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Millennium Post

Rage against the bias machine

That the Indian news industry is a many-headed beast accustomed to extreme levels of self-contradiction is not unknown. The national media – particularly the English language television and print media, with their arsenal of round the clock coverage and breaking news mania – has been often accused of a tendency to shove a disaster down the viewers’ throats, in order to get up, close and personal with every unfolding tragedy. However, what the news media, especially those based in big metropolitan cities like Delhi or Kolkata, chooses to pick on and give coverage to is directly proportional to the extent of discomfort that the incident inflicts on the global image of these up and coming ‘world cities.’

While cases of rape and sexual violence have been rocking the collective conscience of the country at large, it is obvious that some of them have been, rightly or wrongly, perceived to be the sole galvanising factors, churning the souls and minds of the nations’ young and old alike. Of the hundreds of rape cases reported in recent times, the 16 December 2012 Delhi gang rape stood out glaringly – first, for the brutality of the crime, the graphic details of which have now hogged the headlines of every national news daily and television for months, and second, for the simple reason that it had happened to one of ‘us.’ When the identity of the ‘us’ in question is probed into, the fallouts, no doubt, resemble the stirring of a hornet’s nest.  

Media watchers have commented that massive coverage given to the Delhi gang rape incident in a big way contributed to the ‘spontaneous’ demonstrations and protest marches, which in turn helped build up the media frenzy surrounding the issue, that subsequently led to the landmark Justice Verma Committee’s 639-page report on possible amendments to the then archaic anti-rape laws. While it is true that the protesters had tried to reclaim the streets of Lutyens’ Delhi, the home of bureaucratic nonchalance and executive apathy emanating from the national capital, by gathering at all times at the city’s iconic sites such as India Gate, Jantar Mantar, outside Parliament House etc., what added fuel to the fire was the assurance of a 24X7 media coverage of the dissent, that was threatening to break down the established order of things in fortress New Delhi.

Hence, heart-warming reports of braving the water canons and sloganeering need to be read between the lines. Another time when Delhi had poured out into the streets, when the denizens, otherwise content to indulge themselves in the co nucopia of ceaseless consumption at demarcated places such malls and supermarkets, or even more fashionably, the urban villages at Hauz Khas and Shahpur Jat, was when Jessica Lal was shot at point blank range by a man who she had refused to serve any more alcohol after the closing hours. This happened at Tamarind Court, a chic restro-bar in South Delhi, where the affluent and the nouveau riche of the capital flock to live the good life.

This is not to say that the Delhi gang rape was not a crime of gargantuan proportions that brought about a decisive shift in the paradigm of framing rape. A close parallel could be the Kolkata Park Street rape case, in which a woman in her late thirties was allegedly raped by four men, but which the Kolkata-based media lapped up and made a talking point because it broke into the bastions of comfortable living in the upper echelons of Anglophile Bengali high life. In fact, that the media, both in Delhi and in Kolkata, barely took up rape and murders that followed the hyped up incidents, such as those in Delhi where two sisters were raped and one was murdered, or the gang rape and murder of a brick-kiln worker in Barasat, a small town in West Bengal, amongst numerous others equally reprehensible and horrific crimes, speaks volumes about the state of affairs and the politics of news gathering within television studios and editorial boardrooms of national dailies. In the wake of these observations, it becomes imperative to cast a fresh glance at the context of the particular cases that become watershed moments in the history of crime, punishment and national conscience.

Obviously, the location matters. Otherwise, the number of rape (and murder) incidents from states such as Jammu and Kashmir (Kunan Poshpora, Shopian); Kerala (Suryanelli, Kiliroor, Soumya); Manipur (Thangjam Manorama); Maharashtra (Jalgaon, Mathura, Tulasa); Uttar Pradesh (Imrana); Rajasthan (Ajmer, Bhanwari Devi) would have created equal ripples in the clogged pond of Indian moral integrity. Obviously, besides megalopolises and other certified engines of GDP growth, rapes and murders and assaults and discriminations and other innumerable modes of violence – physical, mental, psychosocial – carry on unabated, in fact, often being the tools of the establishment to ‘teach a lesson’ to the recalcitrant minorities, such as in religious pogroms, or brutalities by the armed forces under the heinous AFSPA in the northeast or Kashmir.

But when the citadels of affluence and smug complacence are breached, when the waters flow over the dykes of apathy towards the less fortunate, when the ruling classes find one from their ilk targeted, all hell breaks lose. But, of course, even within such larger congregations of sympathisers, smaller, more compact cohorts – like of those the members of parliament who consider stalking as romantic, or women invite rape by dressing in provocative ways, or marital rape is an oxymoron – hurl stones on the glasshouses of rage against the violent machine. As glasses of selective anger shatter before the myopic eyes of the openly partial, biased, discriminatory and majoritarian Indian collective, its fourth estate, the so-called pillar of constitutional and democratic integrity, remains imprisoned in the confines of its self-erected gilded cage.

The author is assistant editor at Millennium Post
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