A woman is raped in India every 20 minutes. But why is it that only a few cases get carpet bombing coverage in the media or are able to get people out on to the streets? Before you think this is an attempt to whip up a debate — even as a young photojournalist recovers in a Mumbai hospital after being gang-raped last week — be assured we are all for people protesting and the media covering such atrocities as much as possible. All we are asking is this: why is that we don’t see similar candlelight marches, black-band protests or round-the-clock media coverage when a woman is raped in, say, Chhattisgarh or Manipur? You could call it the tyranny of distance, but like it or not there is a bias in the coverage of rapes and the protests: people seem to troop out/or write about only when such incidents happen to the members of that exclusive club called ‘PLU’ or ‘People Like Us’.
It is not surprising then that this kind of discrimination has also seeped into the police system. After his arrest, Qasim Bangali, the main accused in last week’s rape case in Mumbai, confessed that he and the other accused had raped four other women in the same mill over the last one year but they managed to escape arrest because the victims never went to the police. So who were these women? Ragpickers who visited the area to dump garbage. The fact that these women never went to the police also speaks volumes about their faith in the system. But then even if they had reported the crime, would we have seen December 16-like protests? Unlikely.
Many would argue that protests after a particular case of rape is not against that particular incident only but also similar incidents, and that it is not possible to come on to the streets after every case comes to light. While this is true, we are yet to see even one December 16-type protest against a rape that happens in a far-off place or to people who are not in the PLU club. In fact, around the time when the Mumbai rape happened last week, a woman constable was gang raped in Jharkhand. It did make it to the front page of many newspapers, but, even at the risk of sounding cynical, piggy-backing on the Mumbai case. Strong media coverage and people’s protests can make our lethargic police and government work faster. So let’s stop this cherry picking of cases and treat every rape with equal horror.