ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Compounding the Guwahati Horror

The values governing Indian television news channels need urgent scrutiny.

The horrific sexual assault on a teenage girl on the streets of Guwahati on 9 July will not be forgotten for some time to come. Not only because of the nature of the crime, where the young woman was dragged away from the autorickshaw which she was about to take and surrounded by a mob of more than 20 men who punched her, tore off her clothes, pulled her hair, groped her, burnt her with cigarette butts, called her a prostitute – everything short of a gang rape. Not only because of the shockingly slow response of the police located just one kilometre away. Not only because of the crass and callous indifference of dozens of citizens who drove past the girl as she ran down the street screaming for help. Not only because of the scandalous and unforgivable act of ­revealing the identity of the girl by the representative of the National Commission for Women, Alka Lamba. Or the equally mindless action of the Assam chief minister’s publicity department of sending to the media photographs of the girl with the chief minister.

All of this was ghastly enough but it was compounded many times over by the role of the media. This is something that must be addressed even as the other dimensions of the crime are being pursued. Whether the reporter from the News Live channel, who claimed he was passing by when the attack ­began, is guilty of instigating the mob even as he filmed the “action” on his cell phone, followed by its recording by the channel’s cameraperson, has yet to be established. But there is no doubt of his culpability in keeping the camera running for over 30 minutes without making any attempt to save the girl or call the police. As if that was not in itself a crime, the news channel barely paused before it telecast the footage and also uploaded it on YouTube where it ran in three episodes titled “Girl in the City”. Predictably, it went viral within minutes and was seen by thousands on the internet.

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