This morning, the Big Four – The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Indian Express and The Hindu – reported on an alleged case of rape in their Delhi editions.
Notable among these was TOI’s report, because it works as an excellent primer on how not to report on rape. From unwarranted details to victim-shaming, TOI checked all the boxes of callous reporting on violence against women.
But, first, here’s what we know about the case, as reported by various newspapers. On Sunday night, a woman in her twenties alleged that she was sexually assaulted by a man near Hauz Khas Village in Delhi. The accused had allegedly led her to an isolated park where he beat and raped her. The girl lost consciousness and approached the police once she’d regained her senses.
A case has been registered under Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code and the police has detained six men in connection with this incident.
State, the crime
TOI’s headline leads with the detail that a “Nagaland woman” had alleged rape. While we’ll give the newspaper’s reporter props for accuracy – Express and NDTV had reported she was from Manipur – we’ve got a little exercise for you. Think of the last time you read a headline about any incident of rape that said “Himachali woman” or “Punjabi woman”. Got an example? Probably not. Why? Because the focus of reporting a crime should be the crime, rather than identity politics or the target of the crime.
This is not to say that one should not report on where the victim comes from, but highlighting the survivor’s ethnicity in the headline smacks of an attempt to draws upon offensive clichés that dog Northeastern women, especially in Delhi.
The other newspapers show how this aspect should be reported. The Hindu and HT mentioned that the woman is from the northeast in their copy but did not highlight it in the headline. Neither did Express, which mentioned (wrongly) that the woman was from Manipur. Deputy Commissioner of Police (South District) confirmed to Newslaundry that the girl is indeed from Nagaland.
‘She had it coming’?
In its report, TOI goes into details of what preceded the rape. We are told the girl had been “pub-hopping” and that she ended the night of “revelry” at a restaurant. None of these details are related to her rape, but they do add to the image of someone who doesn’t conform to the image of a sanskaari nari. The report also slipped in a completely-inconsequential detail that she worked at a spa. Appallingly, not only did TOI give out details of the area in which the woman lives, but also the location of her workplace, making it painfully easy for anyone to identify her. We’re yet to figure out why the newspaper felt the need to tell us, in an article reporting a rape incident, that the victim lives in rented accommodation.
In a similar vein, The Hindu mentioned that the victim was “inebriated” and “was on her way home from a pub”. Although less pointed, the suggestions contained in the decision to include these details is equally regressive.
Note the difference in how Express and HT reported on the issue. Neither reports detail what the woman was eating or drinking before the crime. Nor are there any specifics of her personal life, like where she works. Had her workplace been in any way connected to the crime – say, if she’d been on her way home – it would have made sense to mention what she does for a living. There is no such link in this case.
TOI also gives completely unsubstantiated details on the victim’s elder sister who had accompanied her to Hauz Khas Village. The concluding sentence is particularly alarming because it implies that Delhi Police is urging the other woman to file a complaint when she doesn’t feel the need to do so.
The only thing that can be worse than an alleged case of rape being committed in Delhi’s most well-frequented, heavily-patrolled areas is the fact that one of India’s oldest newspapers can’t seem to tell the difference between reporting and victim shaming.