Hathras Gang-Rape: In New India, Dead Victims are Vilified & Murder Accused Given Sympathy


Hathras Gang-Rape: In New India, Dead Victims are Vilified & Murder Accused Given Sympathy

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

After making a mockery of Rhea Chakraborty’s private life, exposing her WhatsApp chats, call logs, and hounding delivery boys outside her building, India’s shameless studio Sherlocks are onto their next target. As if blaming Rhea Chakraborty for the actions of an adult male actor weren’t enough, the vile victim blaming has shifted to the Hathras gang-rape and murder victim, a person who isn’t even alive to defend herself.

Can the media sink any lower?

Claiming to bring out the “truth” of the Hathras Protest, Times Now had access to the call data records of the accused and victim’s kin. The anchor told the viewers that the two spoke about 100 times between October 2019 and March 2020. The news channel even went into the lengths of the call and stated that some of them were as long as 900 seconds, which is roughly 15 minutes.

Using this data, the channel insinuated that they were probably “good friends” or were trying to “resolve an issue”. This comes in the backdrop of preposterous claims being floated on social media that the victim wasn’t raped but it was a case of “honour killing” by the family.

As one social media user asked, “Is the call record more damning evidence than an autopsy report and a dying declaration by the Hathras victim?” Are we now a society that continuously defends rape accused for political reasons?

On the heels of this media campaign, the Hathras accused have written a letter that states that they were “friends” with the victim, and have implied that the victim’s own family killed her because they objected to the friendship. According to an NDTV report, “Sandeep Thakur, who is in jail along with the three others, has written a letter to the police in Hathras, claiming that he and the 20-year-old woman were ‘friends’. ‘Apart from meeting, we used to speak on the phone once in a while,’ he wrote on Wednesday, in the handwritten letter in Hindi. The letter has the thumb impressions of all four accused.”

The media, along with political parties, has now institutionalised rumour mongering and conspiracy theories. Channels that wanted #JusticeForHathras are now asking if there is a “deeper truth” and whether an “international plot” existed to defame the government. The accused are now the victims and questions are being raised about the character of the victim who isn’t alive to defend herself.

The case has parallels to the Sushant Singh Rajput investigation where crazy theories were floated by the media and the Mumbai Police was maligned with all of Bollywood. When Rhea Chakraborty got bail and the AIIMS report came out, Times Now asked the question, “Will those who cried murder and maligned Mumbai police now introspect?’’ Is this supposed to be satire? It was precisely channels like Times Now and Republic TV who were doing the maligning.

As aptly stated by Shailja Bajpai for The Print, “From Rhea Chakraborty to Deepika Padukone, the main ‘accused’’ have been women—although nobody quite knows what they’re accused of—while Rajput’s family, his male friends and colleagues have ‘truth’ on their side.” The same pattern is now evolving in the Hathras case, with the attention from the crime and the hasty cremation by the UP Police now being diverted to asking questions like “is the upper caste being targeted?” and “is the anti-CAA cabal back?”

TV channels have made a mockery of the truth, as well as grievous crimes like mental illness, sexual assault, rape and drug abuse. The constant flip-flops on every issue of the day are expected by political parties and online trolls, not from news channels with facts at their disposal. WhatsApp University earlier existed only on the phone, it has now opened a branch even on electronic media – and that should leave us very worried.