We are sorry for not covering the rape of the tribal women of Chhattisgarh.
When the Bengaluru mass molestation happened, we wrote about it extensively. We were outraged, and rightly so. We pointed out the oft-forgotten fact – women are humans, not someone’s property. Then we linked you to a fabulous woman, who made a viral video in response to the incident.
But when news emerged about the allegations of rape, and sexual and physical assault of 16 women, mostly tribal, by police personnel in Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur district, we did not talk about it. Nor did much of the media. A rampage akin to the invasion of an army (as one website has put it) – where the state-appointed security personnel raped and assaulted allegedly as many as 40 women including teenagers and breastfeeding women – all were met with silence by the media. Including us.
The Indian Express dated November 2, 2015, reported that women hailing from five villages had alleged that the Chhattisgarh police personnel sexually harassed and assaulted over 40 women, most of whom were tribal. They also alleged that at least two women in the district of Bijapur, where there is a considerable Maoist presence, were gang-raped. One of them was a 14-year-old who was blindfolded while she was being gang-raped.
This incident came to light when the NHRC (National Human Rights Commission) was recently in the news for sending a notice to the Chhattisgarh government.
Whose story is worth telling? Whose tragedies are worth sympathy? Sexual violence against whom is worth outrage?
Four years ago, the December 2012 Nirbhaya rape case incited outrage from the media as well as a certain section of the masses. In September 2012, a young Dalit girl in Dabra, Haryana, was gang-raped. The attack was filmed; her father, unable to bear the shock, committed suicide soon after. There were protests – only by a group of Dalits in the village. The media only reported the incident and wrote follow-ups about it.
When the Bengaluru incident occurred on New Year’s Eve, the English-speaking media riled up, outraging, criticising the police, collectively fuming at the sh*t politicians had to say about it the next day. How many times did we talk about sexual violence against tribal women, in comparison?
We all can relate to the woman who went out with a friend for a movie and was gang-raped on her way home. We cannot relate to the young village girl living in Bijapur who was gang-raped while she was outside, grazing her cattle. The former incident angers us because that is the kind of life we ourselves – or we know our female friends – lead. The latter does not. That kind of life is so alien to our sanitised, modern world, that it almost seems natural that violence, which has no place in our world, is part of theirs. And does not incite rage on our part. And we apologise.`
There is no whataboutery involved here. There cannot be. There is no competition about whose sexual violence is more brutal than whose. There is, however, a clear preference for whose violence we consider worth telling, reporting, being indignant about.
We, as a media organisation, are sorry for making such a preference.