Friday, May 30, 2014

"Aapko toh khatra nahin hua?"

Anand Soondas comments on what stories become important for the media and what is left out (especially the rape stories).

We have something to add to the points that Anand makes so well. There is now a perception (amongst politicians and much of the elite class) that India is being unfairly targeted by the media. 

Rapes happen everywhere (it may even happen at a higher frequency someplace else), so why the spotlight on India? 

And why are journalists (part of the elite class themselves, many of them foreigners) being so insensitive: "Aapko toh khatra nahin hua?"
The competition was tough from the word go — Smriti Irani’s discrepancies in her affidavits, Modi’s man Nripendra Misra getting the top job with the help of a hurriedly drafted ordinance, DDA lining up 27,000 flats, the row over Article 370, IPL 7 entering the final lap. 

The two little girls, sisters as it turned out, in faraway Badaun in Uttar Pradesh who were raped, beaten and hung from a tree didn’t stand a chance even in such medievally administered death to make it to the front pages of Delhi’s big newspapers.

One had it as a small single column inside on day 1, the other, also a national daily, as a brief, again in an inside page. That such things happen in today’s India, in 2014, and that such barbarism continues to exist in a country whose first-world aspirations have just decimated a non-performing party and thrust into power another that sells dreams well didn’t merit more space.

It needn’t have been so.

There is a thought, in my view somewhat misplaced and erroneous, that readers of newspapers in the metropolises aren’t concerned or particularly keen about reports, however tragic, gory or shattering, coming from the interiors. Therefore, often datelines kill bylines.

Around the time that Nirbhaya died after being violated in a Delhi bus, there was another, equally brutal, gang rape that happened in William Nagar in the Garo Hills of Meghalaya. Sixteen men, some of them boys, on the night of December 13, 2012 waylaid a teenager returning home after attending a winter festival and, just for kicks, first thrashed her and then took turns to rape her. Some of them wanted, and tried very hard, to finish her off. She survived, to be denied admission in schools, to be boycotted by society and teased by former friends.

Her story, in many ways, is more harrowing than Nirbhaya’s because she continues to live that horror every day of her life. It wasn’t compelling enough though — or so felt some of our papers coming out of the cities — for the urban readers. There wasn’t much about it anywhere. The glossing over and ignoring of the story was scandalous, to say the least.

In the name of core readership, it’s become almost routine for stories from our villages and towns to be summarily dismissed. Many, even those with larger ramifications, that speak of us as a people, disappear without a trace.

But is that how readers themselves look at things? I am not too sure. For one, there is so much migration from hinterland to heartland that large chunks of consumers of newspapers in metro cities aren’t its native residents. 

Second, a newspaper’s readership these days is in reality larger, more amorphous than the numbers for it that various surveys give. For example, someone who doesn’t take The Times of India may on any given day read an article in it that is suggested by a friend, or click on a TOI link shared by another, or go through it on the FB wall of a colleague, perhaps scan it quickly on Twitter. 

Most importantly, are we assuming that someone in Delhi will not be interested in, say, the persecution of a group of PUU (people unlike us) that’s happened in Bareilly? If something is important, interesting, engrossing, he will. It’s a talking point like any other. News by definition is, and should be, all-encompassing. As far as possible, at least. There is a world beyond Gurgaon on one side and Noida on the other, and it ought to be acknowledged.

Yes, space is shrinking in the papers because of the costs involved in printing and it makes sense to give the immediate surroundings priority. But it is imperative that we strike a balance. My mother is always searching for stories from Darjeeling and Sikkim, my next door neighbours, the Joshis, are perpetually hunting for tidbits from Uttarakhand, and the Beheras on the ground floor complain regularly that Odisha is all but forgotten by the publications in New Delhi.

Moreover, just because we think the poor and the uneducated unwashed don’t read the flashy dailies and aren’t our target audience, we cannot stop writing about them when they need to be written about the most. We will be unfair to them, to our readers and to ourselves as people in the media.

One story almost everyone in my building — the Joshis, the Beharas, the Gangulys, my mother — seemed to have read recently was the one about a fire flattening out a cluster of jhuggis in Vasant Kunj. Some of them went out in the evening with money, food and clothes to comfort the hapless dwellers there.


Questioned by reporters over the inexcusable rise in violence against women in Uttar Pradesh, an edgy Akhilesh Yadav on Friday shot back at the journalists, "Aapko toh khatra nahin hua? (it's not as if you faced any danger?)" The chief minister's insensitive counter-question left most mediapersons stunned.

Akhilesh was in Kanpur on personal work when city reporters buttonholed him over the alarming rise in rape cases in the state, apart from an abysmal slide in the rule of law.  

There have been four rapes in the last two days in UP, beginning with the sexual assault and murder of two dalit teenagers in Badaun, followed by rape of another dalit teenage girl in Azamgarh. On Friday, a fourth girl was raped in Sharawasti.

Last month, Akhilesh's father and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav had commented on the issue of rape, "Boys will be boys, why hang rapists?"

Addressing a rally in Moradabad in April, Mulayam had said, "Ladkiyan pehle dosti karti hain. Ladke-ladki mein matbhed ho jata hai. Matbhed hone key baad usey rape ka naam dey deti hain. Ladko sey galti ho jati hai. Kya rape case mein phansi di jayegi? (First, girls and boys become friends. Then, when differences occur between them, the girls accuse boys of rape. Boys may make mistakes, but should they be hanged for it?)"



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