Rape, reportage, and the TOI

BY ARUNODAY MAJUMDER| IN Media Practice | 02/01/2013
The opening paragraph itself exposes the ideology of discrimination that is structural to the TOI. Clearly the paper's concern with regard to rape is limited to the cityscape and women who constitute immediate kin.
An analysis by ARUNODAY MAJUMDER

Two reasons explain why the gang rape in New Delhi has generated so much attention and emotion – first, it took place in a geography occupied by the urban bourgeoisie and second, the nature of injuries sustained by the victim. But what happens to those victims of sexual assault who are not raped and brutalised on the privileged streets of the capital? Or to those whose nature of injuries is less tangible?  They are relegated to the category of the ‘other’.

One such ‘other’ is Soni Sori. The school teacher was stripped naked and given electric shocks. Small stones were shoved into her vagina and her anus. The torture took place in a police station in the Dantewada district of Chhatisgarh for her alleged links with naxalites. It was presided over by Ankit Garg, SP Dantewada, who is now the recipient of a gallantry award. So, why does Soni Sori not receive equal news space or news time like the rape victim in Safdarjung Hospital? Is it because a penis was not forced into her vagina? Is it because the stones forced into her vagina and anus were too small to rupture her uterus and intestines?

I do not think that the worst would have made any difference in terms of news coverage. After all, Soni Sori was not an intern in a hospital in New Delhi. After all, Soni Sori was not in the company of a friend who is a software engineer. Of course, Soni Sori had not stepped out of PVR Cinema – a plush multiplex. Of course, Soni Sori was not returning from Saket – a South Delhi neighbourhood. The spatial-social-cultural-economic position of Soni Sori is bereft of any of the symbols that demarcate middle class identity in this country. So how can Soni Sori matter?

A distinguished perpetrator of such discrimination is The Times of India (TOI). Soon after the gang rape, the TOI dedicated most of the front page to ‘Times View’ with the headline ‘Enough talk. Let’s make women safe’ (19.12.12, Pg 1, New Delhi edition). The opening paragraph reads thus: “Every time there is a rape in the city, we cringe at the reports in shame, wring our hands in frustration, and cower in fear because our daughters, sisters and wives go out for walk taking the very same routes stalked by the depraved men who think nothing of violating, maiming and torturing women.” Now, ‘Times View’ is not general reportage but editorial comment. It reflects the position of the newspaper with regard to an issue.

The opening paragraph itself exposes the ideology of discrimination that is structural to the TOI. Clearly the concern of the TOI with regard to rape is limited to the cityscape and women who constitute the immediate kin. Geographically, there is no indication of concern about what happens beyond the limits of the city, in the district of Dantewada for instance. Personally, there is no suggestion of concern about those who are not daughters, sisters or wives but are being sexually harassed, even as you read this article, in her shanty and in her apartment, in her playground and in her sports complex, in her unorganised workplace and in her organised office, in the brothel and in five-star comfort.

The ‘Times View’ also includes a ‘6 Point Action Plan’ – 1) Harsher Punishment 2) Sensitise Police 3) Fast-Track Courts 4) Better Patrolling 5) Use Technology 6) Database of Public Transport Personnel. With regard to punishment, quite an atrocious suggestion has been made – chemical castration. The language in which the proposal has been made brings to my mind the image of a teenager raising his finger in school and asking: “So, why not chemical castration, which will make rapist incapable of sexual arousal?” Dear child, in most cases, rape is not an instrument to satiate sexual arousal. Rather, rape is an instrument of humiliation and subordination. It is essential to the construction of the dominant masculine ‘self’ in the course of (re)production of patriarchal order. That explains the brutalisation of female genitals with material objects. Else forced intercourse would suffice. Dr. Sanjay Pattanayak, Consultant Psychiatrist at the Vidyasagar Institute of Mental Health and Sciences (VIMHANS) remarks, “Chemical castration can only reduce libido but has no impact on aggressive behaviour often triggered by alcohol”. So swallow the castration pill before Principal Katju takes cognisance and is forced to raise questions with regard to intellectual adequacy.

Moreover, the editorial commentary commits a serious manipulation of fact. It reads: “So, it would be a better idea to forcibly make rapists undergo chemical castration – which is already the norm in some countries.” Leave ‘some countries’, there is no country where castration (chemical or physical) is the legal norm. Yes, there are countries where castration has been ‘tried’ and ‘experimented’ under conditions of volition but not force. Even the TOI report headlined ‘Case for chemical castration?’ (19.12.12, Pg 5, New Delhi edition) appearing on the same day makes the point evident. A method which is under ‘trial’ or ‘experimentation’ cannot be called a norm. If it is still being described as one then it signals a rowdy outlook instead of a composed disposition.

With regard to the other suggestions, police sensitisation is a requisite. But the prerequisite is sensitisation of parents. More often than not, rape is not reported unless there is physical brutalisation. ‘Loss of honour’ and ‘invitation to shame’ usually stand between the family and the police. Fast-track courts and better police vigilance is necessary but will need public expenditure. That will shrink private pay cheques. So I doubt the sincerity of such advocacy and consider it flippant. Besides being obtuse and facetious the ‘6 Point Action Plan’ is merely preventive in nature. Surely, prevention is better than cure but not when the social body is already affected. The malady of patriarchy is chronic which demands curative measures. And unfortunately the media augments the affliction.

Take the case of another report on the front page of the TOI which is then continued on another page. Headlined ‘For some, rape is a virtual game’ (20.12.12, Pg1, New Delhi edition), it informs about the availability of video games where players commit virtual rape. The report also informs that according to psychiatrists those who indulge in virtual rape may be inclined to commit the same in reality. It quotes Deepak Gupta who treats children and adolescents saying: “… visual impact from internet, video games and movies on children is tremendous” (20.12.12, Pg4, New Delhi edition). The report is also accompanied by a ‘Times View’ which reads thus: “The fact that such games are freely available in the market is at one level an indicator of the kind of depravity to which some people seem drawn. But, more importantly, it is also a manifestation of how lax our enforcement systems are. Surely, this cannot be news to the police, unless they are even more incompetent than many assume.”

It is a fact that the media is a powerful agent of socialisation i.e. it exercises enormous influence on the belief and behaviour of individuals. Video game is only an element of the media. The latter includes music, photograph, cinema and of course, news. News time and news space have been overworked to popularise Sunny Leone as the ‘adult entertainer’ turning actress. Although some of her videos induce the erotic yet most of her videos are pornographic – the characterised by violence and abuse. The fact that such individuals are celebrated in the news market is an indicator of the kind of depravity to which journalism has stooped. Surely, this cannot be news to journalists themselves, unless they are even more pretentious than many assume.

Sample the level of duplicity. Even in the midst of little sense and much noise about the gang rape on the main pages of the TOI, Delhi Times reported the introduction of the Playboy Bunny in India. Headlined ‘Bunnies At Play’, the text appears in two columns and is accompanied by a photograph that spreads across six columns (21.12.12, Pg 2, New Delhi Edition). The bunny is representative of a small, soft, vulnerable and scampering creature. The Playboy Bunnies complete with ears and tails impose the exact adjectives on women that I have just outlined. Now, the Playboy mascot is a male rabbit – one of the more sexually active animals. The relationship that Playboy signals between the male rabbit and the female bunny – in their human forms – is that of the chaser and the chased in the context of sexual gratification; but wrapped in the language of fun and play. Does the narrative not provoke the ‘fun and play’ which took place in the chartered bus?

Today, such provocation is everywhere. From the much feted song in the film Gangs of Wasseypur.

"I am a hunter she want to see my gun

when I pull it out boy the woman start to run

she beg me to see it

she beg me to show it

But when I reveal it

She want to run and hide."

 

to a condom named SKORE being generously advertised. But not a word by the TOI or any mainstream news organisation for that matter.

 

Finally, who were the talking heads on the TOI advocating justice and ranting about how it is delayed? Among the many stalwarts from the film industry were Mr. Chulbul and Ms. Fevicol. According to Salman Khan: “… there should be a death sentence for all rapists … I also believe that there should be norm that if a rapist goes to jail, he should be beaten till death” (19.12.12, Pg 4, New Delhi Edition). According to Kareena Kapoor, “… I definitely would like to say that getting justice in the country is really time taking. Our laws should be reassessed. Justice has to happen faster.” 

Does Salman Khan have the right to comment on justice? The 2002 hit-and-run case which killed one person and grievously injured four others is still pending in court. Add to that list the police complaint of harassment lodged against him by former girlfriend Aishwarya Rai and his conviction in 2006 in the case of hunting an animal belonging to an endangered species. His appeal against the verdict is still in court. And Kareena Kapoor, I sincerely hope that the verdict is swift, now that a chargesheet has been filed against Saif Ali Khan in an alleged case of assault. Understandably, all these cases have been closely followed but for the first few days; reportage is now muted. After all, such eminent personalities endorse a host of brands. An advertisement guzzling news media cannot hurt the very brands that pay salaries. To conclude then:

 

“Nyay aur neeti sab lakshmi ke khilone hai”

 Munshi Premchand, Namak Ka Daroga

 

(The author is a student at the Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics and a former television journalist. He can be reached at arunoday.majumder@gmail.com)

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