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Media Trials Have Impeded Justice And Compounded The Miseries Of Victims

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How the mainstream media has covered Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide has given rise to a plethora of critical and urgent questions which includes the need and significance of medial trials and journalistic ethics. Indian media, once known for its independence and incisive with media houses like Tehelka, which have historically played a pivotal role in cases like that of Jessica Lal where a sting operation by the same publication uncovered the truth.

Arnab, Mujhe Drugs Do
The editor-in-chief of a media house dramatically and disgustingly enacting a scene.
Credits: TabloidXO

But now, mainstream media has ended up telecasting dramatic shows which are almost like daily soap operas. What we now see are flashy headlines and enticing farce claims of new revelations on our TV or handset. While doing it for the TRPs and more so to deviate from the topics which would displease “Big Brother”, the media maintains that they do it just for their audience (“sirf apne darshakon ke liye“). Be it the editor-in-chief of a media house dramatically and rather disgustingly enacting a scene (“mujhe drugs chahiye”) or TV reporters hounding the food delivery boy who went to the prime accused’s house, Indian media has been stooping to new lows everyday.

Even before the investigation could take its course, actress Rhea Chakraborty, Rajput’s girlfriend and primary caregiver at the time of his death, was hounded and vilified by the media. The prime accused in the case, Rhea, was instantly made the villain of this story. Conspiracy theories accuse her of planning Rajput’s murder to gain full control of his money and available assets. These theories are being actively peddled by the media as fact, not as speculation, and have resulted in great transgressions of Chakraborty’s safety and privacy. She is subjected to a constant, daily barrage of online trolling and death threats and violent character assassinations on public platforms.

History has been a witness to cases where a trial by the media has compromised fair and concise investigations. For instance, in the Aarushi Talwar murder case, the media caricatured both the victim and the accused. There is a striking resemblance between the two cases in how the media handled them. The accused were judged based on their appearance, their facial expression and whatnot.

In cases like these, very often an attempt is made to run a sort of parallel investigation by media reporters primarily based on an intrusion in the personal sphere of the accused itself which infringes the accused’s Right to Privacy which is their fundamental right guaranteed by our constitution. This kind of seemingly instant justice action by the media generates a widespread sentiment among the public which doesn’t necessarily have to do with the truth, and that is where our concern should lie. Although it has been a subject of debate whether such public sentiment should affect the course of justice, verdicts like that of Ayodhya proves that they do.

Rhea accused of being a witch
A prominent media house discusses the possibility of Rhea being a witch.
Credit: Aman Sharma/Twitter

There is also a considerable misogynist angle to this case which cannot be ignored. Because the accused is conventionally not as successful and rich, her identity is being reduced to a “gold-digger”. From day one, she has been demonised. Even her wearing a Salwar Kameez was called an attempt to whitewash her alleged crime. The allegations did not end here. She was called a vish-kanya and also a witch who did black magic on Sushant. As ridiculous as it sounds, there was a prominent media house that discussed the possibility of Rhea being a witch.

To quote Lawyer Karuna Nandy, “Rhea Chakraborty’s media trial is something that should deeply worry all women. There is a way in which [this] woman has been taken out of a particular situation and labelled a criminal by national mainstream media, in Bhojpuri songs, [and] by lawyers on national TV.

She adds, “Rhea Chakraborty was someone who was in a relationship with Sushant Singh Rajput. Clearly, the family did not like it — another piece of evidence that has crept into the public domain. Let us be clear that there will be lots of evidence that we have absolutely no idea about and those could point to the direction of anyone’s guilt. Why is there such demonisation of this woman? This trope in our minds that family is always right and another person who might have loved Rajput a lot is wrong; there is a gender component to it. Not only is she a woman — she is a particular kind of woman.” 

If we remember, the suicide case of Jiah Khan, who also was a budding actress at the time of her death did not receive attention. Neither did Sooraj Pancholi, the accused, received the wrath of the media and the public the way Rhea has received it. In the former case, Sooraj Pancholi was even accused by Jiah in her suicide letter.

In this case, there is no substantial evidence so far against Rhea. She is being targeted for living off Sushant’s money which should not be a matter of concern for anyone. Her Whatsapp screenshots and call recordings have been put in the public domain. Not only she but even her family, friends and acquaintances whose names were in the screenshots are being rampantly threatened. Every single piece of personal information is being closely scrutinised and is being spiced up. One is bound to think if the sensationalisation of this case acts in favour of some people? And the answer is — yes, it does.

The media is employing the diversion tactic here. Diversion from all crucial issues which might involve criticism of the present government. This became even more evident when a news anchor dodged the question raised by a political analyst regarding the Chinese army’s infiltration and negative GDP of the country by saying “don’t waste the nation’s and the viewers’ time”.

The unfortunate incident of Sushant’s death is being hyped and politicised rather unnecessarily in the wake of Bihar elections since he hailed from Bihar. It is being turned into propaganda and is being tried in the media so vigorously because the sad incident fulfils the vested interests of the politicians-media-industrialist nexus. It might die down very quickly once the elections are over. 

Also, I would like to remind that the day after Sushant’s death, 20 of our soldiers were killed on the LAC, but the “nationalist” media did not even question the government about the same. No hue and cry and no hashtags for their justice. Another thing that the media chooses not to talk about is the deteriorating condition of our economy. Once the fastest-growing, we are facing the worst quarter slump today.

 Bihar Floods
Over 83.62 lakh people have been affected due to Bihar floods.

The country is also witnessing an ever-growing number of new infections with more than 65,000 active cases each day. On the other hand, Bihar is witnessing destroyed and devastated lives due to the floods. Over 83.62 lakh people are affected because of it, but does the media bother to give sufficient coverage to their plight and situation? No.

Instead, what the media is busy with is peeping into extremely personal aspects of Sushant’s life. It is making a mockery of the need for trauma-informed journalism where the accused or victim’s mental space is taken into consideration while interviewing. Sensitivity towards the accused while asking questions is needed. But the truth remains that reporters are busy having “exclusive” interviews of his cooks and bodyguard’s, keeping even their viewers’ mental health at stake who continuously get to see this as the only news on their TVs and phones.

As far as justice for Sushant is concerned, the media is speculating and at the same time assassinating his character with headlines like “Kya Sushant The Drug Addict? (Was Sushant a Drug Addict?)”, “Kya Sushant Lete The Charas? (Did Sushant Smoke Hash?) “. Well, we don’t know if Sushant used to consume opium, but what we know is that the media has served such opium as “breaking news” in Sushant’s case almost every hour of the day for its viewers.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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