By Rekha Bhattacharjee
A mob of 40 jeering men molesting a small 16-year-old girl – one would have dismissed the highly revolting footage as a sequence straight out of an apocryphal movie but for the fact that it was being telecast by the Indian news channels.
Irrespective of the raging debate about journalists’ ethics, one has to give credit to the usually hysterical news channels for showing ugly faces of psychotic male lurking not only on the glistening metropolitan entertainment strips but also on the dark-lit mofusil streets. It may have taken few days of indifference but the public molestation of the Guwahati teenager has undoubtedly shocked India.
The mass indignation could be judged from the column widths being dedicated to the July 9 incident. It becomes a bit hard to explain the reaction of everyday Indians as this very demographic is often accused of growing insular to the violence on our streets. After all, a typical Indian newsreader usually does not even notice chronicles of violent events which broadsheets bury dutifully somewhere deep in their pages. The growing anger against the brazenness of the Guwahati mob has yielded results as the message is being drilled into the Indian minds that such a boorish behaviour has no place in a nation striving to be counted among the civilised societies.
The role played by the journalists is under the scanner and so are the media ethics.
While heads are rolling in the unbelievably complacent Assam administration and concerned news channel, there are some questions which beg for honest answers.
Would it be right to say that the primitive attitude of the Indian male towards ‘weaker sex’ has remained unaffected by the winds of change sweeping the nation for many decades now?
This writer would have been accused of imprecise and unsophisticated generalisation but for the fact that the mind-numbing attack on the Guwahati teenager is not an isolated case. The number of molestation cases in India was over 42,000 last year. This figure represents only those gutsy women who have dared to report such outrageous incidents to agencies which are often the perpetrators. The number of those women (and children) silent about such soul-crushing assaults in India has to be much larger.
The crime statistics about attacks on women in India would come as a rude shock to those nationalists who deride their Pakistani counterparts over the treatment of women in their country. Is there any difference in the mindsets of those Pakistani men who raped Mukhtaran Bibi in the name of honour and the pack of goons who attacked the utterly helpless 16-year old in Guwahati?
The answer has to be in a negative as the barbaric Guwahati horde could have done worse with the teenager but for the delayed intervention by the police.
Besides the perpetrators of the Guwahati molestation, the reporter and the cameraman who covered the whole incident are also under investigation for their alleged role in instigating the mob. While the media ethics debate rages unabated, many in the journalism fraternity are asking why the Guwahati duo should have stopped the camera and made the effort to rescue the girl.
There are number of media personalities who have given dissenting views and criticised news channel journalists of not doing their duty. But, then, the obvious question would be who else did not do his/her duty. Isn’t the police chief guilty for failing to provide protection to a citizen of the state on one of the busiest locations in the largest Assamese city Guwahati? Should not the head of the civic body resign for failure to ensure that liquor is not served to under-aged patrons in a Guwahati pub?
But, above all, isn’t the state government responsible for ensuring law and order is maintained in not only Guwahati but also other parts of Assam? Why the state government needed media and public activism to order probe in the Guwahati molestation case?
While we struggle to find answers for these questions, a girl or woman would be facing a torrid time at some other place on the sub-continent. The need is to make efforts to change the primitive mindsets while the law takes its course against the perpetrators of the cowardly attacks. This is ironical in a way as attacks are happening in a country which venerates Durga as the Mother Goddess every day.
Rekha Bhattacharjee is a veteran journalist who lives in Sydney.