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Naming gangrape victim: Why Tharoor's tweet was twisted

“Wondering what interest is served by continuing anonymity of Delhi Gang Rape victim. Why not name and honour her as a real person with own identity? Unless her parents object, she should be honoured and the revised anti-rape law named after her. She was a human being with a name, not just a symbol,” Shashi Tharoor tweeted yesterday (twitter shorthand corrected for ease of reading).

The BJP was quick to react. It termed Tharoor’s tweet as a "needless diversion".

“The controversial tweet of Union Minister Shashi Tharoor suggesting that the name of the Delhi gangrape victim be made public and demanded that he should instead focus on passing a stringent anti-rape law. "This is the time for making a strong law against rape without any delay. Naming or keeping the victim's identity a secret is not the main issue here. The media, politicians and the society are following the Supreme Court guidelines on the matter at the moment. Tharoor should emphasise on passing the law at the earliest," said BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain, according to DNA.

Shashi Tharoor's tweet has been twisted out of proportion. IBNLive

Tharoor’s tweet does nothing to either advance or delay the proposed law. All he has said is that the law should be named after the victim. He added a proviso, saying “UNLESS her parents object.” The emphasis is the writer’s. These were two tweets, in quick succession.

Media latched onto Tharoor’s tweet immediately after he published it, making it ‘Breaking news’, often forgetting or omitting to add or mention the proviso he had attached – and, sadly, twisted his tweet to say “Shashi Tharoor wants to know Delhi gang-rape victim's name. The twisting got worse. “Shashi Tharoor favours making public identity of Delhi gangrape victim,” said the Indian Express. “Shashi Tharoor bats for making public identity of Delhi gang-rape victim, sparks row,” said The Times of India.

Tharoor’s 50 odd words in two tweets oughtn’t to be the most difficult to interpret. Yet, perhaps because reporting, truthfully, what Tharoor had said would not generate more than cursory attention, the words have been misinterpreted by sections of the media to ensure maximum attention – which translate into more readership.

More worrying is the fact that, in their haste to ‘break’ the news, media outlets left themselves no time to figure out the rationale behind Tharoor’s original intent. Ten minutes on Google would have revealed that naming laws after victims is a practice that is, across the world, as old as the hills, promoted by a belief that, when named after the victim of a particularly horrific crime, the association in public memory would make the connect to the law much easier.

Here are a few of such laws. The Lindbergh Law, so named after the kidnapping and subsequent murder of aviator Charles Lindberg’s son in 1932 is one. Jessica’s Law is named after nine year old Jessica Lunsford, who was abducted, raped and killed in Florida. Megan’s law is named after a 7 year old girl, Megan Kanka, was sexually assaulted and murdered by her neighbor, a two-time sex offender. The Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act named after press secretary James Brady, who was shot by John Hinckley, Jr. in a 1981 assassination attempt on then President Ronald Reagan. The Brady Handgun Law resulted in federal background checks for those who wish to purchase guns anywhere in America.

It would have taken anyone with an internet connection just a few minutes to dig out the information reproduced above.

“Tharoor wants a law like Megan’s Law” is not as exciting or provocative a headline as “Shashi Tharoor wants to know Delhi gang-rape victim's name.”

That’s the tragedy of today’s India. The headlines seem to be more important than the truth.