The general complaint in Tamil Nadu right now is that the sexual assault and blackmail scandal that has hit the town of Pollachi (near Coimbatore), where over 200 women have been victims, would have merited front page stories and received non-stop coverage on primetime television had it happened anywhere near Delhi or Mumbai.
A heinous and heart-stopping crime is not getting the adequate coverage it needs because much of Indian media is Delhi/Mumbai-centric.
For those just tuning in, in Pollachi, a gang of men had been luring, for around two years, unsuspecting women and girls in the area through Facebook and WhatsApp friendship and taking them to lonely spots where they were sexually assaulted by the men (or had consensual sex) that were secretly (invariably without consent) filmed. Using the visuals, the women were later blackmailed to part with money and valuables, and also used for repeated sexual favours.
From college girls to housewives to working women, these men had targeted almost all of them and the number of victims, as per rough estimates, is around 200.
And only one of the women eventually went to the police and filed a formal complaint. Yes, around 199 (if not more) women had chosen to stay silent and suffer quietly. The reason for this is not hard to guess. The consequence of speaking out is the victims are usually stigmatized. Victim-shaming is the order of the day. In a relatively more conservative State like Tamil Nadu, it is even more pronounced, says Girija Kannan, a women’s activist.
“Look at what happened to Chinmayi (the singer). She called out lyricist Vairamuthu as a sexual predator. But bulk of the Tamil media and social media users targeted and trolled her. It was a classic case of victim-shaming. If it could happen to Chinmayi, a celebrity in her own right, imagine the scenario for poor and helpless women in a small town,” she says and adds “The Tamil media is worst in the matter. They have been utterly insensitive and there is no nuance in their understanding.”
Girija is spot on.
Most Tamil media outlets (both digital and mainline print publications) have approached the case with a view to sensationalising the events and also satisfying the voyeuristic inclinations of typical male viewers/readers by focusing on the ‘titillating’ and sleazy parts.
Most media outlets have suggested that the onus is on the women to stay safe (which is typically by dressing “properly” and staying away from social media.) “This trope is depressing. How long will they peddle such puerile, patriarchal ideas? We can at least understand if these are from common public But for the media to deliver such horrible homilies is sickening,” says Varsha Gopal, a student of mass communication in Chennai.
“It is such neanderthal views that embolden men to continue with their debauched ways. Tamil newspapers still see it is as “sex scandal”, whereas it is a clear case of sexual assaults and rapes. The choice of caption is in itself revealing of a troubling mindset,” she adds.
Aside from these, one controversial Tamil magazine’s digital platform had released the video of one of the victims being sexually assaulted by the perverts. In the video, she is begging with them for mercy. The airing of the clip is a major faux pas, as such videos should not be put out for public circulation. It is in clear violation of the norms handed down by women’s organisations. It reflects the absolute lack of sensitivity in humanism as well as journalism.
The worst thing is that the magazine and a section of the media have been arguing that the airing of that video has been the reason for the public arousal against the Pollachi sex criminals.
“What utter tosh?,” says M Jennifer, a content writer. “That you need videos of actual rape to impel a society into action is an idea that is so wrong at multiple levels.”
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