Hindsight: Lessons from the Tehelka scandal
It is clear that among the things done wrongly in the Tehelka scandal, some are obvious (like DO NOT RAPE), others have been discussed (Like DO NOT COVER UP A RAPE) and still more resulted from citizen volunteer project to translate the Vishakha guidelines into different languages. Do volunteer your efforts.
It is even more scary when the government is swayed by media hype into an action engineered by it. How many instances of crimes against women when the woman deliberately hasn’t filed an FIR get picked up by the government? Why was a special case made out of this? It is not a matter of “high profile”. The number of politicians alone who “outrage the modesty” of rape victims with character assassinations in media runs by the dozen every year. The number of blogs detailing sexual abuse vast and there is no action taken by the state. Police themselves convince victims to not file cases. And now apparently the state needs to file a case even when victim didn’t want. The lack of uniformity of the response shows how the state is run by media. The Chief Minister of Goa had promised two arrests recently. The first was a rapist of a seven year old child, whom the child had identified. The second recent case where he promised action against proven crime was the group of political workers who thrashed a Nigerian badly enough to send him to hospital, serious with head injuries. Video footage should make it really easy for the assaulters to be identified. 53 Nigerians got booked for “hooliganism” none of the political workers got booked for an assault that put a man’s life in danger. So yes, I totally believe that this case is not political and that Parrikar takes actions against any wrongs he spots. Right.
In a country where laws presume a woman to be speaking the truth on accusations of rape, it becomes important to not harm the chances of the accused in being innocent till proved guilty, or the laws will get resented, genuine distress will be dismissed as framing of innocent men and so on. We may be able to deliver to standards where an accusation of rape without proof can send a man to jail for ten years, getting the masses to see that as justice will not be so easy. Worse, high profile cases will create a spillover of perception about all accusations of rape that cannot be proved and get believed on the victim’s word alone. It is already difficult for victims to get justice, what kind of very serious cover ups will happen to protect men from women with “unfair advantages”? When I went to file a police complaint for domestic abuse two years ago, the “man talk” in the station with my husband who had accompanied me was all about how nothing can be done if a woman “chooses to frame her husband”. There was no complaint filed.
How long before accusations of rape go under that banner of “chooses to frame”?
A controversial provision to protect women being weaponized against an accused to destroy him without a trial is guaranteed to do more harm than good. The price will be a setback for the credibility of women when they claim to be abused. Without trivializing the trauma of any kind of abuse, the fact is that today, an elite woman was able to use a safeguard to bring her assaulter down without a trial, while for the common woman, the fact continues that she has trouble being believed unless she lands up in the hospital or morgue. In spite of filing a case, the Dainik Bhaskar victim has had no such belief invested in her accusations, even as two other women report the same exploitation of them by the same man. Harish Bhatia remains comfortably “unavailable for comment” with media not particularly bothered about the gravity of his actions. The NCW that is so concerned about the Tejpal case let Harish Bhatia’s victim down without so much as a splash.
So let us not pretend that this is any moment of awareness of women’s rights. Media choosing to magnify this case and present the accused as already guilty has led to *this* woman being believed when she claims an assault. Nothing has changed for women at large and if it has, it certainly has not changed for the better with an exhibition of what “a woman can do to a man” without trial – when it was in reality the media who did it. A media that has already dialed down the interest in this case and will move on, till it picks another woman out of the crowd to fight her case, as usual leaving the status quo for women at large undisturbed. This woman has a lot of well connected friends who may support her after the limelight moves on, but for all intents and purposes, the story is over. The media court has judged and moved on. The victim can fight her own war in a court of law indefinitely. A war she didn’t want defending an accusation she hadn’t put into words (rape). A war she cannot back off from now without appearing to be accusing falsely. A war that will require her to travel to a different state to fight – something her accused can do far more easily than her.
There is nothing more damaging to the cause of women’s rights than hit and run feminists who grab a cause, rampage for vengeance and get distracted by the next glittery thing, dumping the war they magnified onto the victim’s head, who will now have to deal with it on her own.
Sex sells. Media still treats rape as sex for this purpose. Sex sells even when it is simply saying rape is not sex. Get it?
What does it matter if the sheer magnitude of “outrage” has put 9 people out of jobs at the last count, counting resignations in protest (including victim) and Shoma and Tejpal stepping down. An organization is near collapse putting hundreds of jobs at further risk. And the case has not even reached courts.
This, to me is not feminism, but an exploitation of feminism for agendas against specific accused. An exploitation of feminism for media profits.