Being a vigilante rather than being just vigilant can be disastrous. The past few days dominated by the news of reported ‘mass molestation’ of women in Bengaluru’s MG Road on New Year’s Eve proved how damaging it is for journalists.
Having screamed ‘mass molestation,’ we couldn’t produce the evidence. None came forward to lodge a police complaint and consequently no FIR was lodged. No less than 70 CCTV cameras – private and government – covered the stretch but scrutiny of the footage threw up no proof.
Bengaluru survived a scare and its reputation was saved from being irrevocably tarred. The same cannot, however, be said of media’s credibility which has taken another severe hit.
Remember Murthal, the Haryana town where dozens of women were reported to have been waylaid by mobs during the peak of last year’s Jat quota agitation and then sexually assaulted?
As with Bengaluru, Murthal dominated the headlines for days. It all started with a small report in a local newspaper that quickly snowballed into a major issue of national shame and we all jumped in seeking immediate punitive action. Almost a year later, no evidence of the sex assaults have been found and the media is in the dock, with the police serving notices to journalists to corroborate what they had reported then.
Bengaluru is Murthal 2. A newspaper claimed mass molestation and our entire tribe got instantly carried away. Hash tags such Bengalurushame and Bengalurumolestation trended as politicians and activists contributed to the din by trading charges.
The noise drowned reason.
There was no denying that Bengaluru’s downtown witnessed unruly scenes that night. As photographs and video grabs show, there was undoubtedly a melee, a great deal of pushing and jostling, and almost certainly a big brawl with a few distraught women caught in the middle.
It was also in the realm of possibility that some men in the crowd would have sought to take advantage of the chaos. Ask any women and they will tell you such despicable beasts are everywhere: from buses and trains to all public places such as even Delhi’s iconic India Gate. This trait isn’t specific to Bengaluru.
The city is as safe or unsafe as any other Indian city, though it also has the distressing record of only one conviction for every 100 sexual assault cases.
But the indignation that India experienced across drawing rooms and television studios this week was primarily because of the reported mass molestation. Video footage of a woman being molested in another Bengaluru neighbourhood fuelled the outrage further.
In the end, the angry debates haven’t made our public places any safer. If at all, the mindless sensationalism has reduced a serious issue confronting women such as my teenage daughter into a spectacle.
Manufacturing news and then orchestrating outrage could be good for TRPs and circulation. But they do nothing to address the situation on the ground. On the contrary, crying wolf far too often erodes the trust in media persons, considered the sentinels of society.
Views expressed are personal. Author tweets from @Rubenbanerjee.