what need for "overkill " ?

ON 16 October I came across a report by a national daily on North-east women being “rescued’ in “mainland” India. Headlined “3 held from spas for prostitution”, it reported that 11 girls from Manipur and Assam, who were trainees there, were rescued and that the owner was still running the business despite being arrested earlier. If the report is to be taken seriously, one wonders how, in a metropolitan city like Chennai, a massage parlour can be run by girls from only the North-east. The police officer in question also seemed to be well informed as he reportedly said the girls had accepted such “jobs” after being offered extra money.

This year alone more than five stories relating to North-east women being caught, harassed, molested or rescued appeared in the national media. In September, the same newspaper reported that a minor from the North-east was rescued from Haryana. It said the girl was from Mizoram. In May, the paper also reported that two North-east women were harassed by “foreign” students in Bangalore. Earlier, in February, it was reported that two Yemeni nationals were caught with Manipuri girls after a dramatic chase in Bangalore and that they were later taken into custody.

There have been a number of telecasts, shows, talks/panel discussions and feature stories on the problems North-east women face or how they are being treated in Delhi or mainland India.

The story about the police chase involving Manipuri girls and foreigners (Yemeni nationals) in Bangalore appeared more like a “drama” than a “serious case” when one takes into account the detailed descriptions, timing of occurrence and who the two women were. Two days later it was reported that the two foreigners were booked under “attempt to murder”, a serious case, indeed. The headline ran, “2 foreign students harass NE women, create nuisance”. It said the two (from South Africa and Saudi Arabia) were reportedly drunk and had no resident permits and would be deported if they were found to be without valid permits. In highlighting the case, the report added extra “masala” by specifically mentioning North-east girls. This was, to say the least, most scandalous. The whole story became one of “NE women harassment”.

Mind you, it isn’t just the national media that reports such North-east women-related stories and their “vulnerability” and “victimisation” in “mainland” India. Even the local media frequently publishes such reports, including those that are not reported in the national media. The local-based websites are flooded with updates/uploads with links to such news items. Moreover, reports of rape and murder of North-east women spread like wildfire. Simple Googling provides access to numerous reports/stories of this nature. In fact, a representative of the North-east Helpline told me that “unless the media picks up the story, the police are not bothered”. Well said. Media “intervention” does pressure the police (security agencies) into action and catches the attention of the authorities concerned.

In the widely-covered story of the Hongray case (she was allegedly raped and murdered in Delhi on November 2009) the defence counsel pleaded for bail on the ground that the accused had confessed under media pressure!

In raising concern for the problems faced by North-east women and the need to alert the authorities or push the police into action, it becomes inevitable to produce a “news-worthy” item which results in the practice of sensationalism. One can also notice the changing trend in these reports. Earlier, victims were normally referred to as “North-east girls/women”. In recent times identification is more area specific – “a Manipuri girl, a Mizo girl, a Naga girl... molested…”

On 17 October, a case of “harassment” of North-east women in mainland India was reported in local dailies, websites and blogs. What this amounted to was repetition of a press release by an organisation that exclusively deals with such cases. The story (rather the press release) was titled, “Naga girl from Manipur sexually molested...”

There is no denying the fact that such despicable acts deserve the strongest punishment, but what need for media “overkill” in portraying women from this region as “helpless victims”, “vulnerable” or “na├»ve migrants”?

The Statesman
December 5, 2011