Assam’s night of shame

My head hangs in shame as I try to piece together one of the ugliest stories in my more than two decades of journalistic career – the horrific story of a young girl being virtually 'gang-raped' [molestation would be an understatement] by a bunch of 'beasts' [they cannot be called human beings] on the streets of Assam's main city of Guwahati.

9 July. Time around 9.30 pm. Location – the busy Guwahati-Shillong Road [GS Road] near Christian Basti in downtown Guwahati. A phone call was received at our news desk from one of our off-duty reporters, Gaurav Jyoti Neog, asking for a camera unit, and in the same vein asking one of the copy-editors to inform the police, saying there was a brawl near the Income Tax office.

Gaurav was shooting the incident with his cell phone while talking from another handset to the news desk [the reporter talking to the news desk asking for a camera unit was audible].

Night duty reporter Dibya Bordoloi and cameraperson Jugal rushed to the spot in less than 10 to 15 minutes, as the incident took place barely 200 metres away from the studios.

Two young girls apparently had some altercation with some people inside the Club Mint Bar where they came to attend a birthday party. The scene shifted from the pub premises to the streets. It was at this point that Gaurav saw one of the girls slapping a man [filmed on his mobile handset] and soon a large crowd of people arrived and went berserk.

The girl who slapped somehow managed to escape, while the other girl was caught by the milling crowd and then began the horrific and shocking incident. By then cameraperson Jugal and night duty reporter Dibya Bordoloi also arrived.

The two reporters did try to rescue the girl and pacify the mob of around 30-odd people [cameraperson Jugal's tape has evidence of how our two reporters tried to save the girl, asking people not to beat her]. But our three crew were outnumbered by the violent beastly mob.

Jugal, a junior cameraperson, maintained his calm and continued rolling the camera and although the shots at times were jerky he managed to keep on shooting and shooting so well that he not only captured those shocking visuals, but same time helped police identify the rapists [molesters would again be an understatement].

It was a free for all and the helpless girl was stripped and everyone, some young and old, started touching her private parts, all captured on tape.

Police arrived at the spot some 30 minutes after the incident [cannot be sure if the phone call was the first call received by police or someone else called up earlier than us].

The mob began dispersing and the police managed to shove her inside the patrol van and took her to the police station.

Our shell-shocked crew arrived in studio around 10.15 pm and the instant reaction at the desk was to air some not very disturbing visuals in our 11 pm bulletin. A 20-second clip was edited – girl being rescued by the police – and we aired for about 10 minutes, saying a girl was beaten by a mob outside a pub and then stripped.

10 July [Tuesday]: There was a numbed silence at the newsroom when I reached around 10 am and my junior colleagues Mousumi and Ranita were seen sobbing and asked me to see the shocking visuals. For a while I was literally speechless and stunned. Tuesday morning bulletins we did not air any images and there was debate in the newsroom whether or not to air the visuals.

Late in the afternoon, we made conscious editorial decision to telecast the news with the sole intention of fulfilling our social responsibility of showing the viewers the seriousness of this beastly act and same time help police to identify the rapists.

There was a suggestion: why not give the tape to the police instead of airing the images. We thought the police would simply put it in the cold storage and take it as any other case they normally handle. And hence the decision to telecast the story.

Questions were asked as to our journalistic ethics. I would say our reporters and camerapersons did the right thing under the circumstances. They did try to rescue and pacify first, but then they were outnumbered and hence instead of shutting the camera they did the right thing of rolling it.

Today, people across the nation, including Assam police chief Jayanta Choudhury, have gone on record thanking us for filming the incident.

The saddest and most tragic part is that not a single passerby or a commuter came to the rescue of the girl when she was being stripped. Another sad part is that no civil society members, rights groups, political parties and individuals protested even 100 hours after that barbaric crime.

Only after the national media, especially the national satellite channels, took up the issue on Thursday night did we see some face-saving protests in Guwahati.

Even the local print media remained silent during the last few days and picked up the story on Friday and published prominently on Saturday.

Just hope and pray we do not have to report any such story on any media ever and Assam should not hog media headlines nationwide for the wrong reasons.
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