On August 30, Shivali, a 21-year-old student of S.D. College, Jalandhar, committed suicide by throwing herself in front of a train after news photographers took her photo while covering a drive against “eve-teasing” led by a woman police inspector. Shivali had pleaded with the photographers not to shoot her. They did not listen and she had threatened to kill herself if the photos were published. Within an hour, she had ended her life.
Like the shameful (and allegedly participatory) coverage by a news crew of the molestation of a teenager outside a Guwahati pub, this incident has raised serious questions about media ethics, intrusion and privacy. Appetite keened by competition, a predatory media is overstepping the line with nonchalance. The suicide also draws attention to so-called “anti-eve-teasing” drives, in which cops mostly humiliate couples seen together in parks and other public places.
On that day, inspector Balwinder Kaur, who heads the town’s anti-eve-teasing squad, was chasing couples out of a park near Shivali’s college when she was distracted by an altercation between two young men whose cars had collided. Someone drew attention to Shivali, who was inside one of the cars. Balwinder Kaur pulled her out, asked her who she was driving around with and upbraided her. Shivali was with one Gaurav, whom she knew for about a year. The inspector told her girls should go straight home from college. The photographers present started taking pictures of an embarrassed and frightened Shivali. The aggressive questioning, the public humiliation, the photographs—it was evidently more than she could take. Her family is demanding that Balwinder Kaur be dismissed from service and cases of abetment of suicide be filed against the police and the photographers. Deputy CM Sukhbir Badal has ordered an inquiry.
Kamlesh Singh, state editor of the Dainik Bhaskar, whose reporter and photographer have been questioned by the police over the incident, says, “In this case, we can’t be blamed because Shivali died even before the photos were published. Our information says that initially, the police tried to project it as an accident. They produced a bogus witness to suggest she had tripped and fallen on the railway track. This did not work because it was so far-fetched. They then began to deflect blame from the inspector to the media.” Not many are buying this.
Says Kanwar Sandhu, managing director of Day & Night News, a Chandigarh-based news channel, “As media organisations, we need serious introspection. Many stringers function as blackmailers and since newpapers use their inputs, they should be held accountable for their activities too.” Even the larger media chains employ stringers without casting an eye on their lack of qualifications. Major Singh, president of the Jalandhar Press Club, says, “The proliferation of media houses and the intense competition have made it a mandi where even the basics of decency are given the go-by.”
Oddly, newspapers haven’t questioned the appropriateness of Balwinder Kaur hauling up young couples strolling or sitting together in public places—something she has been at for some two months now. Far from it, reporters and photographers became eager participants in her drives, their attention egging her on to extreme, even perverse behaviour.
“If the police conducts itself this way, it will discourage parents from sending girls out to study,” says Shivali’s uncle Ramesh Kumar. “Even if Shivali was going out with this boy, was it against the law to invite such public censure?”
Apropos your article on the press in Punjab (Cruel is the Camera, Sep 17), media exposure and plenty of it is exactly what the moral police want in order to show that they have done something. Ill-trained, incompetent and corrupt, this is their hurrah moment. Inspector Balwinder Kaur should be charged for second degree murder.
What an irony! By publishing the very photograph of Shivali which led her to commit suicide, you repeat the very insensitivity that you accuse other mediamen of (Cruel is the Camera, Sep 17).
Then why have u published the photo ? R u not as irresponsible as that Hindi daily ?
It is important to publish the photo as the public needs to know the inhumanity of this exercise. Media cannot publish the photo's if the victim is alive.
The clash of only "skin deep" modernity (modernity in appearance only) with under the skin conservative/medieval norms and mindset.
The police person in this case seemed to think the root-cause for eve-teasing are couples in a park. Or it is the age old solution of "naa rahi gii baans, naa bajegi bansuri". The logical end for this thinking in terms of a solution for eve-teasing is to just not have any Eves. How easy it is to go down the path of the Taliban!!!
Everyday in Desh you realize, how little is right about us as a collective people and how much is just so horribly wrong and in many ways just getting worse.
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