Reporting on the Arab Spring wouldn’t have had the punch it did if it weren’t for the many camera phones that let people capture the events as they happened.
Almost every image that came back or was uploaded from Tahrir Square in Cairo had people waving camera phones. Camera phone videos from Syria, a country on the brink of civil war and with strict media restrictions, also keep the world informed about the state of the conflict. Closer home, Delhi’s Chetan Prakash has brought over 160 police and other officials to the book by capturing footage of them taking bribes or executing other misdemeanours.
Just a decade ago, none of this would have been possible. While the digital format had begun to slash the expense associated with photography, the integration of the camera with the mobile phone has changed the landscape completely. Now, the camera is not the preserve of the few.
“The democratisation of photography is and will continue to have a wide impact. The idea of watching and being watched has taken a new turn with the miniaturisation of the camera, as also with costs of professional cameras coming down. We are already seeing the changes it has brought about in journalism. Other spheres too are affected,” says Sreedeep Bhattacharya, a JNU PhD scholar who studies consumer culture and consumerism, apart from being an avid photographer since a decade.
POINT, SHOOT, CLICK!
Delhi has been feeling the incriminating gaze of the citizenry’s cameras since May 2010. The city is notorious for its daredevil drivers and thanks to people snapping shots of traffic violators and posting them on the Delhi Traffic Police's Facebook page, the force has prosecuted a whopping 21,617 people. Delhiites have also been avidly clicking policemen violating traffic rules — something that is widely known but could not have been addressed without proof of the kind camera phones can bring to the fore. Thanks to this, 725 policemen have been prosecuted so far, something joint commissioner of police (traffic) Satyendra Garg is especially proud of. In a recent post he said, "I admire the pains taken by a Facebook friend to record a violation by a traffic official of basic rules."
Of course, this is the brighter side of the proliferation of cameras. The dark side of human nature is using the same device for invasion of privacy, intimidating rape victims with footage of the act, indulging in industrial espionage — and these mark just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. What other uses people with dark imaginations might put this powerful device is anyone’s guess.
Cases in point
Curbing poaching through cameras
The camera is the best tool that has helped Nagendra Lohaar (name changed on request) to convince authorities of poaching under his watch. Working in Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan, Lohaar says he once used the camera to convince a deputy inspector general of poaching and trading of animal skins going on in his area. “He had said he would give us just five minutes. When we showed him the footage, he got so interested that he sat with us for three hours and quickly ordered a special investigation.” The footage was of a trader who was filmed with a hidden camera showing his stock of leopard skins. The camera had been hidden beforehand in a hotel room.
MMS leads police to the attackers
The gang rape of a 20-year-old woman from Mumbai would have gone unreported if not for the cell phone clip recorded by one of the five perpetrators. On May 9 2011, the group had walked from Kurar to the Siddhivinayak temple. While coming back, the boys allegedly took the girl to a secluded spot and raped her. One of them recorded the incident. When a local channel carried the news, the police filed a case suo moto. "It all started when we heard about the circulating MMS," says Dhanaji Nalawade, senior inspector at Kurar police station. "We identified the accused and registered a case ourselves as the victim’s family was unwilling.”
Camera records used as proof
The Nathusari Chopta police was beaten by protesters demanding upgradation of Kagdana govt school on May 21. While they maintained it was the police that started beating the kids without provocation, the police claimed otherwise. The issue turned more sensitive, when opposition Indian National Lok Dal secretary general, Ajay Singh Chautala alleged atrocities by police on party workers. Yadav said “When it was investigated, we got some recordings done by eye-witnesses, who filmed it.” On the basis of camera recording — showing two teachers making inflammatory remarks—a case of rioting was registered against 250 persons.
— Sat Singh
Rape MMS was sold for Rs. 10
Two teenage girls were gang-raped by 16 persons in Betma village, situated around 40 km from Indore. Those involved in the crime were influential locals with political connections. Not only did they rape the girls, they also took MMS of the incident in their mobile phone. The matter did not end here. This MMS was later sold to anyone who wanted for Rs. 10. The girls had initially remained silent out of fear and shame, but when the MMS got widely circulated, they finally broke their silence. The culprits were arrested, slapped with a rape case. The trial is going on.
— Punya Priya Mitra