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4

Dear media,

India is witnessing an unprecedented event. It is the largest election to date in the world. We have them every five years, but our population has grown since our own previous record. So has the reach of mass media and social media and mobile phones.

Recent developments in the country have raised the question of governance and accountability till you cannot say politics without thinking fighting corruption.

History is in the making, and our primitive media needs to evolve to be worthy of it. Let me not mince words. When I say primitive, I'm not speaking of your monthly air conditioning bill or the size of cars of our anchors, but the refinement of thinking that seems sadly absent.

Today, if we see the coverage of the elections, there really is little in terms of addressing the issues on governance and the priorities of people that will get expressed through the act of voting.

When we look back on a historic election, are we really to see a jumble of perception mongering and nothing that documents the change the country goes through? Are poll surveys, talk shows and campaign coverage all there is to elections? Is politics only about political parties?

What are the changes in the country? Demographics? Economy? Concerns about governance? How are they influencing how people engage with the structure of the country? How have gender rights engaged with the election process? Farmer rights? Tribal rights? Business classes, traders, large corporations? How are people choosing their leaders? What possibilities are there?

Evolution of people can't be about laws and policies alone. It takes a continuous dialogue, and it is where media is failing the country drastically. Our perception of priorities seems unable to exit what is within easy reach of elite areas. Rising devolution to primitive intolerance is further fanned by the media. And it isn't only about religion, it is about everything. Uncompromising conclusions and programmes that begin with black and white views and end there with the same few faces peddling the same few stands with changing "hot topics" that are remarkably similar to each other.

If we leave aside Satyamev Jayate, I can't recall the last time I heard dialogue on rape unless there was a young slim professional woman involved. Child rape, rape of older women, marital rape, gay rape and more are all not interesting enough. Because media is selling what sells, and what sells is violent sex/rape fantasies - even if they are accessed as being the problem. Media treats rape as sex, even when it is to say rape is not sex. The words being said are one thing, but the choice of "victims" tells its own tale. If there is a brief detour, it may be toward pedophilia. The knee jerk sitting up to pay attention of an exploitative population when titillating subjects fall on their ears, successfully turned into a low effort high turnover business. It isn't all that different from rape scenes selling films a decade or two ago. No one was calling the rapist a hero, but the crowd whistling in the theater used to say the film will be a hit.

We can speak of Soni Sori, and be angry about her specific perpetrators, who are not us. But speaking of the exploitation of tribal women or women of minorities... or worse women of the majority touches too close to home. Let us not do it. Who can blame you. Media is patriarchy after all. Male dominated, male owned, catering to a male dominated society, in bed with male dominated corporations and male dominated politics. You either consciously rise above these instinctive defaults, or quit the pretense of being progressive.

This is just one example. Every aspect of the country has vast unspoken sides. Kept silent to suit power lobbies.

What is the cost of living today? How much of our income are we saving as compared with our parents? Are these things the reason why the government faces an undeserved wrath, or has the government created them? What do people think about their ability to save? What do they believe will help them reach a more satisfying situation? You cannot expect your three piece suit to comment on the practicalities of running a home with three kids on a vegetable vendor's income. But there are plenty of vendors on the street who are expert commentators from sheer first hand experience!

This is an election where many of them are on the forefront of the minds of people. Yet media doesn't seem to have much interest into delving into them and bringing out really thought provoking programmes that tell people something they didn't know in ways that are demonstrably scientific rather than opinions. Here's a simple but powerful thought. The freedom to work and earn for a woman instantly turns a single income home into a dual income home. What implication does that have for poverty?

There are the biggies like corruption. And then looking within. Paid media. Both huge issues come election. One herded carefully into safe zones. The other blacked out, because what could be more horrible than looking into the mirror, right?

We speak of paid media, but all media cannot be paid. There is simply no way possible that every article could be monitored and controlled. It may be part of the problem to wring hands and moan about what others do, but it isn't the whole story. The larger part of the story is a lack of integrity.

Today, when Arvind Kejriwal was attacked, Times Now started a hashtag #SlappedAgain which largely got taken over by trolls to celebrate the assault. I don't think I need to comment on Times Now Hashtags. You'd have to be living under a rock to not see them. I can understand that Times Now has its own issues with sanity and does whatever it does. What is more difficult to understand is the complete silence of other channels on it. Apart from prejudicing the public before the elections and being a direct assault on democracy, a tag like this is also a trigger for further assault - being broadcast to massive numbers of followers and viewers.

The quid pro quo is not merely with politicians and business houses. It is with anything with the potential of causing discomfort or worse - real challenge. There is no scholarship or integrity demanded of self or each other.

As a "consumer", I have been reading for ages about how media should self-regulate. What is this self regulate? A channel getting its own reporters to toe lines? A newspaper publishing a retraction if someone sends a notice? What is your responsibility for upholding the quality of national dialogue? Or is the idea to get away with the easy deal till someone makes a law and forces some action that can be complied with minimally?

If there is one news channel with media bias, are the other channels dead? Are they blind that they do not see what is going on? They see. They may even snigger among themselves or readily admit that what is happening is wrong, but the will not leave their cushy chairs to report it and expose it. Because news cannot be about how perceptions are created, right?

In India, media has reached a level of impunity where little can be done about it, and it is a problem as much as a solution. A media that can devote endless time to a toppled metal detector or three month investigations into a 10 year old blog post about spam failed to draw enough attention to stings with an immediate relevance to the upcoming election. Stings on social media "services" that offer to promote your candidate or invent character assassination of your opponent. Services that offer to trigger riots for political purposes - including a recent demonstration of the video of the Sialkot lynching from 2010 being used to incite mobs in the Muzaffarnagar riots.

Media has failed to report adequately on the implications of perception engineering through doctored poll surveys. Media has failed to draw attention to the problems being reported with ballot boxes. Media has failed to provide adequate disclosure of broadcasts of event feeds provided by political parties - which essentially amounts to free advertising time.

Are we to look back on this historic election and find only a jumble of promotion and slander and poll surveys that look nothing like the results? Are we to look back at a historic body of work and find very little on parties other than those able to court limelight in Delhi?

It is not about one channel or newspaper failing, it is a collective failure where failure of one does not get professionally challenged, but cooperated with, resulting in a very poor intellectual capacity of Indian journalism as a whole.

Consider that journalism is a post graduate degree in India, and most news websites - at least the established ones - are at least a decade old. Yet we have news websites with the fundamental inability to link to sources. This is something your average blogger figures out within a week. Yet we have reports of crucial surveys and reports and laws without linking to documents so that the reader may educate themselves. From a profession of spreading knowledge, it is a profession of hoarding and controlling how much people are told.

A culture of intellectual fakery and not acknowledging sources means that reporting news reported by another channel won't do the honesty of naming the channel and linking to the news. Videos stolen from producers like Jay Hind without credit or compensation. Because of course some idiot who learned SEO 5 years ago recommends against linking out to hoard importance with search engines (no longer true). Every interview is an "exclusive" - published on five websites within minutes of each other. Report on some important research will not contain link, because that will be the more authoritative source for it, and you will no longer be the "best information" sabse tej or whatever shit. So FAKE it rather than look like you didn't invent all knowledge in the world. Last year, three news websites actually published news that the NIA (I think) had released sketches of terrorist suspects for people to see and report if they spot - WITHOUT PUBLISHING THE SKETCHES.

It is a lazy, unethical form of journalism that is so bloated on self importance that it fails to see its own importance in a moment when its ability to be a voice of knowledge will serve its country well. It fails to see beyond its own superiority. Sometimes treating AAP with contempt because "unwashed masses" protest and have no ability to rule or some such prejudice. Other times they shove a mic into someone's face that they want bytes from to sell, without respecting the person or understanding why they are important. But then, a media that doesn't sense its own value can hardly be expected to value another.

This can go on and on, but the main purpose of this letter is a reminder. You are more than a job. More than a "make no waves and never be controversial" hen laying golden eggs. You have voice, you have the power to reach the people of this country. You are faced with a historic occasion with an unprecedented number of issues determining the votes and a public with no access to find out realities beyond what you tell them. So far.

The internet is killing newspapers. Very soon it will kill TV channels too, unless they remain useful. The question is whether you are worthy of the responsibility for bringing national dialogue into this century and being the mirror reflecting the country for people to see and self-evolve?

Because there is also WhatsApp and Facebook and Twitter and word of mouth.... which may not have your power or speed, but if they win the trust you lose, you won't get it back, because the world is evolving into new media.

Do yourself the favor of dignity. Be the kind of journalists you idolize and would like to be remembered as, instead of assembly line robots adding a chunk of words into a larger design determined by someone else. Do the country the honor of honesty.

Vidyut

Two men noted for feminist liberal attitudes, in positions of authority, leading organizations with activities and objectives not pleasing several kinds of rogue elements.

Two staunch feminist victims who had unhesitatingly raised their voice against rape and rights of rape victims, with knowledge of law and immediate procedures after rape alleging rape with strong feminist support. After time has passed.

Two rape victim's allegations against the accused leaked to media. Both heavily promoted by deliberate circulation. One as a series of emails leaked at regular intervals in mainstream media. The other as copies of CD with victim's testimony.

At least one face was common among core supporters for both strong feminist victims including television appearances - strong, leftist, feminist communist. Prominent politicians weighed in their opinions, including members of the National Commission for Women. There was complete agreement. Guilty! No judge has seen the case yet.

No rape test has been done on the victims. No witnesses to the rape of either except "witnesses" who were informed of what happened by the victim herself.

Media lynchmob ensues with no rebuttal possible against anonymous accusers.

Two liberal feminist men accused of abusing position of authority/control denying accusations. Both silenced by media. Attempts by both to initiate any dialogue rejected. No case filed. Both victims anonymous.

Families of both victims not in the picture except brief mentions of mothers.

All this massive unconditional support did not result in the already strong feminist victims (journalist and activist) feeling empowered enough to file cases (something thousands of women in the country do - often completely on their own and injured).

Two cases brought to justice by media, with loudest voices from channels also accused of other bias against other entities politically opposing a certain party.

Complete consensus across politicians across parties. Guilty! (This needs an award)

Two cases of wrongs against feminist liberal women by feminist liberal men brought to media spotlight by at least one communist representative defended with the full power of BJP's organized social media.

Two liberal feminist men with strong professional voices were completely discredited professionally.

Two liberal feminist men and their supporters accused of intimidating strong feminist women with an abundance of feminist AND media support with no actual threat described.

One feminist liberal man commits suicide. Second feminist liberal man is in jail. His organization is severely weakened.

Any effort to raise any kinds of questions results in accusations of rape apology. More for the living leftist liberal feminist man than the dead one (suicide blunts much anger). A media that can sensitively report interviews of Delhi rape accused, including life stories and interviews of villagers from their native villages finds no relevance for direct denials of these two rape accused or their supporters - including wives of both "rapists".

No other cases crawl out of the woodwork alleging similar behavior by either of the two accused feminist liberal men. It seems they got a one off whim to abuse their power and got exposed the very first time within months of each other.

To the best of my knowledge, this pattern has not been seen before or since these two cases.

If this is feminism and empowerment of women, I'll eat my keyboard.

If this is feminism, the country is better off without it.

If this is a rape apology, then perhaps it takes a rape apology to look around and go "Waitaminit - other than the accused and victims and the supporters of accused (who have very similar socio-political profiles), all the players in both stories look and act identical, the cases happen within weeks of each other - but nothing like this before or since. What the heck is going on here?"

Who all profit? In which ways? Can the victims be considered empowered by this brand of feminism? Can the women of India claim to be helped in any manner with the manner in which these cases were conducted?

This post is a direct response to accusations of me being a rape apologist. Call me what name you like, but explain such an elaborate coincidence. Or was it coincidence? Was it that there were some elements jumping onto a specific kind of opportunity for reasons of their own without regard for collateral damage? Was it that there were several concurrent but separate interests finding opportunity in these two dramatic cases? What the heck happened? Where are the cases now? Where are the victims? Where are the follow up stories other than pre-bail intimidation reports for the feminist liberal man alive?

On a larger scale, do you see massive unconditional endorsement as having made the victim stronger or weaker if they were not able to leverage knowledge they already had and support pouring in to file a case and felt intimidated by any action that seemed to deny or question?

2

This is a response to Vrinda Grovers views on the new rape law as told to Priyadarshini Sen in the article "Look Before You Creep" published in Outlook Magazine.

I want to state upfront that I have a deep respect for Vrinda Grover and her work for human rights, and the article merely shares my view on the subject, which is not necessarily superior to hers, and her knowledge of the law and working with it to ensure human rights most certainly exceeds my own.

I had been bothered by the direction the Delhi Rape case protests were taking when they started demanding for a new law. To me, it seemed the easiest way out of the social slap we had faced, by shrugging off our role and shoving it onto the government's shoulders. The Delhi Gang Rape was illegal under existing laws, including death penalty for rapists when the victim died, and murder got added to the charges.

I understood this to be an unhealthy avoidance of social responsibility and the need to engage in social reform - which is where the problem lies. The idea that a few people can get drunk and think it will be good fun to pick up a girl to rape. The rest went downhill from there, but that is the crux of the issue we see echoed in almost every urban gang rape that involves random pick up of victims. There was an opportunity for discussing the role of alcohol or drugs in lowering inhibitions and making criminals more likely to act on criminal intent than the natural caution of sobriety.

Alcohol lowering inhibitions is a proven fact and alcohol is often a factor in all kinds of violence from brawls and murders to rape and domestic violence. Additionally, alcohol lowers the ability to be aware when an action goes too far. I personally know a woman who masturbated hard enough to injure herself when drunk. Countless cases of financial exploitation and road accidents can be traced to alcohol, yet there is an inexplicable inability to discuss this subject openly and find out what is enjoyment and what poses too much risk to the public at large.

There was potential to discuss how we run our lives when the bus could be traced because of the bribe records of police. The lack of oversight in investigation of people employed in services catering to schools. But all this doesn't sell as well as the idea of rape. Rape tickles the consumer mind. Rape occupies space in TV debates far more than any other crime for the same reason old Hindi films had rape scenes. We may protest all we like, but rape is sex. It is non-consensual sex, activists may protest that it isn't sex at all, but for the mind, the perception is one of sex, and there is immediate interest.

Any discussion about the vulnerability of women who may be leaving themselves open to assault got shouted down as victim blaming. We like our scantily dressed eye candy. Protect them in other ways. Don't make them reluctant to entertain us. No one is disputing that a rapist is wrong, but to peddle tips on smart dressing in one segment of media and say clothes never invite rape is a bit absurd, because there is no explanation on the intervening pages on why a business suit conveys professionalism to all, but bare skin does not convey sexual invitation to all. And if bare skin is not sexual, then why we no longer see shirtless men as decent company?

The dialogue was carefully herded into the TRP maker - SEX (in this case, not consensual and injurious and murderous), while anything that might actually make girls less easy to exploit got ignored or shouted down with some regressive label. One would almost believe that parents who caution daughters to come home on time or wear clothes that cover body are looking to enslave them worse than random strangers who apparently are more interested in their safety and will never harm. What is achieved by isolating women from protective parents in public perception? It makes sense to criticize parents for LIMITING women, but where was any sense of parents as potential support?

That got derailed because to put it bluntly, fighting for women's rights and all was fine, no one wanted to risk criticism of habits and defaults they enjoy.

The law can only punish culprits after a crime. It cannot change what people choose to do.

We got a law that upped the punishment for rape, as well as broadened the definition to rape in a grand promise to more and more people - when the fundamental problem was that people who were raped as per the old definitions and punishments weren't getting justice already in a country with one rape in seven minutes, but not one rape judgment. Worse, our law believes a woman's accusations by default and now we have expanded them to cases that are impossible to prove, because there won't be DNA evidence or injury, and the victim may appear perfectly normal till she files a case two weeks later.

Vrinda Grover says she is not able to understand the anxiety men face.

I’m very puzzled at the high level of anxiety from men in all professions. Is it really that men are doing this so rampantly that they are suddenly in panic mode? That they have been putting their body parts into women without their consent? In that case I have a word of advice to them: now this is the law, don’t do it, and if you do it, you will be arrested. And if the courts deem it fit, you’ll be punished. That’s a hard-won reality. The new law just clarified what consent meant. It said there has to be an unequivocal, voluntary agreement by word or gesture.

Well, consider the roles reversed, and if men were able to claim all sex as consensual and their word were accepted as the truth unless rape could be proved? Proving rape is still possible. How do you prove an absence? How do you prove God doesn't exist, if there being no proof could simply mean that it hadn't been found yet? How do you prove a rape did not happen if all it would mean is that there was no injury or evidence found, but not that you were innocent? Why wouldn't men be anxious? Any sane man should be terrified of these laws. In essence, the law leaves no way for the rape accused to prove himself innocent short of proving that he wasn't at the place at all.

These laws are based on a presumption that women would never lie about being raped. But is it always true? I am not such a legal expert or a major activist, but I know tons of women who are insecure enough to claim that they refused a consensual encounter rather than be seen as someone who indulged in immoral behavior. There are still more women who are modern and do not see rape as their shame, but now have the perfect weapon to attack a man they have an agenda against. Any private time without witnesses or cameras can be claimed as a rape that did not leave any sperm or injury. There are as many women who seek favor from powerful men as there are powerful men exploiting women - particularly in urban society, where a sexually forward woman is no longer a stigma. What is to prevent a woman rebuffed from accusing the man of rape out of malice? Where is the line? An over aggressive lover who mistakes necking for wanting to take things further? And really, can all this be fixed by law?

I am not saying any of this happened in the Tejpal case,, which I believe is too high priority and warped by political agendas to look at to evaluate something like this. I am speaking of a law that is absurd. In pretending to help victims of rape, it has, in effect created so much ambiguity and clutter, that the indisputable rapes and injuries and desperate circumstances now have to share already scarce resources of justice with cases that are suffering from enough ambiguity to turn the whole public view on rape as a fuss made by women.

On the other hand, it is perfectly legal to marry a sixteen year old and rape her every night onwards for the rest of her life.That is how freaking lost our "women's rights" are in terms of gravity of crime and priorities in reform.

I fail to see how this helps women at large.

In our idealistic chase of the perfect laws where the slightest wrongs to women meet perfect justice, we have lost complete touch with an imperfect world still struggling to get justice for ghastly crimes that suffer decades long cases where victims are forced to not forget their ordeal because they could be cross examined or questioned at any point.

Nor is it unclear why a woman grabbing at a man's crotch isn't engaging in rape then. Are we saying that men are always asking for it and women never have sex they regret later? Are we really peddling the view that women never make bad choices on sex that they try to cover up or deny later? Why are we still catering to the "Sati Savitri" image of the woman? Why is this patriarchal, patronizing and insulting view of women being peddled by those fighting for their rights?

3

A woman in Jharkhand has killed her neighbour for trying to rape her five year old daughter. The woman was out of her home for work when the neighbour misbehaved with her daughter. When she returned, her daughter told her. In a fit of rage, she bludgeoned the man to death.

While it isn't the prettiest of news to read, it is the best news I have read in a long while that contains the words "five year old" and "rape", considering that the usual news to come out of Jharkhand involves stuff like "12 year old boy rapes 5 year old girl", "5 year old girl raped and murdered", "Neighbour rapes 5-year-old, victim made to wait five hours outside hospital", "20 men gang rape 4 minor girls" and so on.

Is murder right? No. But I can't blame the mom for doing it. I believe in non-violence, but a threat to my child is one of the few things that would probably lead me to violence with no regrets. Call it the "mama tiger" syndrome or whatever, but I cannot regret the lack of one child rapist in this world.

Parents of girls outside the insulated middle and upper classes live with a constant fear for their safety that does not get addressed adequately by those who insist they have no right to restrict their daughters. It isn't merely about control, it is also about not wanting pain for their child. My maid in Borivli lived in a slum and often came to work with three daughters in tow because the few people she trusted were not available to look after them.

Child rape is on the rise. All rape is on the rise. In a country where a rape happens every seven minutes, courts are not resolving cases every seven minutes and that is the fact. Governments are not bothering to give a clear message that rape is not acceptable. What is a parent to do when a threat to their precious child lives next door?

Perhaps the male dominated thinking will sit up and take notice that a problem exists only when rapists get killed because they weren't controlled.

1

News Laundry published an aggressive, confrontational letter to the woman allegedly assaulted by Tarun Tejpal. Pandemonium ensued. Having written extensively about the other side of media reporting on the Tejpal case, I want to put my views on record, mostly to prevent defending them over and over in 140 letter tweets.

Is it right to question a rape victim?

In this case, yes, I think. If the victim has chosen the court of public opinion, then the court of public opinion must question her to form an informed opinion. I think it is morally wrong and a misuse of protections provided to rape victims if the anonymity required for a rape victim, and a default of believing her word (which, to the best of my knowledge is a requirement from the judge, not the common man) is misused by a person to provide one sided accusations against a named person who cannot respond to them. Particularly when she did not file a case at all and simply did an anonymous attack. Of course if there are questions about her narrative, they must be asked before the slander is allowed to proceed. Not even a court of law, which in theory believes the victim, would issue a sentence without clearing doubts raised.

Is it right to accuse the victim?

No. Not unless the accuser can prove they know what really happened and that it was a false accusation. Raising doubt is one thing, but to proclaim that the victim is somehow pretending or deliberately slandering Tarun Tejpal is about as substantiated or ethical as the media accusations war against Tarun Tejpal - in other words, not.

Raising doubts is one matter, but because doubts raised have no answer in the public domain is not good enough reasons to issue conclusions unilaterally.

Why did you not.....?

Blame or guilt for doing or responding in a certain way or not is a very judgmental way of engaging with an issue as sensitive as this. People are different. There is no telling who will do what and why or what other factors weighed on their mind. There are many kinds of rape that leave the victim confused whether they were violated or not, till they can process their experience and find the clarity and courage to identify what their wish was and whether it was respected in the moment. So entering a lift second time with rapist can have all kinds of reasons ranging from "consensual" to factors influencing the victim's mind in that moment beyond those described n the email days later.

Transferrence of blame

The writer  of the letter appears to hold the victim responsible for the actions of a hell of a lot of people. And we are including heads of media organizations, journalists, social media influencers and more whom she probably never even heard of.

Anyone can release a story to media. Many have enough connections to have the story spread among journalists. A woman who feels wronged may adopt any means she feels may get her revenge. For the record, I totally support women who go after those who abuse them and nail them by all means at their disposal. If I cheered rape victims bobbitizing their rapists, this one is a no-brainer. If victim had the reach to destroy her rapist, her trying is totally legit in my eyes.

But should it have succeeded? The part of me that cheers for a woman going at her abuser says "at least some". But the complete abdication of responsibility toward neutral reporting by media? That going away makes this issue far more serious than an individual crime. Media is the eyes and ears of the nation, and this was organized schizophrenia.

The bottom line is that media and jornalists had formal jobs to do, which included verifying, having a neutral perspective, and so on, which for reasons unexplained, media chose to completely abandon and take her every word and magnify it and project it to the whole country as a fact so grave, any questions raised about it were an assault on womankind. It was unprofessional. It was irresponsible, and it was something the victim could not bring about unless all these people were sending her their monthly salary and so on.

In conclusion

Individuals will do what they will. Be it right or wrong. Main thing is for our processes to be robust enough to allow each person access to justice. Victim and accused included. Read again. Access to justice. Not "total sanction to do whatever you want", as knee jerk media IQ is likely to take it.

I do understand the anger driving that letter. I feel that too. Though I blame the media and not the victim. I feel angry that in a country where horrendous crimes against women require the creation of such unequal protections, they are so frivolously exploited by those with the power to spin pretty words and spout theories, but feminism never said that women are always right and men are always wrong and women never lie and to question a woman means misogyny. To me feminism is about fairness. In this case, it was trampled by the side running a slander campaign in the name of justice. I am angry because I care about women's rights and the conditions they face, not just whatever the hot rape of the moment is.

I also understand that every human on the planet suffers violation at some point or the other. Be it physical, sexual, financial, political, whatever. When we speak of rights movements, we are talking about injustices unfairly stacked against the victims creating an all pervading handicap, not choosing our favorite victims and going guns blazing at every single wrong against them. It is about inequalities, not individuals. Or at least that is how I understand it.

It is also high time that people with ethics in media professions started balancing out rogue "human rights" exploitation campaigns of hot subjects or agendas that do more harm to human rights movements than good.