On 30th November 2014, two girls parachuted into our lives and created quite a stir. As soon as their video where they valiantly fought off “Sexual predators” surfaced on Times Now, Twitter was abuzz with congratulatory messages lauding the brave sisters for standing up to the menace of sexual molestation head on. The boys were called “Sexual Predators”, “molesters”, “cretins” etc. And just like that, India had found its newest heroes. The Rohtak Bravehearts.
The Girls were made overnight heroes, but the rest had to suffer:
- Kuldeep Hooda, one of the “sexual predators” was denied the permission to sit for the Army written exam.
- The bus conductor and driver were suspended (later reinstated pending internal enquiry)
- By 14th December, this issue had taken a dangerous casteist turn. The Bairagi Samaj demanded that the sisters be awarded the bravery award which was put on hold due to conflicting stories. Members of the Samaj took out rallies in Jind and submitted a memorandum to the DC stating that the affidavit that was provided by the Jat family of the accused be probed by an SIT and that the members of the Bairagi samaj would hold a mahapanchayat demanding the girls be honoured.
As all molestation crimes go, this would ordinarily be the end of it for the Media. The case would have dragged on and Media would have moved on to juicier scoops. In this case, however, the plot only thickened.
A second video surfaced where these very girls were seen beating up two others boys in a parkway before the Rohtak incident. Activist Deepika Bhardwaj also posted videos with eye witness testimonies that vouched for the boys’ innocence. Labelling the girls as serial offenders who would beat men up alleging sexual molestation, film the incident and then blackmail the accused for money.
While I laud the mainstream media and especially Times Now (since they spearheaded this entire campaign at least till the women looked like the victims) as a woman for taking up our cause so valiantly and unabashedly, as usual, they made certain errors that has probably cost three seemingly innocent men their dignity and their career.
- When the allegations started to fly towards the women after the second video surfaced, The Indian Women’s Press Corps (IWPC) and the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) Invited the sisters’ to “Clear doubts that have emerged on their integrity”. NOBODY bothered to invite the boys to clear the doubts that had emerged on their honour.
- The boys’ side of the story was that when they were asked to change buses, the girls were occupying a seat that was allotted to an old woman. When the boys asked the girls to make way for the old lady, they started a brawl. This story wasn’t pursued by the Media like the original story was.
- In Activist Deepika Bhardwaj’s interview with the sarpanch, he mentioned that the girls wanted a scooty each for letting the boys off the hook. This was agreed to by the boys’ families. But since their other demand of beating up the boys publicly was refused, the video found its way to Media houses. Nobody followed up on this.
- There was another story that emerged where a man alleged that they had extorted Rs.20,000 each from four other men using the same reuse.
- The final nail in the coffin was when we were told recently, that the girls had failed their Polygraph tests, while the accused boys passed theirs. Are polygraph tests foolproof? Not by a mile. “But Proponents will say the test is about 90 percent accurate. Critics will say it’s about 70 percent accurate,” said Frank Horvath of the American Polygraph Association. Judging by those odds alone, it seems prima facie, there’s a 70% (Minimum) probability that the boys were labelled predators for no good reason. These test results were out on 31st December 2014. The police only made it public recently. However, I don’t see the media pursuing this angle or labelling the women predators.
Everything discussed so far shows a certain Media apathy that can’t be escaped. There were pieces of evidence that a simple activist with a handy cam could unearth. It is unfathomable that the entire Media machinery wasn’t privy to that information. And if we make way for the fact that they really didn’t know, then the only conclusion I can draw is that perhaps, they didn’t bother finding out. So then, does NEWS FIRST always trump RIGHT NEWS? Even when the lives of five individuals are at stake?
Or is it that we don’t bother to look beyond the alleged victim’s version which points to an entirely different kind of apathy altogether. I’m a woman who has stayed alone for five long years in my college days. Sexual harassment is undoubtedly a heinous problem in our country. I have personally experienced it many times. A lewd comment. A nonchalant brush against my chest while walking down a busy ally. Random men gesticulating and propositioning. A woman sees it all. I have even slapped a few of them which I talk about very proudly. But does this mean that every woman who alleges molestation is to be taken at face value?
The additional public prosecutor A T Ansari, one of the main prosecutors in the Nirbhaya case said, “This is an unfortunate trend. In many cases, women come up with the plea that they had registered the case out of anger and due to misunderstanding,”. A Times of India article states that the acquittal rate in Rape cases was 46% in 2012, it shot up to 75% in 2013 Legal experts say the high acquittal rates are because of a spurt in the number of false rape cases being filed. The observations of judges in acquittal cases also bear this out.
As a married woman, this is a worrying trend for me. To know that a random woman can allege molestation to extort money from my unsuspecting husband is scary. What is scarier is the collective apathy of the Media and the society alike. It begs a larger question. Do men have no dignity that can be compromised by these false allegations? Is it a given that every woman is necessarily the victim and every man the aggressor? Certainly, our Media thinks so because this “Rohtak Braveheart” story was a glaring example of how shoddily channels seem to report on sensitive issues. The moment evidence surfaced that perhaps proved the innocence of the men involved, the Media was conspicuously silent. The Boys dignity, their career, their lives, be damned.
I’m here in no way pronouncing a judgment on the Rohtak case however compelling the evidence might be. But the sad reality is that in this case, as in many cases the Media played the role of the Judge, Jury and the Executioner, pronouncing the women as victims of a heinous crime, and the boys as the sexual predators. They not only successfully ruined the lives of three probably innocent boys but also undermined the cause of every real victim who will surface henceforth. They insulted every individual who trusted their bogus and blatant omission of facts and was up in arms supporting the Rohtak sisters. I for one will probably think twice before I trust their reports again. And THAT would certainly be on conscience.
Editor, OpIndia.com since October 2017