Sunday, June 28, 2009

Prime Time rape

The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, June 28, 2009


It began as a routine crime report. An actor had been charged with raping his domestic help and had been taken into custody. But within a day it became front-page news. Because the actor, Shiney Ahuja, was reasonably well known and the domestic help had registered the complaint within hours of the alleged rape.

The predictable feeding frenzy of the media led to regular updates from the police, even as the case was being investigated, being published. At the same time, the denials and certificates of good character for the actor were also faithfully reported.

Trial by media

Even before the case was filed in court, the trial was on. The chairperson of the National Commission of Women announced, after meeting the domestic help involved, that the accused was guilty and should be punished. On the other side, the actor’s wife declared on major television channels that her husband was innocent and that this was a frame-up. When asked how she had concluded that it was a frame-up, she could not answer except to reiterate that she believed her husband could never do such a thing. Friends and supporters spoke of how much of a gentleman he was, what a good father, and that they too believed he was innocent.

The domestic help, of course, could not speak for herself. She cannot defend the charge made by Ahuja’s wife that this was a frame-up. Rape victims generally do not want to go public and according to the law, the media too has to ensure that neither the name, nor any hint that could reveal the identity of a woman raped, is published. Despite this, at least one television channel and a newspaper ran a photograph of the young woman with her face covered. What did they gain by doing this? Many newspapers also gave details such as the village where she lived, what her father did and several other clues that would determine her identity. Fortunately for her, the media did not pursue this side of the story as the actor’s story was more interesting and would grab more eyeballs.

(To read the rest, click on the link above)

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