Student rape case: media offenders

BY Madabhushi Sridhar| IN Media Practice | 01/08/2010
The blog giving details of the assaulted school girl and the publicity given to the blog by the media will play into the hands of the accused.
As we know, if physical assault is the first rape of the victim, the second is media exposure and the third by the prosecution, says PROF. MADABHUSHI SRIDHAR. Pix: the school where it happened.

When a sensational and high profile sexual crime is committed, the media goes to town over reporting every facet of it, paying scant attention to the sentiments of those victimized and indulging in reportage that skirts the fringes of that which is legal. When an international school principal was arrested for the alleged rape of a 17-year-old 11th class student, TV channels showed shots of all the international schools of Hyderabad implicitly suggesting that those schools were also dangerous for girls. A case of rape and criminal intimidation has been booked against Salahuddin Ayub, Principal of Parkwood International School at Manneguda near Vikarabad on the outskirts of Hyderabad (Times of India, Hyderabad, 22ndJuly, 2010). While the parents of the girl from Mumbai alleged that she was repeatedly raped by the principal during the last one year, the school authorities said this was an attempt to malign a popular school, with branches in the Middle East.

 

Generally, once the arrest scenes are repeatedly shown, media focus shifts to the investigation process. In this case, as it is known to happen the world over, the police selectively leaked the ‘confession’ of the accused to tell the world that they had done been efficient and had caught the real culprit. Media reports these confessions attributing the information to unnamed `sources’.

 

"According to sources accused confessed that he used to stay on the third floor of Princes Court Block, where girls used to stay on the school campus. Every day he used to call girl students from the first floor to the penthouse and urged them to stay even during late hours, sources said, quoting the confession statement drafted on a laptop. In March, the girl went to his room at 9.30 pm to clear some doubts. At that time, he hatched a plan and mixed a sedative in her cool drink and gave it to the girl, who after drinking it fell unconscious. He then raped the girl and also threatened her with his licensed 0.32 pistol that if she reveals to anybody he would kill her, the sources said. ….Accused also confessed that he took the girl to two hospitals. He first took her to a corporate hospital in Banjara Hills on May 5 suspecting pregnancy. He stood outside the hospital and sent the girl inside by giving her the required money. After that, he took the girl to a private nursing home at Lower Tank Bund for subsequent treatment. A lady doctor at the hospital gave her some pills for abortion. Sources said he also confessed that he had the habit of taking photographs and videos of girl students at various times and used to see them during night. He also stated in the confession that he used to take the girls outside the school premises without noting in the security register. "On July 1, some girl students came to my room to see a movie on TV. The foreign student slept in my room while watching TV. I asked the other students to leave the girl in my room. When all the girls went away I touched her ...and tried to remove her clothes...But she resisted and cried loudly. Then I changed my mind and threatened the girl not to reveal this to anybody," Ayub admitted in the confession. (Times of India, Hyderabad, 25th July 2010)

 

Though releasing such ‘sensational’ information to the media will not strengthen the case of the prosecution, there is always some give and take involved with the media.   Neither the police nor the media bother to confirm if such a confession is admissible as evidence. After the confession story is written, both the media and the police wash their hands off the case and further investigation successes do not appear in the media. Once the media loses interest no one looks out for destruction of evidence or dilution of the investigation. Talk of the case resumes only after the sentence is pronounced.

 

Reporting in media (Times of India, Hyderabad, 24th July 2010) that police seized a handy-cam with a memory card in which the sleazy scenes were recorded and the .32 pistol, or other parts of investigation including the recording of statements of doctors who examined the victim, would help the readers to know the progress. The details of the recordings need not be reported. All these will help the accused to develop a plan for defence. Revelations in the media act in tandem with the corrupt system to the benefit of the accused. On the day of the judgment, the judiciary bells the cat and has to face charges of corruption if the accused is not adequately punished.

While protecting the identity of the rape victim is of paramount importance, the media has been guilty of publicizing a blog that was set up to reveal the girl’s identity thus sending thousands of netizens scurrying to find the blog. A report in the Times of India says, "Stooping to a new low and in contravention of various laws of the land, a blog has been floated with the express purpose of disgracing the rape victim of Class XI of Parkwood School and her family. The blog identifies the 17-year-old, who has levelled charges of rape against the school's director and has posted her pictures on cyberspace. It also raises questions about her 'relationship' with other male students of the school, apart from rubbishing all her statements made in connection with this case. Worse, it even gives out a picture of the girl sourced from her profile on a social networking site…..While it cannot be ascertained who the creator of the blog is, its content makes it amply clear that it serves the purpose of the disgruntled school management. The blog claims that it has been created to foil the "malicious attempt to defame the director and the school" and goes on to list in detail the victim's family background, naming her parents, siblings among others." (Times of India, Hyderabad, 30th July 2010). The report also quotes the father of the victim saying; "They (the management) have not only posted her pictures all over but have made false allegations. It is not just unlawful but also immoral".

 

The report further says: "The blog reads like the repeat of the rant of the school management and carries the claims it had made last week when the rape case was filed... While the school management, mainly Ayub's sister, Ayesha Tanvir, had later stated that they would let the law take its own course in the matter, the blogger has curiously used every point Tanvir had made last week." There are other references made in the report which point a finger at the involvement of the accused.

 

Section 228A of Indian Penal Code, is very clear on protecting the victim’s identity. It says that anyone who makes known the identity of a person against whom a crime under sections 376, 376A, 376B, 376C, or 376D is alleged or found to have been committed shall be punished with imprisonment of up to two year and a fine. The law also specifies that the name of the victim may only be revealed to a recognized social welfare organization. It further adds that the printing of proceedings in cases under the acts named earlier without the court’s permission is also similarly punishable.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the U.N. in 1989 (India acceded to it in 1992), under a protocol of May 2000, calls for "protecting the privacy and identity of child victims and avoid inappropriate dissemination of information that could lead to the identification of child victims."

Justice Arijit Pasayat of the Supreme Court said on February 28, 2006 (Dinesh @ Buddha vs State of Rajasthan): "Sec. 228-A of IPC makes disclosure of identity of victim of certain offences punishable ... True it is, the restriction does not relate to printing or publication of judgment of High Court or Supreme Court. But keeping in view the social object of preventing social victimisation or ostracism of the victim of a sexual offence for which Sec. 228 A has been enacted, it would be appropriate that in the judgments, be it of this court, High Court or Lower Court, the name of the victim should not be indicated."

The guidelines of the International Federation of Journalists ask professionals to have respect for the privacy and identity of children and consider the consequences of publication of any report, and the need to minimize harm to children.

The Press Council of India's norms say that in reporting sexual assault on children, names, photos and particulars of their identity shall not be published. Its norm 14 states: "….While reporting crime involving rape, abduction or kidnap of women/females or sexual assault on children, or raising doubts and questions touching the chastity, personal character and privacy of women, the names, photographs of the victims or other particulars leading to their identity shall not be published." The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2000 also protects the victim and prohibits the disclosure of ``…name, address or school or any other particulars calculated to lead to the identification of the juvenile".

It is quite possible that the allegations made in the blog would attract the definition of criminal defamation under section 499 and punishment of two years of imprisonment and fine under section 500 of IPC. It could be even a crime under the new cyber law which prohibits sending offensive messages (S66A of Information Technology Act, 2000 as amended in 2008), publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form (S 67), transmitting of material and depicting children in sexually explicit acts in electronic form (S 67B). Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device – (a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or (b) any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device; …..shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine. (Section 66A of IT Act, 2000)

 

Section 69A gives power to the state to block information through any computer resource. This is a suitable to invoke the power under section 69A. This direction can be issued to the intermediary or server or subscriber and if this direction is violated, it will attract a penalty of seven years imprisonment and a fine under the act.

 

It is a known fact that if physical assault is the first rape of the victim, the second is done by the media and the third by the prosecution. In the absence of in-camera hearings the situation would have been further aggravated for the victim. The travails continue unabated if the case goes into appeals.

 

 

Prof. Madabhushi Sridhar,

Coordinator NALSAR Center for Media Law & Public Policy

NALSAR

Hyderabad

 

 

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