Guwahati Molestation: Mob, Media, Police, and Government Are All Guilty

On the night of July 9, a young Class IX girl was assaulted by a mob on the streets of Guwahati – and the entire scene was telecast on TV screens. The episode and its aftermath raise extremely disturbing questions about the conduct of the media, the police, the Government, and even the National Commission for Women (NCW).

Most disturbing of all is the role of the reporter and the news channel (News Live, owned by the Assam Health Minister’s wife) which first broadcast the videotape of the assault. The initial footage, shot by the News Live reporter Gaurav Jyoti Neog on his mobile, shows two young girls outside a bar, getting into an altercation with a bunch of boys, after which one of the girls is surrounded by the mob which begins tearing at her clothes and pawing at her body. A voice, suspected to be that of the reporter, can be heard calling for a news camera to film the scene, and instigating the mob to ‘Catch her, make her naked, let people see her… she is a prostitute and she dares to do this. The camera is here, hold her, hold her.’ When the cameraperson arrives, he begins filming the assault on digital camera. It is alleged that Neog was friends with the ringleader of the mob, and that he orchestrated the whole attack as a piece of ‘manufactured news.’

The role of the News Live editor Atanu Bhuyan too is dubious. Both Neog and Bhuyan have had to resign. The News Live channel is known for promoting moral policing against women who drink or wear ‘revealing’ clothes. On day one, the channel aired the mob assault video as an instance of public chastisement of a drunk girl. It was only later, after the national outcry, that the channel began portraying the girl as a victim.

However, even then, the channel’s coverage veered towards debating the morality of the victim. Bhuyan posted videos of his channel’s coverage of the episode on youtube, titled ‘Girl in the City.’ The second video has an employee of the bar being asked what kind of drinks the girl ordered, to establish that the girls were drunk. It ends by asking how come the girls were bold enough to drink in a city bar at night?

A day after the attack, Bhuyan tweeted, ‘two more drunk women in police custody in Ghy.’ In the next tweet he said, “I’ve been heading News Live for 5 years now. And I’ve seen that most instances of molestation take place in front of bars.” And then, “Prostitutes form a major chunk of girls who visit bars and night clubs.” Soon after, Bhuyan triumphantly tweeted the TRPs of his channel compared with others: “TRP : ramdhenu : 25.35, prime news : 26.69, newstime assam : 25.82, dy 365 : 154.69, rang : 169.79 and newslive 270.76”

On 15 July, Bhuyan tweeted that footage of CCTV cameras inside the bar shows the molestation victim and her friend were apparently drunk after consuming alcohol. Clearly, Bhuyan was still trying to establish that the victim’s being drunk somehow made her guilty and deserving of mob punishment. He further tweeted that the victim ‘lied’ that she was a teenager, she is actually married with a child. What was he trying to insinuate? That the girl was an older woman, and therefore a liar and a prostitute? He is yet to withdraw this fabricated accusation.

Bhuyan’s tweets indicate the way his mind was working. Did his channel instigate an assault on a teenage girl, just to boost TRPs, and then portray it as a sensational mob punishment for women who drink? An impartial investigation is called for to establish the truth, and the perpetrators must be punished.

Guwahati City SSP Apurba Jiban Baruah termed the terrible mob assault as a ‘stray incident’ that was hyped by the national media. He has since been transferred. The CM’s own office repeatedly leaked the victim’s name and identity to the media. A member of the NCW team that visited Guwahati, also leaked the name to the media.

The NCW chief Mamata Sharma told the reporter of a national daily that women’s habit of ‘blindly aping the west’ in matters of dress was the main cause of incidents like the one at Guwahati. She counselled that women should “Be comfortable but be careful.” A BJP Minister from Madhya Pradesh said in the context of the Guwahati outrage, that women should dress to ‘earn respect rather than incite passions.’ He even said that the NCW members who visited Guwahati had dressed ‘fashionably’ and therefore violated Indian culture.

It is ironic that while the morals of women’s choice of drink or dress are talked about so righteously, there is very little talk about the morals of those who can participate in, and even profit from, the public sexual shaming of a teenage schoolgirl.

Liberation Archive