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Media anchoring positive protests against sexual assault in India

Author's name: 
Ritu Srivastava (Digital Empowerment Foundation)
New Delhi, India

Protests in New Delhi, December 22nd and 23rd, 2012Protests in New Delhi, December 22nd and 23rd, 2012Slogans like ‘Don’t stop your daughter from going out. Teach your son how to behave’ has evoked thousands to take their anger and outrage to the streets after the brutal incident of a 23-year-old girl, who was gang-raped on a moving bus on the night of December 16, 2012 in Delhi.

The protests that have erupted in Delhi against rape and sexual assault cases are reverberating across media, including print, electronic and social media. The attention from media is always important in such caused-based movements in a country like India, where the number of rapes shot up by a flabbergasting 873 percent between 1953 and 2011, according to CPI-M’s ‘People’s Democracy’ latest edition. Between 2007 and 2011, rape incidents increased by 9.7 percent in the country – Delhi saw 2,620 rape cases during that period, while Mumbai had 1,033, Bangalore 383, Chennai 293 and Kolkata 200 cases. However, the struggle and movement against such criminal acts, is not the first time in India. Two years, before, in 2010, media played vital role in bringing out the truth behind Jessica Lal’s case.

Print Media: A Catalyst

The media has catalysed anger among citizens and civil society groups. Following the death of the victim on the Saturday 29, December 2012, the continuous coverage of the spontaneous protests all over the country by print and electronic media has created a momentum within society and government to focus on criminal acts and take immediate steps towards preventing such brutal crimes.

National newspapers such as The Hindu, Times of India, The Indian Express, Hindustan Times, and others, continuously publish protestors’ movement and promote the movement among masses not only through print but also through their electronic version. On 19 December, 2012, the TOI (New Delhi edition) dedicated its front page to ‘Times View’ with the headline, ‘Enough Talk. Let’s make women safe’. The ‘Times View’ also included ‘6-Point Action Plan’ with respect to such cases – 1) Harder Punishment 2) Sensitize Police 3) Fast Track Courts 4) Better Patrolling 5) Use Technology 6) Database of Public Transport Personnel.

Meanwhile, another national newspaper, The Hindu organized public forum on December 28, 2012 bolstering the fight against sexual violence from various perspectives: legislation, law enforcement, social activism, media and from the perspective of students.

Regular coverage of the incident by print and electronic media attracted attention from international news agencies as well as human rights’ organizations. International Newspapers’ such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Times Magazine, The Guardian, BBC News, etc.

Reporting on the death of the victim, the New York Times stated, “Revulsion and anger over the rape have galvanized India, where women regularly face sexual harassment and assault, and where neither the police nor the judicial system is seen as adequately protecting them”, while the Washington Post reported, “The brutal rape shook Indians out of their usual apathy.”

Time Magazine carried out a photo feature on “an alleged gang rape in Delhi (that) has prompted calls for change by women’s rights groups and violent clashes between police and anti-rape protests in the nation’s capital.”

The incident not only sparked Indian human rights’ authorities, but also the UN Secretary General, Ban-Ki Moon, who expressed his grief towards the victim. Giving a statement, “Every girl and woman has the right to be respected, valued and protected,” in The Guardian, Ban’s intervention takes the ‘fallout’ from the incident to a ‘new level’.

Social Media: A New Medium to Channel Protest

The nationwide outrage over the issue on women’s safety and security was not only limited to street vigils and media coverage; internet users too join in protest and anger. Two worlds of life – online and offline joined together for this movement. Protestors used online platforms to express their outrage and lend solidarity to the street protestors, demanding for stringent punishment against the accused.

Within four days of the incident, online petition site, Change.org received over 65000 signatures for an appeal for the petition, “President, CJI: Stop Rape Now!”, initiated by ex-journalist Namita Bhandare, that seeks the intervention of President Pranab Mukherjee and Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir. Netizens also created their own other online petitions like Death to Rape and Rapists in India: Death Penalty to Rapists, and ‘Death Penalty For Rapists’ are seeking capital punishment for the accused.

On platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter, users replaced their profile photo with black dot symbol signifying ‘shame in a country where women are unsafe’. The Facebook page of ‘The Black Dot of Shame’, signifies, “India mourns the Brave One…Salute to the Brave Girl. We will always remember your Pain, Struggle and Courage. You taught us how to fight back for our Rights and Justice. May our Hero rest in peace, and may God give her family strength. We will not rest until we have our country back in our hands.”

Facebook event pages such as ‘Protest At India Gate: Assemble at Nizamuddin Gole Chakkar’, invited netizens to be part of street vigils, while in Kochi, Facebook event page, ‘Respect Her!! “Its How You Think, Not What She Wears!!”, invited people not to repeat such crimes in Kochi.

As the second largest user base in India, 10 groups have been created to bring women together for the cause. A Facebook group called for a one day, ‘“Aurat Bandh”, where women across the country will not work or take care of their families until the issue is set right. Over 1600 people responded to the ‘March for the girl who was raped badly’ event Ujjval Bhasin created on Facebook.

Within 10 days of the incident, the Facebook groups ‘Gang Raped in Delhi’, created on 20 December 2012, and ‘Delhi for Women’s Safety’, created on 18 December 2012, received 5046 and 4263 Likes ‘respectively. Other Facebook groups such as ‘Delhi Gang Rape-Protest By Youth’ (with 572 Likes), ‘Another girl gang raped in Delhi – Can we stop it?’ (with 229 Likes), ‘Delhi Gang Rape-Please Don’t Ignore “Must Read” For Damini’ (with 1682 Likes), ‘Delhi Gang Rape-Protest’ (with 230 Likes) have emerged out as individual-fight against such crimes. These groups are acting like platforms and have given a voice to everyone, even those who want to protest against sexual assault cases in India even if they are out of the country.

If Facebook is calling for the mass-movements, then Twitter is witnessing moment by moment reports by protestors. Twitter, which has approx 16 million users in India, has been abuzz with news of the protests. Hashtags (#) such as #Damini and #Nirbhaya (based on given name to victim), #JantarMantar, #Delhirape, #DelhiProtest, #IndiaGate, #stopthisshame, #RapeFreeIndia, #braveheart, #delhigangrape, #StopCrimeAgainstWomen, #Rashtrapatibhavan, #Raisinahill, #Tahrir Square” (a reference to street protests that took place in Egypt during the Arab Spring last year) and #Standup through which hundreds of tweets condemning the incident, the death and demanding stronger reforms.

The tweet “Delhi looks more like India’s Tahrir Square” by film director; Shekhar Kapur has been retweeted at least 100 times. Even this was fewer than the 200 retweets when Bangladesh based author, Taslima Nasreen tweeted “Women get raped in India every 20 min. But the authority doesn’t want women to protest against rape. Not even for 20 min. #DelhiGangRape”

As a follower of Shekhar Kapoor, Anand Mahindra, Chairman of Mahindra, immediately announced that it is tying up with the Delhi police and decided to launch a smartphone application, FightBack, allowing users to seek emergency help.

On Google Trends’ search volume index, ‘Delhi gang rape’, ‘Rape in Delhi’ and ‘gang-rape victim’ phrases have been among the top search phrases in India, reaching a peak on December 20, 2012. In a memory of the victim, even Google India on December 29, 2012 placed a virtual candle on its home page with a mouseover tooltip reading, ‘In memory of the Delhi Braveheart’.

Through this online agitation, people are asking the lawmakers to wake up and make stringent law against such crime, according to Adhvith Dhuddu, founder and CEO of Bangalore-based social media management firm Alive Now.

The social media invited for collective protest, media websites called huge crowds for protest all over the country. The continued efforts of media and social media have created a kind of atmosphere compelling the authorities to focus on fast process against sexual cases. Cause-based social movements need such efforts, support from media journalists, online protestors including bloggers, tweet-geekers, individuals, students, and all citizens who are outraged by the violence and experienced such crimes in their lives.

This social protest has clearly indicated that people no longer tolerate such brutality. The chorus of justice is growing louder and louder with every Tweets, every Facebook posts and every BBM messages. Enough is Enough!

Photo by Ritu Srivastava

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