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Dear NBSA, we are not fair game because we disagree. You just created a monster you can’t control

I was in class 8 when I had my first brush with what sexual harassment really feels like. I was a little girl, walking to school. The car had to be parked a little further away. I remember distinctly. It was debate day and I was trying to remember all the little points that I had carefully researched. Right then, while I walked, uncaring, unfettered, never for one moment thinking that this day would teach me a lesson I wouldn’t forget, a man, clad in white shirt walked past me. Away from the gaze of the world, with one hand he slapped my buttocks and while walking past, with the other, pressed my breast. I was about 14.

I did nothing. I felt miserable. Violated. I wanted to find him and break his bones. But I did absolutely nothing. I walked to school. I debated. Argued. Sat through my lessons and went back home. While walking to my ride at the end of school hours, I was a changed girl. I looked around incessantly and wondered who might be the next one to make me feel the way I did a few hours ago. In that moment, or even in the moment right after I felt violated if someone had asked me to prove that I was harassed, I would have absolutely no way to provide any evidence. The man groped me and walked past like nothing happened. If I had raised a stink, how would I prove that it did really happen? How would I prove that I wasn’t lying? How would I prove that I wasn’t just hankering for attention? Or that I didn’t have some personal grudge against that man? Or that maybe I just misunderstood his “squeeze”, his smacking of the lips while doing so. I was a kid after all.

That is the tragedy of it all, isn’t it? A woman, can often not produce proof of sexual harassment because it happens in crowded allies and is done by nonchalant men. But what if there is proof and yet, the woman is subjected to worst kind of scrutiny and insult, simply because her harasser is connected to someone powerful. Something similar has happened to Republic TV reporter, Shivani Gupta. She was heckled, harassed, humiliated with lewd gestures, to a point where she had to be escorted out of Jignesh Mevani’s ‘hunkar rally’ under police protection. It was on video.

Over the course of the reportage, Republic TV circled the face of the man who harassed Shivani and called him a goon. A sexist. A spineless man.

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If you watched your colleague get harassed on television, what would you call them? Perhaps worse. But the NBSA (News Broadcasting Standards Authority) doesn’t think so. Instead of standing in solidarity with a journalist who was heckled in the most grotesque manner on national television, the NBSA has taken it upon themselves to question Shivani. The NBSA, in all its wisdom, decided that the issue wasn’t that the reporter was harassed. In fact, in spite of being given a CD that captured the horror, the NBSA decided that they couldn’t conclusively tell if Shivani was harassed.

My sources tell me that a certain lady from NDTV, during the committee hearing went so far as to tell Shivani that ‘these things happen in the field’. Shivani was made to come face to face with her harasser. Shivani was made to sit through a humiliating experience while the man who allegedly incited people to harass her sat and justified, and even denied what he had done.

The hearing became a battle between the established media world and Arnab Goswami. The battle became about showing Arnab Goswami his place. The battle became about telling Arnab Goswami that he and his team don’t matter because their views differ. In all of this, Shivani’s ordeal got lost.

The NBSA listed broadcasting rules of impartiality and objectivity. And in all its wisdom, observed that on 7.9.2018, Republic must, on full screen, run this apology:

“On the debate “Jignesh Flop Show” aired on Republic TV on 9.1.2018 at 9 PM, the channel had inadvertantly circled the visual of Mr A Singh, while running the pictures of its News Editor Ms Shivani Gupta being confronted by individuals present at the Jignesh Mevani Rally. It was a genuine error, an oversight by our video editor, and not intentional. Therefore, we wish to convey our regret for the error which we reiterate was unintentional”.

It doesn’t stop there. They went a step further. The NBSA observed that if Republic fails to display this message on the 7th, they will have to display another message on the 14th.

“On the debate ‘Jignesh Flop Show’ aired on Republic TV on 9.1.2018 at 9 PM, this channel had circled the visual of A Singh (while running pictures) of its News Editor Ms Shivani Gupta as targeting and intimidating her. On a complaint by A Singh, News Broadcasting Standards Authority has passed an order dated 30.8.2018 holding that Mr Arnab Goswami, who anchored the programme, was not justified in using the words “I am going to show these crude, lewd hyenas/show the dirty faces of lewd, cheap, vulgar, sexist, pervert anti-Indian goons” with reference to the complainant. NBSA further held that this channel had violated the Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards of NBA and the Specific Guidelines Covering Reportage and should, therefore, air an apology to Mr A Singh. Accordingly, we hereby apologise to Mr A Singh for wrongly referring to him as lewd, cheap, vulgar, sexist, pervert, anti-Indian goon.”

The NBSA also instructed Republic to remove the video from its website. The video that in part showed Shivani being harassed. In all of this, the harasser complained to a broadcasting authority that decided there was no sexual assault even though Shivani has filed an FIR with the police. The NBSA decided that the video should be deleted. Arnab should apologise for being agitated about his colleague being harassed and having to be pulled out by the police. The NBSA forgot about the victim to protect a man who is close to Jignesh Mevani who has himself indulged in lying and inciting hate and violence.

And we have seen this before, haven’t we? We remember how a journalist with The Wire was heckled by ‘Dalit activists’ and was asked by her Editors to ‘let it go’ because it didn’t suit their narrative. In essence, it almost seems like the entire fraternity is upset with Arnab Goswami for not asking Shivani to let it go. He didn’t compromise on his colleague’s dignity. He stood up for her. He spoke up for her. He stood by her. Perhaps that is why Arnab is being asked to apologise and Shivani, being asked to “let it go” when she is told that “such things happen in field reporting”.

Asking a woman to provide proof beyond video evidence is rather interesting. Perhaps Shivani needed two male members from the crowd to attest to the fact that she was indeed harassed. Perhaps the fraternity is willing to adopt the Saudi way just to ensure that a woman ‘lets it go’ and Arnab can be brought to his knees.

Shivani spoke up. She vowed she won’t be silenced.

I reached out to Arnab Goswami and he had this to say:

“Republic and team will fight this unacceptable order of NBSA. We have written to NBSA. We are distressed that the harassment of Shivani by a bunch of perverts us being rationalised. The individual in question was harassing Shivani all day and incited the mob surrounding her. She had to be pulled out from the horrible situation by the Police. A vulgar mob was invited to heckle and invited by this man and Republic is asked to apologise? If this becomes a precedent, harassment, vulgar and lewd attacks will become normalised. I have fought fake news attacks by vested interests for long. That is water off a duck’s back. But this, we will not accept. We will not take this lying down and request NBSA for a review. I will personally appear before the NBSA if I need to. Every Republic professional is with us on this”.

NBSA hid behind the veil of broadcasting ethics to silence a victim. The usual suspects cheered the decision. The ones who talk about women empowerment and the rights of women stood by, like stoic cows and did absolutely nothing. Shivani is fair game because she works for Republic. Republic reporters and professionals are fair game because their ideology is different from the cabal that rules. The aim is to bring Arnab to his knees, even if Shivani gets caught in the crossfire.

This silence and this order will haunt the cabal. They are creating a monster that knows no loyalty. They are creating a situation where holding opposing views would mean that women can be harassed.

Today, I remember my 14-year-old self, and somehow, the fear I felt then, grips me again today. I am alone. We are alone. If we don’t conform, we can be harassed and nobody from the Lutyens Elite would have a problem with that. We are fair game because we disagree.

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Nupur J Sharma
Editor, OpIndia.com since October 2017

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