Sunday, January 17, 2010

Ruchika and Media Campaign

Commenting on the famous Mughal-e-Azam song ‘Jab raat hai aisi matwali phir subah ka aalam kya hoga’, M.J. Akbar once wrote,

“I have rarely come across a more startling and poignant metaphor for power.” Elaborating the metaphor he concluded, “Everyone in power is permitted the luxury of just one night, and no one ever believes that the night will come to an end. Deceivers promise a dawn filled with wine, when the truth is that dawn will bring a drug that will put the miracle to sleep. And you will wake up with nothing around you except loss; the mind swooning with the memory of what was, and the mouth bitter with the ash of what might have been.”

S.P. Singh Rathore, former DGP of Haryana and the accused in Ruchika Girhotra molestation case, belongs to Mughal-e-Azam generation and therefore it is safe to assume that he must have watched the epic film. Rathore was 19 when the film was released in 1960 and broke all the records. 30 years later, Rathore forgot the metaphor for power and molested 14-year old lawn tennis player Ruchika in 1990. For the next 19 years, Rathore was so blinded by power that he used all the available means to harass Ruchika’s family and to delay the verdict. It took more than 400 hearings with 40 adjournments to decide that Rathore was indeed guilty of ‘molestation’. (Guinness book of World Records must make a separate chapter on India: Judicial delay. Each year, it will find new records!)

Mainstream media has been totally consumed by Ruchika case. The media is running a campaign titled ‘Justice for Ruchika’. As the principles of journalism stand, it’s not for the media to crusade. The job of the media is just to report facts and not sensationalise it. Witch-hunt of S.P. Singh Rathore is not the job of media. Witch-hunt has never been part of good journalism. Witch-hunt is the duty of law-enforcement agencies and not journalists.

In the recent past, media has run successful campaigns for victims. One such name is Jesica Lall who was shot dead in 1999 by Manu Sharma, son of a Haryana Politician. Manu Sharma was acquitted by lower court in 2006. There was uproar in the media over his acquittal. A powerful media campaign ‘Justice for Jesica’ ensued. Finally Delhi High Court awarded Sharma life imprisonment based on the evidence.

One can argue for media campaign in favour of victims. But a close scrutiny of media’s behavioural pattern reveals it has vested interest in such campaigns. Such media campaigns have only been selective like ‘Justice for Ruchika’ and ‘Justice for Jesica’ although the list of such victims is long. Ishrat Jahan instantly comes to mind. Despite the different nature of the case, nobody can deny the fact that Ishrat Jahan was murdered in fake encounter. S.P. Tamang report, which has been stayed by High Court, has termed the entire operation as “planned” and cold-blooded murder.”

There was no media campaign for Ishrat Jahan. There was no slogan ‘Justice for Ishrat’.
Sohrabuddin Sheikh and Kausar Bi also deserved a media campaign for justice. Their extra-judicial killing is a much larger issue than Ruchika’s case. It’s a different matter that the accused D.G. Vanzara is behind the bars – thanks to Gujarat’s government’s “confession” in Supreme Court.

There was no media campaign for Sohrabuddin Sheikh and Kausar Bi . There was no slogan ‘Justice for Sohrabuddin and Kausar’.

Khawja Yunus case surpasses all limits. 7 years after his mysterious disappearance from police custody, trial is yet to be completed and all the 16 accused are free. There is no doubt that Khawja Yunus was murdered in police custody.

There was no media campaign for Khawja Yunus. There was no slogan ‘Justice for Khawja Yunus’.

Isn’t it strange that Narendra Modi-led BJP government is Gujarat has “confessed” to extra-judicial killings of Sohrabuddin Sheikh and Kausar Bi while the behaviour of Congress-led Maharashtra government in Khawja Yunus has been that of an old confused lady?

Strictly speaking, media should not crusade for any cause. And if it does so, there should not be any selective campaign as it has been argued. There should be no double standards. It is a fact that there was no media campaign when the victim happened to be a Muslim as discussed with three examples above.

The Rajput smile of S.P. Singh Rathore has infected the mainstream media. We hope that media will detoxify it before it becomes a disease! Rathore may have learnt to smile from Jawaharlal Nehru when one is in adversity but he would do well to remember this: Nehru did not smile when he lost China war; nor did he forget the power metaphor of Mughal-e-Azam.

Sunday Inquilab, January 17, 2009