women – starts getting thoroughly beaten up. Continue reading

    What Lies Beneath?

    IT’S BEEN AMUSING to see the uproar around the Pink Chaddi Campaign over the last few days, with some of the ‘finest journalistic minds in the country’ pitching in with their opinions. This piece, ironically called ‘What Lies Beneath’, by Sagarika Ghose in Hindustan Times was particularly baffling, shallow as a frying pan and about as full of noise. I wish one could ignore such vapidity, but the piece was also disturbing at many levels. Some of us sent a rejoinder to HT. Unsurprisingly, they neither acknowledged it, nor responded.  Continue reading

    Understanding and Responding to the Mangalore Assaults

    By Sumi Krishna

    How should we in the women’s movement understand and respond to the cluster of assaults by the Rama Sene, Bajrang Dal and other fundamentalists; the targeting of minorities and their places of worship; the harassment and molestation of women of all classes in the name of nation, culture and religion; the fear and anger spreading through villages and towns in southern-coastal Karnataka?

    As Sandhya Gokhale of the Forum Against Oppression of Women, Mumbai, says in The Hindu, on one level the horrific abuse of young women in a pub is ‘a morality issue’, but it is also about the space and decision making power for which women have fought for years. Arvind Narrain of the Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore, writing in the Indian Express, sees the abuse of religious and sexual minorities as the ‘saffron’ challenge to ‘the legacy of the women’s movement in India’ and ‘the thin end of the wedge’ in re-establishing male dominance. Continue reading