Rajkumar Hirani in trouble, Gaya brutality, echoes of Kathua in J&K rape

The 14 January edition of Note This — our round-up of media reports and opinions on sexual assault

Leading Bollywood filmmaker Rajkumar Hirani has been accused of sexually assaulting an assistant director. Photo: Bollywood Hungama (CC BY 3.0)

The brutal killing of a 16-year-old girl in Gaya, Bihar, has been picked up by the national media several days after the crime, following protests breaking out over the police’s handling of the case. The circumstances surrounding the death are shrouded in mystery, with the police claiming it was an “honour killing” and the victim’s family alleging that she was raped and then murdered and mutilated.

A Huff Post India report on sexual assault allegations against filmmaker Rajkumar Hirani has prompted headlines across media outlets and has resulted in a major Bollywood production being put on hold.

Editor’s pick

Journalists often unknowingly reinforce damaging stereotypes in their reportage of sexual violence involving the LGBTQ+ community, says Pune-based queer activist Bindumadhav Khire. In an interview with NewsTracker’s Pranati Narayan Visweswaran he discusses why it is essential for journalists to use the correct terminology when reporting on sexual crimes.

Across India: news since Thursday

The mainstream media has faced some criticism for its perceived delay in covering the brutal murder of a 16-year-old girl in Gaya, Bihar. According to Dailyo, “ The girl’s story was picked up by the national media only after activists from Gaya organised rallies, and pictures of her mutilated body — horrific is too small a word — did the rounds on social media”. While family members of the girl’s family have been arrested for allegedly killing her to preserve their honour (a narrative that appears to have found favour in sections of the international press), thousands of people from her community claim that the police are attempting to “hush up” the true nature of the crime. The protests have spread as far as Bangalore, and the police may now conduct a “narco test” on the victim’s father to help ascertain the “truth”.

On January 12, incidentally, the “mutilated” body of another teenage girl was found in Gaya. According to NDTV she was allegedly “gang-raped” before her death. An investigation is ongoing.

#MeToo

Filmmaker Rajkumar Hirani, responsible for blockbusters such as Munna Bhai MBBS, 3 Idiots and Piku, has been accused by a crew member of the biopic Sanju of sexually assaulting her “more than once” between March and September last year. The story was broken by HuffPost India, which spoke to the complainant and Hirani about the accusations. The woman reportedly complained about Hirani in a November email to Sanju co-producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra, among others. She said she continued to work with him because she needed the job and “because if Hirani said I wasn’t good, everybody would listen”. Hirani has denied the allegations, calling them “false, mischievous, scandalous, motivated and defamatory”, and has asked for an investigation. However, his name has already been dropped from the promotional materials of the film Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga and his film Munna Bhai 3 has been “put on hold” until his name is “cleared”.

Another Bollywood personality named in #MeToo, actor Alok Nath, has been granted anticipatory bail in the rape case lodged against him by a TV writer. In an interview with Firstpost, she has said that this is incorrectly being “positioned as a victory for Alok Nath” and is not a verdict in the case. She has, however, noted that the “wording” of the judgment — which included the possibility of the accusation being the result of “unrequited love” — was “a little shocking”. The Quint has also commented on the problematic wording of the court’s judgement, observing that it is indicative of “why survivors don’t speak up”.

In the world of cricket, the “old guard of the BCCI” (Board of Cricket Control in India) has reportedly questioned the “double standards” of the board for taking action against two players for making sexist comments but giving a clean chit to its CEO who was accused of sexual harassment.

In Delhi, the defamation case filed by former Union Minister M J Akbar against one of his accusers saw the recording of testimonies by three more witnesses who said they were “distressed” by the damage caused to his reputation. Akbar has been accused by well over a dozen women of sexual misconduct but has chosen to fight a case against only Priya Ramani so far.

Rape of minors

A year after the Kathua gang-rape and murder, another child belonging to the bakarwal community was allegedly gang-raped in Ramsoo, Jammu and Kashmir, while she was out grazing the family’s cattle. The matter has caused protests in the area, with allegations of police inaction and that the crime was religiously motivated. Former J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti has also drawn parallels with the Kathua case, tweeting, “ Before we know it will assume communal understones & leaders who enjoy political patronage will be out on a limb to defend the rapists”.

In Hyderabad, a 16-year-old girl has said that she was repeatedly raped and threatened into silence by four men, including her cousin, over a period of four years. Three out of the four suspects have been arrested.

The police in Ajmer, Rajasthan, have been criticised by women’s rights activists for concluding that a minor girl was possessed by “evil spirits” when she said she was pregnant as a result of rape. An NGO, Sakhi Saheli, is now advocating for the girl, stating that her parents are ready to “sacrifice their daughter’ in order to protect the “religious guru” who allegedly assaulted her.

In Delhi, a 17-year-old rape survivor has told police that she was forced to consume “poison” by two men who intercepted her as she returned from a coaching class. They allegedly did so in order to prevent her from testifying in court against a man she has accused of rape. The suspected rapist was recently released on bail.

Institutions and sexual assault

Doctors in Maharashtra now face up to one year in prison if they deny free treatment to survivors of sexual assault or acid attacks. According to new guidelines, they will also have to “prepare a report and collect samples from the survivors within 96 hours for further examination,” reported DNA.

Syro Malabar Catholic Church in Kerala, which has come under criticism for its handling of the rape complaint by a nun against former bishop Franco Mulakkal, has decided to set up internal committees to hear complaints against clergy, reported Scroll. The aim is to provide a “safe environment”, particularly for children and vulnerable adults.

In depth

The Quint, which has been covering sexual assault in the context of the 2013 Muzaffarpur riots in UP, has published a detailed investigative report on “a rape trial that took six years” to begin. While five other Muslim rape survivors “succumbed to pressure”, the report tells the story of one woman who decided to keep fighting.

Read more

This roundup is curated from the RSS feeds of more than 30 English news publications from across India.

See a fuller list of rape and sexual violence cases reported today, and earlier this week.

Use our case filter to read reports on specific cases: #MeToo, #KeralaPriest, #RapeOfMinors, #Muzaffarapur, #PoliticsOfRape (use the dropdown menu in column A).

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