The Tail has Be­gun to Wag the Dog

SHOMA CHAUD­HURY

Tehelka - - 20 -

LAST WEEK brought a hard mo­ment of reck­on­ing for the In­dian me­dia.

At first, as the coun­try watched the hor­rific sight of a young girl be­ing bru­talised by a mob in a busy Guwahati street, it seemed the reck­on­ings were about some­thing else. What bes­tial gene do we nurse amidst our­selves? What atavis­tic ha­tred of women? What pu­trid, mis­placed sense of moral­ity that can drive one to sav­age an­other hu­man be­ing like this? And what fear of reprisal from the per­pe­tra­tors that cars could whiz by, by­standers could watch, and al­most no one in­ter­vened for 45 min­utes?

The bru­tal­is­ing of women is not a new story. It is as old as his­tory it­self. Ev­ery day, the pa­pers are rife with sto­ries of women’s heads chopped off, bod­ies found in drains, faces drowned in acid. But in a mod­ern democ­racy, should there not at least be a fear of be­ing caught? What have we un­latched our­selves from as a so­ci­ety that even that min­i­mum de­ter­rence seems to be fray­ing? Why are acts that at least hap­pened in the shad­ows of the night, in iso­la­tion, with the dread of be­ing found out, in­creas­ingly be­ing played out in brazen pub­lic view?

Some months ago, TE­HELKA had pub­lished a sting in­ves­ti­ga­tion on the at­ti­tude of cops in Delhi and its neigh­bour­ing re­gions to rape. Sev­eral of­fi­cers on the tapes had said that women who wear re­veal­ing clothes, drink, or have boyfriends, ba­si­cally ask to be raped. Dis­turbingly, this re­gres­sive be­lief that women are the cru­cibles of so­cial moral­ity, that it is not men who must re­frain but women who must not pro­voke, is voiced not just by the fringe but in­creas­ingly by In­dia’s in­sti­tu­tions as well: po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, teach­ers; com­men­ta­tors; pan­chay­ats; the keep­ers of law, and most shame­fully, by mem­bers of the Na­tional Com­mis­sion for Women as well.

This at­ti­tude is the real mon­ster. The hor­ror in Guwahati was merely the con­tin­uum. But for the toss of a coin, this in­ci­dent could have hap­pened any­where in the coun­try. It is not spo­radic erup­tions of crime, there­fore, that is the real dan­ger; it is that as a so­ci­ety, we no longer feel en­joined to talk even the base­line lan­guage of moder­nity.

But as this story un­folded, an even darker strand emerged. What role had the tele­vi­sion cam­era played in the Guwahati out­rage? In­stead of be­ing the vig­i­lant eye, the watch­dog whose ar­rival should have scared the mob, why had the cam­era melded in­sid­i­ously into be­ing a part of the circle of vi­o­lence, com­plet­ing its cir­cuit with the girl trapped inside? Why had the mo­lesters smiled brazenly into it and re­peat­edly tried to yank their vic­tim’s face up so the lens could have a full gaze? Why had the cam­era’s pres­ence pro­longed the girl’s hu­mil­i­a­tion? Why had it turned what should have been fear and shame into

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