The mainstream media should be praised over its campaign for females’ rights. In the past civilizations women would be treated as lesser human beings, the source of sins. So, it is of course a great achievement that we have not only started considering women as much human as men but also trying to give them equal rights and opportunities in day-to-day life. It is hoped that we will not end up making women a source of sexual satisfaction to be used and thrown when it loses charm.
In this context, the role of media cannot be ignored. So crazy is the media when it comes to rights of women and providing security—it should be considered why only women are in need of security against sexual exploitation—to them that it does not even care what message it is conveying and how.
Few days ago, the Indian wife of a French Consulate official Pascal Mazurier accused her husband of raping their young daughter for years. This is a serious allegation. The media duly condemned it. Pascal denied the charges of his wife and maintained that he could not have done this.
However, in the meantime the media used the words like “demon father” and “child rapist” to describe Pascal. It even gave prominent place to the news that one activist protesting against the rape slapped Pascal.
Not to take a stand for Mr. Pascal, but it should be accepted that an accused is innocent as long as his guilt is not proved through legal process. But the media accustomed to disgrace any one it wants went uncontrolled so much so that the wife, Suja Jones Mazurier, had to write to the media demanding to be fair to her husband. According to news appeared in The Hindu she appealed to the media to not use “harsh adjectives” such as “demon/monster father” while referring to Pascal.
In a letter, Suja asked: “Can you imagine what my children will go through when they grow up and read such words describing their own father?” She said she hopes the trauma faced by her family “will not be converted into a race issue by any of your journalists or the Indian or French public”.
She also said that it pained her to read harsh words against Pascal. “I am the complainant in this case but I still love my husband and it is very difficult for me to read such words in the press.” She was saddened to read that someone slapped her husband when he was being arrested.
In another incident related to women the media exhibited its craziness overemphasizing some points while completely ignoring some others. On July 12, the leaders of some 36 clans gathered in Asara village of West U.P. to ponder upon how to check the cases of females’ sexual exploitation. There they decided that women under 40—the age after which sexual desires of females almost vanishes and they do not have any charm to lustful men—should not visit the market unescorted, should not use personal mobile phones and when out of their homes should cover their faces. Besides, they sought a complete ban on love marriages, restriction on boys from taking photograph of girls on mobile phone –to check its misuse—and restriction on using ear phones while walking or driving, because it can lead to accident. They also decided to punish the boys found guilty of eve teasing.
The decision was taken after a consensus was reached among those present in the meeting and it was ostensibly to safeguard young girls and women from “teasing” and keep them safe from “roadside Romeos”. The panchayat, as reported in the media, was called after growing incidents of teasing in the village market and some cases of teenage girls eloping with boys.
When this incident was known to the media it was reported as Taliban-inspired diktat to suppress women and their freedom. It presented it as if the elder male Jats have treated their women like the Greek and European civilizations would do some time ago.
Reacting to the diktat the union home minister P. Chidambaram quite clearly said that “these kind of diktats by khap panchayats, fatwas, dress codes, according to me, they have no place in a democratic society.” He also asked UP government to ensure that such "illegal" orders were not enforced.
On the other hand Uttar Pradesh Minister Mohd Azam Khan said that it is an internal matter of the concerned society. According to him, people have freedom to express their views but the government will act in case there is any violation of law.
"It is not a fatwa. If people sitting in common village say something is not a diktat...Anyone can say anything....We have freedom of speech and how can you prevent from them from this, but if any force is used or it comes in the way of the law of the land then for that there is the government and there is law."
Besides some other organizations the All India Jat Arakshan Samiti (AIJAS) have also supported the ban with its President Yashpal Malik slamming Mr. P Chidambaram for calling khap panchayat and their decisions undemocratic.
He alleged that a section of media is painting khap panchayats in bad light. “We are also opposed to dowry system and female feticide but it is not being highlighted. Instead the decision we take for orderliness in the society in accordance with our traditions are dubbed as 'Talibani'," he said. The decision taken by the panchayat in Asra was an 'advisory' and not a 'diktat'," said Malik.
In another incident related to the khap panchayat— which the media had earlier called undemocratic and termed as running a parallel system—the media endorsed the decision of a Khap panchayat in Haryana's Jind district. The decision is about taking a strong stand against female foeticide and dowry system. It was decided during a grand gathering of over 150 khaps representing Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Rajasthan. They demanded an amendment in the law to book perpetrators of foeticide for murder. At present, foeticide is punishable by imprisonment for maximum five years.
As regards the rights of women and the freedom they should also enjoy, it has been a point of high controversy among religious elites and the so-called liberals of today. The ethical rulings which restrict actions of not only women but also men, set some codes of conduct to be followed in order to build a balanced and anarchy free society. They ask women to be more cautious as they are always on the receiving end of any sexual harassment.
There have been questions as to why should only women and girls always adjust in a society and why not men? Why should only women observe veils and not men? These questions do raise a point but they do not solve the problem. In the societies where, as per the media or common perception, women have complete freedom and enjoy their rights the cases of rape, molestation and harassment are reported by women not men. The torment of free sexual relations which results into undeclared polygamy is borne by women not by men: women have to bear the side effects of abortion, single mothers have to care for the children when live-in-partners desert them to chose another girl and it is again women who are teased and molested by trusted boyfriends.
In the name of freedom we can urge a woman scantily dressed to wander among men, who are naturally attracted to beauties, and that too at midnight but if she falls prey to animal extinct of men we will not be there to bear the physical and mental trauma she suffers. Sitting at a safe place we can only express oral sympathy. We can condemn the criminals in the strongest words possible. We can put the responsibility on the security officers. Will all this lessen the suffering of the victim?
Security to women must be ensured. But the security measures should not be confined to vigil and sensible behaviour of the police. Even police sometimes could turn molesters, as is seen in many of the cases, because they are among the human beings. So the security measures should be extended to the precautions a woman adopts in order to decrease the possibility of occurrence of any sexual abuse.
Stern punishments can do the trick. But why let the crimes occur in the first place? Ours is a stand similar to that of a Bangalore traffic police who stands at the other end of a narrow and meandering one-way lane to spot the drivers who have violated the traffic rule. After the violation has taken place the police are there to impose the law. Had the policeman been there to stop the drivers from entering in the wrong one-way lane there would have been no violation at all.
Similarly, if we check the causes of eve teasing, rape and harassment in the very first place we can successfully curb these crimes against women. But if we insist on increasing the causes and expect that crimes figure comes down at the same time it will be too foolish an expectation.
By A. Hameed Yousuf