Amit Varma is a writer based in Mumbai. He worked in journalism for over a decade, and won the Bastiat Prize for Journalism in 2007. His bestselling novel, My Friend Sancho, was published in 2009. He is best known for his blog, India Uncut. His current project is a non-fiction book about the lack of personal and economic freedoms in post-Independence India.
My friend Shivmeet Deol is appalled at a story that appeared today in Mail Today (PDFs: 1, 2), and has shot off a letter to them. It deserves to be read, and as she doesn’t have a blog, I’m publishing it here, with her permission:
I read your report of Sheeba Thomas’s murder in Mail Today this morning, and found the stance of the story infuriating. The opening line itself is misleading, with that unnecessarily emphasized detail about the live-in relationship.
The issue is this: a young woman has been murdered. She is a victim. The perpetrators are still out there. Those are the most important facts. That’s how a mature, objective crime report would deal with it.
But your report focuses on the other facts – chiefly that she isn’t the ‘good’ Indian woman – about her lifestyle and the rest of it, detracting from the real issue of the crime itself. It is judgmental and utterly preachy and in fact makes it sound like she brought it upon herself. Playing up all these stereotypes – ‘air-hostess’, living with a man she isn’t married to, out late at night, ‘unconventional’ lifestyle (which means what, simply that she was sexually active and wore what she liked?), that picture of her in the mini-skirt – is narrow-minded, and viciously so, of you and your paper. And in that, it is irresponsible journalism. It isn’t up to you or your paper to judge how she lived or who with and how many lovers she had or what time she came home. Or what she wore.
Plus, that picture of the poor woman lying there in her blood is unnecessary sensationalism, and undermines her dignity even further.
It was a distastefully done story and the publication ought to take some sort of responsibility for it, maybe by doing a follow-up story by someone who can examine this with more sense and less prejudice, and focuses on the crime and what it is being done to sort that out, and not by making young women sound like accessories in their own murders.
Sadly, this is not a problem with Mail Today alone, or with this story alone. Remember Scarlett Keeling and her mom?
Update: Elsewhere, in another context, more talk of “loose character.”
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