Tuesday, 9 August, 2022
HomeOpinionIndian media finally covered Pollachi gang rape - for people Googling ‘sex...

Indian media finally covered Pollachi gang rape – for people Googling ‘sex videos’

It is no coincidence that the first suggestions to appear on Google when searching “Pollachi” are “Pollachi video” or “Pollachi original video”.

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Showing a shadowy, grainy video of a college student screaming for help and pleading for mercy as four men in silhouette take turns to rape her is not how a media house should cover a chilling case of serial gang rape. Not in 2019. Not after the national outcry and public conversations that India has witnessed around rape since 2012.

But this is exactly how some sections of the Tamil media have covered the Pollachi serial gang rape case. Tailored to satiate prurient desires, a Tamil bi-weekly magazine, Nakkeeran, actually uploaded on its website videos of the rape scene, with the anchor titillatingly narrating the crime scene.

The media house did not bother to take the woman’s consent before making visuals of her bodily violation available for consumption for an audience known to increasingly devour rape videos with a prurient interest. Smudging the video does not stop it from generating a trigger effect.

How the media portrays and narrates rape can amount to catering to a depraved society’s ubiquitous appetite to consume sexual violence as a “crime of lust and passion”. It is no coincidence that when one searches for “Pollachi” on Google, among the first suggestions that appear are “Pollachi video” or “Pollachi original video.”

This is not the first time that the Indian media has sought to chronicle a rape case step by step – almost recreating the crime scene for the victim, and then also for the public.

In 2016, when a mother and daughter were raped in Uttar Pradesh’s Bulandshahr, the media jettisoned any semblance of restraint and sensitivity, and kept incessantly hurling questions at the family until the father broke down in front of the TV crew – making for a perfect byte for hungry reporters.

“How many times should I repeat what happened with my daughter and my wife? They have been raped. What else do you want to know?” the father had said.


Also read: All about the Pollachi rape & blackmail case Tamil Nadu govt just transferred to CBI


The search for the scandal

For the Delhi-based national media, the Pollachi assault has simply not been important enough to make national headlines – prompting the Madras High Court to chide it for neglecting the case.

Worse still, when media houses did choose to cover the case – giving it space in the inside pages of national dailies – several of them referred to the case as a “scandal” — not rape, not serial rape, not serial sexual assault, but a mere scandal. The emphasis on the element of scandal in the case is apparent and perhaps more attention-worthy to both the presenters and consumers of the news.

This was, of course, not the first time. Several media houses had referred to the horrifying institutional sexual abuse and rape of minor girls at a shelter home in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur as a “scandal”.

When the media covered the December 2012 Delhi fatal gangrape case, it went into minute details of violence, including the iron rod. Many TV channels re-enacted various versions of what had happened that fateful night.

The tragedy of the constant search for the scandal, the barbarity or the element of lust in rape cases is not unique to India alone.

study published in the Quarterly Journal of Political Science in 2018 argued that the way rape is depicted and chronicled in the media, it only reflects local norms toward sexual assault.

In India, since the 2012 Delhi gang rape case, there has been a significant increase in rape coverage. However, the coverage and the narratives are becoming increasingly less sympathetic.

The rush for the first byte, the tendency to focus on “false” cases, and the prompt readiness to embrace stereotypical tropes of a vulgar, promiscuous woman on one hand, and that of an upright braveheart on the other – are all symptomatic of the increasingly less sympathetic narratives.


Also Read: How Bihar govt dragged feet on Muzaffarpur sexual abuse case, defied SC


No easy answers

There are no easy answers on how best to cover rape. In the West, social scientists have used two frames through which to see how rape is covered – episodic and thematic.

While the former focuses on the particular “event” of rape, the latter focuses on the broader issues surrounding rape – the culture that enables rape, the statistical trends and the social, political and economic factors that perpetuate it. Obviously, the episodic frame sells a lot more than the arduous and exacting thematic frame.

The Indian media has taken baby steps towards the thematic frame since 2012. For example, whether or not to refer to a raped woman as a victim or a survivor, whether or not to reveal her identity, and what representational pictures to use for rape stories are conversations most Indian newsrooms are having today.

Although the law clearly said that the name of the raped woman must not be mentioned, there was still considerable confusion as late as until 2018 around the case of an eight-year-old girl who was gang raped in Kathua in Jammu. A government notice to media houses last year prohibited the use of her name and her image – by which time many social media users had already changed their display picture with hers in a show of solidarity and as part of a campaign effort to call for justice.

Similar conversations about portrayal of rape in the movies have been debated earlier as well. Shekhar Kapur’s famous 1994 film, Bandit Queen, fuelled widespread criticism by activists as well as the subject of the film herself – Phoolan Devi. She repeatedly told the media at the time that watching the graphic rape scene in the movie retraumatised her, making her relive the assault all over again.

So given that there is still a long way to go, how should media cover rape? Senior journalist Namita Bhandare says the key word is restraint. Respect the survivor’s privacy, even if it comes at the cost of TRPs or the views on your website. Focus instead on the other side of the “scandal” — the legal, the institutional and the administrative breakdown that enables the rape of 200 women.


Also read: Indian women are getting assaulted on Tinder dates and no one knows how to stop it


 

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1 COMMENT

  1. In my opinion there should be a sperate prison for rapist there should be very strict rule or law on rape cases. The safety of women should be given importance like that of prime minister safety in the country………..

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