Women journos and #MeToo, rape culture in ‘Simmba’, Dua probe ends

The 3 January edition of Note This — our round-up of media reports and opinions on sexual assault

Columnist Tavleen Singh has lashed out at women journalists for drawing focus on themselves in the #MeToo movement instead of others with “no voice” . Photo: WEF/Eric Miller (CC By SA 2.0)

The cultural impact of #MeToo has been greatly scrutinised in recent weeks, particularly in the film and media industries. Over the past few days, some commentators have offered contrasting views what the movement has meant for women journalists — and their journalism — in India. Another subject of controversy has been the recently released blockbuster Simmba, which has been described by several reviewers in the English-language press as being yet another depressing reflection of rape culture in India.

Editor’s pick

The Indian media has a “blind spot” that has “led to an under-reporting of rape cases that occur in villages and slums of the country”, says journalist Soni Sangwan, former consulting editor of the Gaon Connection. In a conversation with NewsTracker’s Simran Singh, she explains that while the mainstream media can make an impact, it is essential to have “journalism that originates from the villages”.

Across India: news since Monday

Cinematic depictions of sexual violence in India have frequently been described as reflecting and also feeding into rape culture. Many media reviews of the ‘rape-revenge drama’ Simmba have pointed this out.

In HuffPost India, Piyasree Dasgupta implores director Rohit Shetty “to spare us awful films on rape like Simmba”, explaining with examples why it “feels like a kick in the gut”. Tanul Thakur in The Wire writes that the film trivialises rape, noting that “devoid of any solutions or complexities, [Simmba] aims to turn a grave social problem into a money-making enterprise”. In Arré, Poulomi Das asks, “Really, Bollywood? Is that the best you can do to cap a year where directors, actors, and filmmakers, were hit by solid #MeToo accusations?” Suparna Sharma in the Deccan Chronicle says the film “uses the December 2012 Nirbhaya rape case with all its specific, emotive details” and watching it “made me run to have a bath”. Namrata Joshi in the Hindu writes, “Be it as brutal violators or patronising saviours of women, Simmba shows that it all boils down to the same toxic masculinity which the men behind Simmba have been perpetuating film after film”.

Despite the slew of negative reviews, Simmba has been established, perhaps unsurprisingly, as a “roaring” box office hit.

Media and #MeToo

Indian women journalists “took the power back” in 2018, reports Rituparna Chatterjee in NewsLaundry. Describing the “bruising battle” many have had to wage “just to be able to do their job”, she notes that #MeToo made a tangible difference when “an army of women exposed systemic sexual abuse in newsrooms” and pulled the “mask” off men “ who have built illustrious careers on the work, life and labour of women”.

Columnist and #MeToo critic Tavleen Singh in the Indian Express, on the other hand, claims “women journalists were the biggest winners in #MeToo India” but they did a disservice to their profession in the bargain. She writes, “When women journalists make themselves the story instead of telling the stories of women who have no voice, then they stop making a difference”. Accusing women journalists of being hungry for “stardom”, she posits that #MeToo in India “has exposed the shallow waters in which women journalists now tread more than it has exposed the ‘sexual predators’”.

The committee probing a decades-old allegation of sexual harassment against senior journalist Vinod Dua has “dissolved itself”, reports the Quint. The external committee, which was set up by The Wire, was not able to “proceed” with its inquiry due to not having the “unconditional consent of both sides”. Dua reportedly refused to “cross-examine” or “be cross-examined” by his accuser, filmmaker Nishtha Jain. The Wire has published a detailed statement on the matter.

Rape culture

In Agra District, Uttar Pradesh, a woman shot herself fatally after she was allegedly pressurised by village authorities to “reach a compromise” with a man she had accused of sexual harassment. The man has now been arrested.

A woman who accused a Lieutenant Colonel of sexually harassing her has said that the Indian army dismissed her allegations without hearing her out. In a detailed HuffPost India report, she was quoted as saying, “This is a critical matter. It shows how the Indian Army takes charges of molestation. They are not serious about it.”

Matters of law

The Supreme Court has ruled that consensual sex between live-in partners cannot be termed as rape if the man “fails to marry” the woman due to “circumstances…beyond his control”. The court noted, however, that “mala fide motives” and false promises to “satisfy lust” fall “within the ambit of cheating or deception”.

The Union Cabinet recently approved amendments to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO), including the introduction of the death penalty for the rape of children below 18 years of age. Writing in the Indian Express, lawyer Arundhati Katju argues that is is problematic since the “presumption of guilt” in POCSO cases works against the “weak and poor” accused.

In-depth

The struggles of working rural women rarely make it to the mainstream discourse. In a two-part series in Firstpost titled #MeToo Bundelkhand, women-only reporters’ network Khabar Leheriya provides compelling accounts of “systemic violence and discrimination against women” in the rural Hindi heartland. Read part one and two here and here.

An AP investigation into the ‘long history of nuns abused by priests in India’ has been featured in a number of publications, including the Times of India, Quint, and The Hindu. While the issue of sexual abuse in the Indian church gained prominence relatively recently when Jalandhar bishop Franco Mulakkal was accused of rape by a nun, the problem, says the report, is far from a new one.

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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