Jul 18, 2012

Guwahati: The Inconvenient Truth

It's shocking how all of us (myself included) missed it completely. Yes, the first response after seeing that molestation video from Assam had to be that of outrage and anger. But even after settling down post that initial response, nobody managed to notice the most obvious signs of the entire filming being fishy. It took me a bit of enlightening on part of Barkha Dutt to finally notice the strange 'friendly' relationship that the camera had with the mob.

When journalists or cameramen go to cover a frenzied mob, they fear for their safety. Simply because of the reason that the mob, in that state of madness, could target them, their camera or their heads. Because howsoever crazy and ill-reasoned the mob may be, it does understand that a journalist and his camera are the last things to be befriended. This assumption is more and more applicable in cases where the mob is indulged in some horrific law-breaking exercise, such as lynching and molesting. So, a mob beating up a thief may not mind the camera over its head, but a mob molesting a girl, in 99 out of 100 cases, would not hesitate in assaulting the journalist, for it knows that the camera can spoil their fun.

But nothing of this sort was visible in the Guwahati molestation video. Forget about being camera conscious, the molesters passed familiar and friendly smiles towards the camera, inviting it to come closer for a 'better' view. There was not even a pinch of hesitation or reluctance amongst the molesters about letting the cameraman shoot the condemnable incident. Now, either the molesters were so daring that they did not give a damn about the camera's presence or they had a tacit understanding with the man shooting the entire event. The chances of former are very rare. Because, fear is an emotion that has a place in even in a law-breaker's heart.

So, it brings us to that age old debate over the role of media in situations like these. First, if the molestation was orchestrated and instigated by that cameraman/ journalist, it makes him a worse offender than the molesters themselves. But let's not jump onto this conclusion so early and wait for probe to conclude. But even if the incident was not choreographed, should the journalist have tried to stop it or should he have continued to shoot?

I belong to the school of thought that says a journalist must go ahead with the 'job' at had first. Because, the truth is that the 'truth' would have never come out and caused this national hysteria if there was no video footage. Every individual in the society has a definite role to play and I believe a journalist's role is to 'inform' the people. He is a messenger, much on the lines of a doctor being the saviour and the police being the protector. But again, in situations like these, an individual needs to move out of his traditional role and assume a greater collective responsibility towards the society. After all 30-minutes footage or the a 5-minute short clip, the 'message' would have been lucid enough in any case. Informing the police as soon as the possible, and intervening to stop the mob to the best of his abilities, are part of that collective social responsibility.

There are far too many horrendous blunders that have been committed in the Guwahati molestation case. From showing the face of the victim by the media to revealing her identity by the NCW (how ironic!?) and the Chief Minister's office, the trail of indifference is horrifying. Amidst all the hue and cry and the supposed aftermath of 'justice', the girl in question is turning out to be the greatest sufferer. Because, the channels and the reporters will move on, the government and the administration will cope up with the jolt too, but the victim's lost dignity is hard to be restored.

And I fear the worse. The Guwahati case will soon be forgotten.


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