(Also Appeared in Northern India Patrika On January 07, 2014)
The suicide by a prominent social activist Khursid Anwar, executive director of NGO Institute for Social Democracy and also a JNU scholar, has given rise to some pretty disturbing questions. Khurshid Anwar allegedly committed suicide in the aftermath of rape allegation by a Manipuri lady. This news got flashed on several news channels, followed by intense discussion on several social media networking websites including Facebook. Unable to bear this unwarranted media trial, this well known social activist committed suicide by jumping from his third floor residence in Vasant Kunj, New Delhi, on December 18, 2013. As per suicide note found at his home it was not a rape but consensual sex.
This tragic incident reminds me of suicide committed by Sriniwas Siras, who happened to be a professor at Aligarh Muslim University. In this particular case, news channels were found guilty of invading his privacy by making public his homosexual affair in blown out of proportion way. The professor was granted relief by the Allahabad High Court, but he was not able to cope up with harassment in the form of bizarre media coverage. That made him to end his life. Of late, courts have regularly come up with strict reminders for media channels not to indulge in media trials when the case is in its trial phase. However, influential media houses have always adopted care-a-damn, leading to mockery of the sensitivity involved in any issue under trial. It’s true that need to control media trial remains a complicated issue but it’s an undisputed fact that there is no dearth of cases, wherein sensational media trial caused irreparable damage to one’s reputation. The media has always taken for granted “rights of the accused” and it’s high time to make clear demarcation between accurate reporting and reporting done with malicious intent to increase the sale or ensure high TRP ratings.
“Sensational reporting will take place because sensational incidents keep happening in India. The Supreme Court will not be able to stop it. Yes, reporting must be accurate. But to say it amounted to trial by media is only a pejorative expression. Neither the court nor any one has provided parameters to define what constitutes trial by media.” (Senior Advocate Rajeev Dhavan in The Times of India) However, media’s pervert justification of its breach of privacy and rights of accused would never be enough to clear the huge mess caused by its unwanted intervention. Two lives of reputed individuals came to meet untimely end because of media trial. Can it bring them back to life? Can it restore the loss of reputation?
In fact, senior journalist Saeed Naqvi has framed a perfect perspective regarding media trail: ” There is a tendency in journalism – it convicts a person on the day allegation is leveled against him, even before the court convicts him. That is sad. How can media reach a conclusion so quickly and start showing one as an accused? At least, it should wait for lodging of an FIR, completion of investigation” (DNA News Report) It’s really amazing that media always never takes into account serious repercussions involved in unfair trial. Is “mental trauma and public humiliation” in the wake of seriously flawed “media trial” is thing of lesser concern? It’s so evident in media trials that reporting is misleading and one-sided with scant respect for cross-checking of the facts.
This whole issue involves two other serious concerns. The first one brings to the fore love of the society to reach at conclusions in one go with a prejudiced mindset. It loves to criticize or, for that matter, endorse any issue even if there are no concrete material evidence to support its beliefs. The other aspect involves abuse of laws meant to protect sexual harassment of women. It’s simply not an issue pertaining to rights of men that laws meant to protect women have lead to harassment of innocent men. It’s so pathetic that moment an issue involving sexual harassment of women gets highlighted, the media enters in caricature of the accused, portraying him guilty. Worse, if you analyze the laws meant to prevent sexual harassment of women, it’s evident that men are virtually assumed to be guilty. Tragically, the attempt of the accused to prove himself innocent becomes further bleak in wake of such pervert media trials.
“The disconcerting answer is that it will not matter. In India, and several other countries where laws have been passed to punish crimes against women, the burden of proof has been consciously reversed: it is the accused who has to prove his innocence. This reversal is bad in principle, but probably necessary to create a level playing field for women in cases pertaining to sex crimes. But the new rape law has carried the reversal to a point where, if implemented as drafted, it will defeat the very purpose of justice . For once a man is accused, it leaves him with no way whatever of proving his innocence.” (Senior Journalist Prem Shankar Jha in The Times Of India)
In nutshell, both society and media have lost the ability to be governed by reason and logic. Both of them have given way to pervert pleasure of playing havoc with the dignity and reputation of individuals. However, it’s baffling that even legal jurisprudence appears to have adopted same line of action, more so in cases involving sexual harassment of women. It’s time for everybody to upheld logical thinking over thinking governed by rash emotions. That’s essential to stop the fragmentation of society, to create a value-oriented society.