Back in November 2014, the national media went hysterical over a viral video circulated on social media. It was a video of two girls giving a sound thrashing to three young men on a moving bus near Rohtak in Haryana. One of the girls was even seen wielding her belt, to good effect.
The narrative of the incident that accompanied the visuals was great stuff for the media, particularly television channels. The young men had been harassing the sisters and they gave it back like every harassed girl in India should.
The duo – Aarti and Pooja – was feted as the 'Sonepat bravehearts', named after the place they belonged to. They dominated the headlines for a few days. Social media was in a tizzy. The country finally had had a glimpse of the heroes it needed so desperately to fight off the evil men targeting women. The Haryana government announced a cash reward for the sisters soon after.
But, as is the case with many social media stories, it didn’t take long for the episode to collapse. Soon, another video of the sisters thrashing a youth surfaced. Locals claimed that the duo was known to get into fights with people regularly.
Some passengers of the bus, including women, testified that the trouble was over a seat, and it was not a case of harassment, as alleged. Doubtful over the facts of the case, the government withheld the cash reward. In a lie detector test conducted on them, they were found to be 'secretive' about certain facts.
On Monday, a Rohtak court acquitted the accused – Mohit, Kuldeep and Deepak. It found no credence in the allegation levelled against them by the girls. They were relieved, but the 27-month long battle had left indelible scars on their lives.
Kuldeep and Deepak, who had cleared two rounds of tests for jobs in the Army, had to give up the pursuit after being denied further tests when the bus incident became a national issue. Mohit, meanwhile, had to give up on the hope of a job in the Delhi Police. With their reputations besmirched, a job won’t be easy to come by for any of them. All this, besides the fact that they have lost two precious years of their lives and the humiliation they suffered.
“Insaaf to mila, izzat aur naukri kahan se aayegi? (We got justice, but how do we get back our prestige or jobs?),” asked Mohit, speaking to Hindustan Times.
All this would not have happened to the young men had the media not jumped to quick conclusions and made a huge hue and cry over the incident. It could have allowed the case to follow the legal course or at least wait for more facts to surface before making judgements. But no, what we had instead was a huge tamasha, that ran for days. Soberness is perhaps too much to expect in times when TRP overrides all other considerations.
It is obvious that the media had been callous and irresponsible. Will it say sorry to the three youth now? Or it is below its dignity to admit to a mistake?
Here’s one admission. Writing on the topic about two years ago, this author had been effusive in his praise of the braveness of the girls.
Now one has no hesitation in saying sorry to those who appear to be the real victims in this case. One would forever admire acts of spirit and courage, but like this case reveals, the devil lies in the detail. It’s never wise to run ahead of facts.
It is possible we have not come to the end of the story. The option for Aarti and Pooja to move higher courts is not closed yet and they might prove that they were right in the end. There could be some truth to the possibility that the witnesses were under pressure from the locally dominant Jat community to speak up against the girls.
But, the bigger truth is that after more than two years the court has passed a verdict. Its ruling overrides all other arguments. The youths deserve an apology, for now at least.
The case also reveals how easily the media could be manipulated. Perhaps it’s time for some introspection.
Updated Date: Mar 07, 2017 16:50 PM