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Look Into The Camera

What are we really watching while following the Guwahati molestation news reports?

Amarjyoti Kalita likes football and loves his favourite red t-shirt. He’s been wearing it regularly since at least December 2010, and you can actually see this 32-year-old Assamese man wearing it in almost every second photograph which he’s uploaded on his Facebook page.

He’s also wearing the red t-shirt with white stripes running down its half sleeves in the television grab that was aired and then reproduced in papers after he and at least 12 other men dragged, slapped, molested and tore the clothes off a girl outside Club Mint, a rooftop bar on the Guwahati-Shillong (GS) Road in Guwahati on the night of July 9.

In situations such as this, there’s one person who becomes the ‘face’ of the ugliness involved. And in the case of the sickening display played before the nation most effectively – and I suspect a bit too effectively – on television, Kalita is that face.

Going by what I have seen being played on a loop on news channels, the cluster of men physically and sexually abusing the girl at the non-unearthly hour of around 9.30 pm, was putting on a show, something akin to what they may have watched many times on their cell-phones, on pirated DVDs and on the internet. They were not only getting the thrill of pouncing on a woman coming out of a bar (“she must be loose”), but they were being allowed to be stars in their own little dirty movie. What we see in the clip is an atmosphere of hormonally-charged merriment, where everyone except one person in the frame is role-playing and role-playing with glee.

Kalita, staring into the rolling camera with his eyes smiling and looking self-assured about being a bit ‘above’ the rest of the more rowdy lot still having a go at the girl, is aware that his face is being recorded, pumped and primed for recognition and remembrance. Why did he, along with his droogs, conduct their business in the full glare of a video camera?

Well, they were certainly high after a few drinks. With inhibitions lowered and armed with the confidence of a mob, caution and performance-anxiety must have been perilously low. But more than that there was Gaurav Jyoti Neog on the other side of the camera, and prospects of having what they thought at that time were their 15 minutes of fame.

Since the story broke like a horrible family secret, Neog, the journalist that night behind the camera from News Live (“Pushing North-East 24×7” is the channel’s motto) has quit his job and is under investigation for possibly inciting the crowd of men to attack the woman. Some reports suggest that he had egged on the mob after the woman and her friends had come out of the bar and were quarrelling with the men after the latter had passed lewd remarks. But this charge hangs on the statement made by Akhil Gogoi, whose tag as an RTI-activist and member of the ‘Anna Hazare team’ provides him with a high ‘goodness’ quotient.

Now, I know neither Gogoi nor Neog and I certainly don’t know all the facts about how the evening panned out. But going by the content of the video that Gogoi showed at the Guwahati Press Club – showcasing Neog’s mobile phone footage where the journalist is heard telling a News Live colleague that he had “organised the incident” – this looks like a directorial debut, not the capture of a random out-of-control criminal moment.

But Neog and his boss, the managing editor of News Live, have put across a defence. Neog happened to witness the incident and started recording it on his phone before he called for ‘back-up’ from his office which is near the bar. And if someone thought it best to record the Rodney King incident – George Holliday, a local resident videotaped the beating of King by Los Angeles traffic police on March 3, 1991 from his balcony - instead of intervening, the fact that Neog was a journalist on July 9, 2012, doesn’t imply that he had to be Spiderman. And considering it was Neog’s presence (and presence of mind) that night that has allowed four of the culprits to be arrested and the rest including Kalita to have been identified for pursuit, we can be thankful that a journo had indeed recorded the crime.

But there’s nothing in logic that stops Neog from being the instigator and the helpful citizen-journalist at the same time. For any journalist – and not only for a journalist of a regional channel smelling his ‘big time’ moment hoping that he’s on to something that can make (and be sold as) national news – the red line between being there at the ‘right place at the right time’ and making a particular time and place ‘right’ is oh-so thin.

The Guwahati case has three elements that need to be closed. And all three elements are intricately interwoven. One, the arrest of everyone caught on video (and perhaps others who weren’t) tormenting the woman that night. Two, to figure out whether a journalist egged on Kalita and his fellow retards for the purpose of a ‘juicy’ story. And three, whether the media are pursuing a story about a woman being attacked by louts who should be punished, or a story about louts attacking a woman in a barbaric city of a barbaric country.

Going by what I’ve been seeing on television, it’s a strange, unsaid kind of adult entertainment made PG-rated by the fact that it’s ‘news’. Why else would we have anything but the faces of the perpetrators aired on telly?

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  • annu

    why else would it be acceptable to watch porn in the parliment but not allow Rushdie enter Jaipur
    why else would we hang Kasab for attacking our parliment but fail to protect our own women
    why else would it be possible for the Italian naval officiers to return home for christmas but not Sarabjit Singh
    why else is ladies compartment still the last boegy even though we had one soumya
    why else do you and lots of others who write and read about all this and still do nothing about it to make a change
    why else do lighting candle for a Jessica Lal or a soumya doesn’t help prevent the assault of a third in N.E

    if we of this generation failed to assert our voice
    we would not only be failing ourselves but putting at the those of the future.