Why Zee did the right thing by doing the wrong thing
Zee News may have broken the law by disclosing the name of the rape victim's friend, but his story needed to be told. Zee does not deserve to be prosecuted for this
It is illegal under section 228A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to reveal the identity of a rape victim. And so the Delhi police have decided to file a case against Zee News for airing an interview with the Delhi gangrape victim's friend, himself a victim in the murderous assault.
It is one of the tragedies of our times that information that ought to be in the public domain, and which is vital for the revamp of gender-insensitive public policies, is often made known only by renegade journalists. Some do it through sting operations, others by talking directly to the people concerned, even if it means a breach of the law.
The statements aired by the rape victim’s friend – whom we see on TV, but whose name we do not yet know - are shocking. They are a serious indictment of the police and society.
Among other things, the friend – whom Zee News variously referred to as Deepak or Abhimanyu – disclosed that after they were cast out of the moving bus shorn off all their clothes, no one came to their aid for nearly half an hour. Some who passed by failed to stop and enquire, others stopped to wonder what could have happened. None helped.
After someone called the police, several PCRs (mobile Police Control Rooms) arrived and they spent over half an hour arguing about jurisdiction. They didn’t help the naked victims, neither the girl nor her friend. When they reached Safdarjung Hospital, while the girl was sent for treatment, for she was in worse shape, he was left unclothed for quite a while. (Read the gory details of his statement here, or here).
The point one is trying to make is this: the real story is not just the horrific rape that ultimately claimed the 23-year-old life, but the story of what happened – or did not happen – later.
The police clearly are simply not sensitive enough to handle even a simple case of rendering help to injured citizens, leave alone protecting them proactively, finding foolproof evidence and prosecuting the accused with vigour.
Society is clearly callous. It is appalling that no one really came to help for a long time, despite passing by. Fear and apathy, or both, rule their lives.
Here, too, a part of the blame lies with the police. No one today wants to take the trouble to help the police or the victim because of the fear factor. Fear that they will be repeatedly asked to come to court, wait at police stations as though they are the culprits, or harassed in other ways. Who knows whether giving evidence is a good citizen act or bad – if you are giving evidence against the rich and powerful, and you came forward to give evidence, it is more than likely you will either be bought off or harassed by the police and thugs. So citizens don’t take chances, and avoid giving help.
It is for all these reasons that I think Zee News did us all a service by holding the mirror up to society and to the police. They may have broken the law by revealing the witness’ identity, but they have done their duty as citizens. Note: they did not name the witness or the victim. They only interviewed the witness.
It is worth also looking at Section 228A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) under which Zee is being targeted.
The section says “whoever prints or publishes the name or any matter which may make known the identity of any persons against whom an offence under section 376, section 376A, section 376B, section 376C or section 376D (all refer to rape) is alleged or found to have been committed (hereafter in this section referred to as the victim) shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years and shall also be liable to fine.”
Section 228A also says that the section shall not apply if the victim is dead, or where the victim authorises such disclosure in writing, or if this is done with the order of the court that is hearing these proceedings.
The Zee decision to interview the victim’s friend would seem to violate only the third condition – that disclosure has taken place without the consent of a court. As the rape victim is dead, there is no other reason to keep her identity secret, barring reasons of privacy and personal decency and the family’s own sensibilities.
In recent weeks, the father and brothers of the victim have been quoted profusely by the print media. Was that not a breach of the law? Their whole neighbourhood knows the details and the identity of the victim. What is known to people in private is often known to anyone who wants to know, for these days one does not have to spread information through print or TV – the social media and email can give you everything you want to know about the victim, if you want to know. Every journalist covering the rape knows the details – name, address, family details.
The only additional breach involving Zee is that in the visual medium, you can either interview a person with a cloth over his head, or show his face. The victim’s friend was interviewed without hiding his face or person. While some news agencies identified him by name, the name of the rape victim can only be deduced by viewers who knew him and his friend's name.
Soon after the accused were nabbed, the Delhi police claimed it had done a great job in nabbing them. Thanks to the Zee News interview, we know that the police did not exactly cover themselves with glory in the way they handled the human side of things. Kiran Bedi, a former police officer herself, is in not doubt that the Delhi police has been correctly targeted for callousness (Read her interview here).
In my book Zee has done its moral duty to expose what really happened during and after the rape by talking to the victim’s friend, and this knowledge is vital for the making of public policy involving future crimes not only against women, but anyone.
The police, while they may be right in booking the TV channel, should ask the court for a reprieve given the importance of the disclosure made. In the past, courts have upheld even sting and entrapment operations in the name of public interest. Is there no public interest involved in telling the world how the police and public behaved in this case?
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