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Friday, July 20, 2018

Falling on deaf ears

Footage of women being harassed does nothing to shame the perpetrators.

Written by Shailaja Bajpai | Published: September 28, 2017 12:57:13 am
BHU, BHU violence, banaras university, banaras hindu university, BHU chief proctor, BHU proctor, BHU news, india news Outside Banaras Hindu University on Tuesday. (Express Photo by Anand Singh)

Tuesday’s “hunt for Honey” (India Today) saw news channels, by sheer and curious coincidence, discover precisely the same CCTV footage, at exactly the same time, and immediately broadcast it with a proprietorial air: CNN News 18 and Zee Hindustan’s “exclusive footage” of an “exclusive video” (India News), “first and exclusive” on Times Now, and “first” but perhaps not “exclusive” on India Today and News X showed a lady in a burqa, walking briskly: “Kya yeh Honeypreet hai?” asked News 24 before the others could.

Undeterred by their inability to establish whether or not it was indeed Honeypreet, Ram Rahim’s confidant, the news channels showed us this “exclusive” throughout the afternoon before her bail hearing. Words like “exclusive” and “first” have been robbed of all meaning on television news. Or take “brilliant”. How many times, in the course of the last three one-day internationals between India and Australia (Star Sports), was the adjective used to describe a cricketing stroke — as in Sunil Gavaskar’s “brilliant shot” for a six hit by Rohit Sharma during Sunday’s game?

Much of what is said on TV news makes little sense. If you listen very carefully — something many of us have long since ceased doing in the interests of protecting our sanity and our hearing — you will be left with a deep and puzzled furrow between the eyebrows.

Here are two examples, nothing particular to the channels or its anchors/reporters. On Tuesday afternoon, the CNN News 18 reporter delivered a long monologue, freely criticising BJP MP Varun Gandhi for advising “empathy” towards the Rohingya even though they were proven terrorists (really, when and by whom — and all of them?). He said that in BJP parlance, Varun would be called a “pseudo-liberal,” a Rohingya “apologist”. When the anchor asked what was wrong with Varun suggesting the Rohingya be vetted before permitting them entry into the country, he replied yes, that was also a point of view making the rounds. Got it?

Now listen to BJP’s panelist on Mirror Now, Tuesday evening. Asked by anchor Faye D’Souza why it was taking so long to establish who had ordered the lathi charge on female students at Banaras Hindu University, he said the lathi charge was “horrible”, there was no “justifying” it but when the PM was in the city, certain elements liked to manufacture “controversy” — in this case, by holding a protest. When D’Souza stuck to her question, he changed tack: There had been many harrowing examples of gender injustice from 2004 to 2014 (ergo, under the UPA government) and in the 67 years leading up to it but why was the issue being raised only after 2014 (with an NDA government)?

What on earth does any of this have to do with fixing blame for the BHU lathi charge? Nothing whatsoever; but it is typical of the strategy employed by politicians and their supporters on every side of an issue, to divert attention from the matter at hand. The BJP spokespersons live in the “la la land” of the past and talk only of what happened before 2014; the Congress blames the PM for every speck of dust on the horizon; the viewer, meanwhile gets nothing but a frightful headache from the proceedings.

Not a day passes without video footage of women being harassed and exploited. Coverage of the protests and the police lathi charge at the Banaras Hindu University is only the most high profile instance. Each day, there are blurred images of girls being molested — on Wednesday it was minor, bare-chested girls at a Madurai temple being “worshipped” (India Today), on Tuesday a teenager was seen being pawed in Andhra Pradesh (CNN News 18). However, this doesn’t seem to either shame the perpetrators or reduce the number of incidents.

The government’s “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao,” has translated more into “Beti Sataao” on the ground. In television serials too, women continue to be shamed — as Ruhi is by her father who takes away all her portfolios in his business because she loves an unsuitable man (Yeh Hai Mohabattein, Star Plus); objectified as Pankti is by her mother for rich “Jain” sahib (Tu Ashiqui, Colors) or subsumed in a patriarchal narrative like Tejaswini in Aisi Deewangi Dekhi Nahi Kahin (Zee). Her loving husband secretly tries to sedate her but although she finds out, she still drinks the drug-laced milk. “When my life is yours,” she tells him, “I can do anything for you”.

Does anything make any sense anymore?

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