Armed with a Master's degree in sociology, Lakshmi Krupa Ge has worked as a journalist for the last six years in Chennai. She has written for the features section of several publications including The Times of India and New Indian Express. Her interests include Tamil literature, Kathak, arts, culture and a big love for post-colonial feminist literature. The perfect skill set for working at the TOI.
Rapes, Reports & Ruthlessness
When politicians make dim-witted statements about rape, which they have in plenty over the last few weeks, the media has been less than generous in its attack, with headlines that expose the kind of archaic and illogical mindsets our democratically elected leaders have. However, some newspapers have carried on a charade of their own while reporting on the complaint of rape filed by an NLSIU student; flouting not just the norms of journalism, but talking the victim “down” and constantly reporting the case from the police angle.
Earlier, Legally India, a portal that reports news relevant to Indian law firms and the Indian legal profession, presented a roundup of the “victim blaming” frenzy from all quarters even as the media lapped up all the information the police, which is perhaps in the dark with no leads, has been feeding them. http://www.legallyindia.com/201210173196/Legal-opinions/victim-blaming-frenzy-continues-as-nlsiu-faces-eviction-over-rape-case-police-speculates-widely-media-buys-in#comments. These include a report in DNA titled “Law student’s rape plaint may be fake, suspect police” (http://www.dnaindia.com/bangalore/report_law-students-rape-plaint-may-be-fake-suspect-police_1752953) and in the Deccan Herald titled, “Gang-rape may have been stage-managed, say police”. (http://www.deccanherald.com/content/285670/gang-rape-may-have-been.html) All this even before a medical report was submitted.
The piece in Legally India reminds us of how deep this misogyny goes. While this is shocking enough, the other even more disturbing fact is that newspapers have been outdoing themselves in doing everything they can to “not” protect the victim’s identity. Save for her name, pretty much everything is out there. A blogpost, by an alumnus of the NLSIU, who taught Press Laws and Media Ethics and has practiced Criminal Law for 6 years, points this out in the coverage of both TOI and Deccan Chronicle. http://amicuscurious.wordpress.com/2012/10/15/facepalm/
But it wasn’t just these two newspapers that were at fault. DNA for instance, wrote, “A second-year law student from Nepal, studying at National Law School of India University (NLSIU) was allegedly sexually assaulted by a gang of eight miscreants near Bangalore University premises on Saturday night at around 9.30 pm.” (http://www.dnaindia.com/bangalore/report_law-student-allegedly-gang-raped-near-bu_1752580) How many students from Nepal will there be in NLSIU’s second year? Wouldn’t anyone be able to identify her? Another Times Of India report that says “Bangalore campus rape case takes a mystery turn” and opens with this paragraph: “Where is the 21-year-old South Asian student of National Law School of India University (NLSIU) who was allegedly gang-raped by a group of seven or eight youths in the adjacent Jnanabharathi campus of Bangalore University? Police said the student is in the law varsity hostel.” The story does not reveal any mystery turn, except use this opportunity to reveal the age and the whereabouts of the victim, and calls her South Asian? (http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-10-17/bangalore/34524580_1_police-station-bangalore-campus-jnanabharathi)
If the police and the media have started a notorious cycle of speculation questioning the victim’s claims, the officials of the University have not just washed their hands off the entire issue, but have instead asked questions and given out statements that reflect moral policing attitudes aimed at female students. Bangalore University Registrar B C Mylarappa has asked, “What business did the student have to go out with her friend at that hour.” (http://www.dnaindia.com/bangalore/report_bu-mulls-over-evicting-law-school_1752944) DNA adds its own colourful commentary in this story with statements like, “A lot of forested land is part of BU campus, and these areas are notorious for all kinds of activities.” Doesn’t “all kinds of activities” sound somewhat close to what some of our politicians would say to describe men and women behaving intimately?
Another report in Times Of India reveals the mindsets of enquiring officers who, off the record, have questioned the victim’s character with comments such as: “The girl’s complaint says she was gang-raped but she has no bodily injuries to show any forced sex. The girl’s clothes, too, were intact.” “How can a girl walk back after being raped by eight men?” “She says she was raped inside the NLSIU campus. How can she be made to forcibly scale a 10-ft high wall that was in the way?” “She was rusticated last year by her university due to shortage of attendance. This year, too, she has an attendance problem. She is resorting to this drama to gain the varsity authorities’ sympathy.” (http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-10-16/bangalore/34498016_1_nlsiu-police-officer-national-law-school)
In yet another piece, Times Of India says, “The abundant open areas and forest patches without a fence are fertile ground for miscreants and mischief mongers to carry out illegal activities. Unfortunately, students from various educational institutions in the area too indulge in such illegal activities. ‘Some boys and girls are seen inside the forest late in the evenings,’ a security guard said.” What exactly is the illegal activity the students engage in? Why hasn’t TOI expanded on that? (http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-10-16/bangalore/34498229_1_campus-security-guard-jnanabharathi)
This particular piece that has the word campus twice on the title, ironically enough also has the name of the TOI editor who cleared the piece as being ok for publishing! It ends with “Cleared S Prasad”. This has invited further anger from readers. One Mr Arun has commented on the piece with, “Dear Mr. S Prasad who cleared this article, are you a journalist or a publicity-seeking creep? Why are your journalists hanging around the campus of a university and harassing students? Why don’t you go to the cop station and try and find out what the cops are doing about this complaint instead?”
In the meantime, leading lawyers and activists have come out in the open to stop this cycle of blaming and shaming. CV Nagesh, senior counsel, for instance has told the TOI that “The Supreme Court has already ruled that a victim’s testimony, if it’s firm and trustworthy, can be the sole evidence to convict an accused in a rape case.” (http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-10-18/bangalore/34554386_1_victims-of-sexual-assault-major-injuries-convict)
A recent piece in the New York Times India Ink blog by Heather Timmons brings to light the fact that Indian media focuses on the element of shame while reporting rape. Heather uses the illustrations each newspaper uses repeatedly for a story on rape that focuses on the victim’s shame than the offender’s crime. (http://india.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/18/when-reporting-rape-in-india-a-focus-on-shame/)
While one hopes that the police await the test results before shooting statements that malign the victim and her intentions, the media in its avariciousness for a scoop must not end up behaving like khap panchayats.
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