Assam TV lectures women on how to dress

BY Anuraag Baruah| IN Media Practice | 21/08/2015
“Scantily-clad girls are a summer-time nuisance” says an Assam news channel, highlighting the paternalistic approach towards women that has become common.
Scanty dressing?

Recently, Assamese news channel Pratidin Time carried a story called ‘Scantily-clad girls, a summer-time nuisance?’ about young women wearing shorts and undermining Assamese culture with their shameless outfits. The voiceover spoke of how ‘even monkeys in jungles are wearing clothes’ and how, when women walk around in shorts, ‘the streets become filled with sexual tension’ and how women, having aroused men with their clothes, ‘scold us that you stared like this, like that’.

It seems nothing has changed since eight years ago when Laxmi Orang was stripped, beaten up mercilessly and paraded naked by a violent mob at Beltola in Guwahati. Orang, a young Adivasi woman, had gathered along with others to participate in a protest organized to demand Scheduled Tribe status for the Adivasi community of Assam. The people present were only interested in recording the ghastly incident on their phones rather than stopping the mob.

At that time, Assam had only one satellite news channel, the erstwhile NETV. Now there are six satellite news channels but the approach towards reporting on women is still disturbing.

Both the reporter who did the story on shorts and the editors who passed it were clearly unaware of the 1975 essay entitled “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” by feminist critic Laura Mulvey in which she first talked about the male gaze. The so-called story reeked of a patriarchal and chauvinistic mentality.

The story showed mostly young women busy in their day-to-day activities and unaware of the channel’s camera prying on them secretly, wandering salaciously over their bodies. The script has been written by someone who knows little about journalism and even less about morality. It is obvious from the way the clip has been edited that the purpose was cheap thrills and nothing else – there was certainly no story. The camera has been deployed for the voyeuristic pleasure of the male viewer and the reporter has been given a chance to pontificate on how women should dress.

Most of the girls shown in the clip are in casual dresses out for shopping near their homes. It included a few sound bytes where the young women say they are more comfortable in shorts. But the ‘voice over’ of the clip makes fun of these comments and declares that comfort can’t be connected with wearing shorts.

The channel even plays a lecherous Assamese song in the middle that talks of how ‘shorts’ turn the girls into sexual objects. Editorialising sanctimoniously, the channel says that these kinds of clothes make the streets restless, thus justifying atrocities against women. A man is shown saying that girls who dress in this fashion force men to stare at them and so men shouldn’t be blamed for bad behavior because these girls are not dressing according to Assamese culture.

Given the rapid rise in crimes against women in Guwahati city such Taliban-style statements are only likely to further endanger women. Statistics by Assam Police reveal, on an average, three women in the state face some form of harassment or atrocity every hour. In the first four months of the year, the state recorded at least 52 cases of crime against women daily, the figures show.  Between January and April this year, at least 6,144 cases of crime against women were registered by police stations across the state.  The figure for the first half of the year is likely to have crossed 10,000, police sources said.

Some news channels are becoming self-appointed guardians of Assamese culture who police women through their ‘journalism’. Every other day, these journalists break into a bar or a pub and target women who are above the legal drinking age. When contacted, the reporter said “I don’t think my work disrespects my mother and sisters… they never show their legs in public.” This speaks volumes of the state of affairs in Assam and other regional newsrooms.

At a time when privacy is being discussed at the highest levels of government, who has given these hooligan-journalists the right to invade the privacy of innocent young women and dictate to them? This isn’t journalism, its moral policing through the medium of television news.


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