According to news reports, on Nov. 29, a 16-year-old girl walked into a police station and reported that she was held prisoner in a flat in Defence Colony for two months, and was repeatedly raped by a bunch of young men, out of which she supposedly accused six by name.
Providing more detail to the story, newspapers reported that three out of the six are law students at Jamia, one of them worked for an unnamed private company, out of the six accused four were caught and two are absconding. The four caught were also named, and for the sake of this article it should be noted that all of them had Hindu sounding names. Two of the accused are from Haryana, one of them is from Bihar, the third’s state of origin is not mentioned but it is most likely he is also from some state in the North of India.
As for the girl: she is 16-years-old, a resident of Delhi but ethnically Nepalese, and a student of class 11. What school she went to is not mentioned.
The above mentioned is all the information they write about the people involved, both: the culprits and the victim of the crime.
Along with such details, the report tells a long story of how the girl ran away from home, stayed with a friend who later ditched her and told her to stay with some of her trusted friends, which she did, but once the young men found out she was a runaway they threatened her, raped her and kept her locked up for two very long months. The story is horrifying to say the least.
But from all of this information about the incident, most newspapers felt that the most important detail that needed to be highlighted in their headline was which university three out of the six culprits went to. There was something about their association with Jamia that needed to be highlighted in bold letters as part of the headline. Nothing else about the story seemed more important. And this was the case with at least three major national dailies.
As we all know, four of the biggest newspapers in India are The Times of India, The Hindustan Times, The Indian Express and The Hindu, and they all reported the incident. Following are their headlines:
First, the Times of India ran the headline on their front page that blared: “Three Jamia students among 4 held for Defence Colony gang rape” [Link]
ToI headline reads like three Jamia students gang raped Defence Colony. There is no mention of who got raped. Perhaps for ToI that’s not important; but what is important for them is to mislead their readers into believing that Jamia students went on a raping rampage of Defense Colony.
On the other hand, The Hindustan Times’s headline, which takes the cake, screamed: “16-yr-old girl gang-raped by Jamia students” [Link]
Although they mention a girl was raped, they did not feel the need to mention only three Jamia students were involved in the crime. They simply went ahead and declared that the entire Jamia student body of about 15,000 students raped one poor 16-year-old girl.
And last but not least, The Indian Express headline roared: “16-year-old girl confined, gangraped by 4 Jamia Law students for over 2 months” [Link]
Now though Indian Express mentions the girl and adds details such as she was confined for two months and the fact Jamia students were law students, they, however, just went ahead and turned all of the culprits into Jamia students; as if committing the crime and getting away with it was a Jamia class assignment.
What I fail to understand is how come these three newspapers found the fact that three out of the six culprits were Jamia students to be so important that it needed to be screamed and highlighted as part of the headline? The crime was not committed in Jamia. Everybody involved were not Jamia students. Students were not on a Jamia organized field trip. Jamia is no convent or religious seminary that the involvement of its students would be found shocking. So what was it about their association with Jamia that got the attention of their editors? This question is something that needs to be explored, which I will do later in this article.
And what about the schools or companies of the other culprits? How come they were not even mentioned? One of the accused, we are told, works for a private company. Apparently, this guy works for the only private company in Delhi that does not have a name, and is only known as a private company.
There were other things I felt could have been highlighted. The fact the girl was Nepalese and all of the culprits were North Indians was to me quite significant. We are all aware of the rampant racism there exists in Delhi against the people from the Northeast, Nepal included because of their similar facial features. That to me seemed a more reasonable aspect to highlight than the fact a few of the culprits went to Jamia. Which brings me to the fourth newspaper, The Hindu.
In stark contrast to the three poor excuses for a newspaper, The Hindu ran the headline: “Nepali girl claims being kept in confinement, raped” [Link]
What is so surprising about The Hindu story is that not only do they not mention Jamia in their headline, they do not even mention Jamia in their news story. They simply say, “a reputed Delhi-based university.” The Hindu — probably the only national daily in India with a semblance of journalistic integrity — recognized that it would be wrong to drag Jamia’s name into a story that had very little bearing on the incident reported on. Besides, like people, institutions have a reputation to maintain. And by recklessly associating and highlighting the name of an institution with a heinous crime like rape, newspapers are guilty of defaming the good name of the institution, and all those who are associated with it.
In my opinion the university should write an open letter to the editors of all these newspapers registering their protest on what they have done and must demand an apology from them.
On reading this, some might say, well though it was wrong for these newspapers to highlight Jamia’s name like that, it was just an innocent mistake on the part of the editors. Editors probably felt Jamia was too big a name not be highlighted, regardless of how irrelevant it was to the story. They’re just incompetent editors and did not mean to insinuate anything.
And with those people, I beg to disagree.
I believe the editors of these newspapers knew very well what they were doing. Their intentions were a lot more sinister than we give them credit for. And their motives can be ascertained by the effect these headlines have had on their readers. Just visit the the ToI website and read the comments under it. The last time I checked, there were about 500 comments on this news story. And at least half of the comments are about Islam and Muslims, and how this incident is indicative of something inherently wrong with the religion and its adherents.
I cite a few representative examples below to give you an idea of what I’m talking about:
First example: “As usual muslims are the main culprits, they are following their founders footstep.”
This bigot didn’t even bother to read the story and spewed his hate onto the forum. But then that is how many of us read the newspaper. We skim headlines. And that is what he did, and this is why headlines matter so much.
Second example: “First of all they from Harijans (I think he meant to say Haryana), a rapist state, second from Islamic university ,what more you will expect”
First off, this is the first time I’ve heard Haryana being called a rapist state. I don’t know where that’s coming from. And second, conforming to the popular belief among Hindu fanatics, he thinks Jamia is an Islamic university.
Third example: “Glorified jamia, full of Suppressed n rotten minds ……………. BIG SHAME!!!”
The real shame is that ToI allows such ignorant and hateful comments to be published on their website.
The editors of these newspapers know their readers very well. They knew perfectly well that a significant portion of their readership comprises of Islamophobic Muslim-haters. These editors knew very well a headline with the name of Jamia was bound to catch the attention of such prejudiced minds, who unfortunately seem to form a considerable portion of their readership.
These newspapers played to the gallery and appealed to their readers’ base emotions. These newspapers are guilty of fomenting and reinforcing feelings of enmity against the minority community. They might not bear bigoted beliefs themselves, but they know what sells. If spreading hate will push paper, then they have no qualms in doing that exactly — journalistic ethics be damned!