Media Matters

Broken News: Bulandshahr rape coverage shows how badly the media needs lessons in sensitivity

More than three-and-a-half years since the ghastly gang rape in Delhi, the media has learned nothing about how to cover sexual assault.

They sit on charpais, perch of treetops, speak to anyone they can get hold of and in between eat chips and drink cups of chai. This is not a picnic. These are members of the Indian media waiting breathlessly to pounce on anyone who can give them a sound byte for the latest breaking story, the terrifying gang rape of a woman and her 14-year-old daughter on Highway 91 in Bulandshahr, Uttar Pradesh on July 29.

The father of the young girl is instructed to cover his face because the TV-wallahs have not time to blur his face. He pleads, as reported by Hindustan Times on August 3: “How many times should I repeat what happened with my daughter and my wife? They have been raped. What else do you want to know? My daughter was better till last night. With all the people visiting, she is now being asked to recall everything again. She has fallen sick again. She cannot stop crying. Please leave us alone.”

Yet, they persist, the media and politicians. While this is what politicians do, rush to places where they can milk a tragedy for political gain, is this what the media ought to be doing? Has the Indian media lost all sense of perspective? Do words like “sensitivity” even pass through the minds of the editors who assign reporters to such stories? Are there higher standards of insensitivity in the way we handle stories where poor people are involved?

Clearly, more than three-and-a-half years since the ghastly gang rape in Delhi on December 16, 2012, the media has learned nothing about how to cover sexual assault.

Intrusive reporting

Back then, many in the media believed that their focus on the Delhi rape played an important role in bringing about changes in the law even though it was the Justice Verma Committee report that actually pushed the government to make these changes. The media went to great lengths to hide the identity of the woman raped, a requirement under the law, by even giving her a fictitious name. But even then, there were news channels that found out where the woman lived, sent out cameras that exposed the family and would have ultimately revealed the woman’s identity had she survived the horrendous assault.

A little over seven months later, there was another gang rape, this time in Mumbai. In what came to be known as the “Shakti Mills gang rape”, a woman on a work assignment was raped in central Mumbai, a stone’s throw away from a busy railway station. As in the Delhi case, the media went after the story. But had there been any introspection about media coverage since December 16?

There were some superficial changes. For example, some newspapers decided to use the term “survivor” instead of “victim”. Yet, nothing substantial had changed.

Even if no one mentioned the name of the woman, and thankfully did not give her a fictitious name, they thought nothing of pursuing every other angle to the story.

For instance, even when the name is not revealed, by identifying the parents, or husband and children, or the neighbourhood where she lives, or the place where she works, the media is revealing the identity of the woman.

In the Shakti Mills case, Mumbai’s leading newspaper saw nothing wrong in sending a reporter to the building where she lived, and virtually informing the watchmen and the neighbours about what had happened by asking them if they knew that a woman in their building had been gang-raped (read here). It went further by sending a reporter to the hospital to dig out other details about the rape despite the family begging the media not to write about it, and also helpfully gave away the religion of the survivor by speaking to the head of her religious community.

Breaking news

In an age of television, this problem has become worse. In the rush to be the first to get “breaking news”, TV channels have been tripping over their own wires to interview anyone and everyone who can speak of a rape.

What is happening in Khoda, Noida, where the two survivors of the Bulandshahr rape live, is perhaps the most shameful. By hounding them, the media is compounding the horror that these women have to live with for the rest of their lives. They thought they would be safe if they moved back to their own neighbourhood. Now everyone there knows, the young girl cannot go back to school and the family does not know where to go.

Surely this ought to shake us in the media and make us introspect. How many times must we be reminded that our job as journalists is to report but not to exploit the suffering of those who cannot fight back, who are already beaten down, who have no voice in the normal course of affairs?

Predictably though, the media usually refuses to look inwards even as we expose the faults of the world around us. As if to illustrate this, even as Hindustan Times reported on the excesses of the media in the Bulandshahr rape case on August 3, its editorial on August 4 found no mention of this. It castigated politicians and wrote: “The aim should be to help victims get past their ordeal and get on with their lives. For this we need better law enforcement, speedier justice delivery and emotional assistance.” And a more sensitive media?

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

How sustainable farming practices can secure India's food for the future

India is home to 15% of the world’s undernourished population.

Food security is a pressing problem in India and in the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), it is estimated that over 190 million people go hungry every day in the country.

Evidence for India’s food challenge can be found in the fact that the yield per hectare of rice, one of India’s principal crops, is 2177 kgs per hectare, lagging behind countries such as China and Brazil that have yield rates of 4263 kgs/hectare and 3265 kgs/hectare respectively. The cereal yield per hectare in the country is also 2,981 kgs per hectare, lagging far behind countries such as China, Japan and the US.

The slow growth of agricultural production in India can be attributed to an inefficient rural transport system, lack of awareness about the treatment of crops, limited access to modern farming technology and the shrinking agricultural land due to urbanization. Add to that, an irregular monsoon and the fact that 63% of agricultural land is dependent on rainfall further increase the difficulties we face.

Despite these odds, there is huge potential for India to increase its agricultural productivity to meet the food requirements of its growing population.

The good news is that experience in India and other countries shows that the adoption of sustainable farming practices can increase both productivity and reduce ecological harm.

Sustainable agriculture techniques enable higher resource efficiency – they help produce greater agricultural output while using lesser land, water and energy, ensuring profitability for the farmer. These essentially include methods that, among other things, protect and enhance the crops and the soil, improve water absorption and use efficient seed treatments. While Indian farmers have traditionally followed these principles, new technology now makes them more effective.

For example, for soil enhancement, certified biodegradable mulch films are now available. A mulch film is a layer of protective material applied to soil to conserve moisture and fertility. Most mulch films used in agriculture today are made of polyethylene (PE), which has the unwanted overhead of disposal. It is a labour intensive and time-consuming process to remove the PE mulch film after usage. If not done, it affects soil quality and hence, crop yield. An independently certified biodegradable mulch film, on the other hand, is directly absorbed by the microorganisms in the soil. It conserves the soil properties, eliminates soil contamination, and saves the labor cost that comes with PE mulch films.

The other perpetual challenge for India’s farms is the availability of water. Many food crops like rice and sugarcane have a high-water requirement. In a country like India, where majority of the agricultural land is rain-fed, low rainfall years can wreak havoc for crops and cause a slew of other problems - a surge in crop prices and a reduction in access to essential food items. Again, Indian farmers have long experience in water conservation that can now be enhanced through technology.

Seeds can now be treated with enhancements that help them improve their root systems. This leads to more efficient water absorption.

In addition to soil and water management, the third big factor, better seed treatment, can also significantly improve crop health and boost productivity. These solutions include application of fungicides and insecticides that protect the seed from unwanted fungi and parasites that can damage crops or hinder growth, and increase productivity.

While sustainable agriculture through soil, water and seed management can increase crop yields, an efficient warehousing and distribution system is also necessary to ensure that the output reaches the consumers. According to a study by CIPHET, Indian government’s harvest-research body, up to 67 million tons of food get wasted every year — a quantity equivalent to that consumed by the entire state of Bihar in a year. Perishables, such as fruits and vegetables, end up rotting in store houses or during transportation due to pests, erratic weather and the lack of modern storage facilities. In fact, simply bringing down food wastage and increasing the efficiency in distribution alone can significantly help improve food security. Innovations such as special tarpaulins, that keep perishables cool during transit, and more efficient insulation solutions can reduce rotting and reduce energy usage in cold storage.

Thus, all three aspects — production, storage, and distribution — need to be optimized if India is to feed its ever-growing population.

One company working to drive increased sustainability down the entire agriculture value chain is BASF. For example, the company offers cutting edge seed treatments that protect crops from disease and provide plant health benefits such as enhanced vitality and better tolerance for stress and cold. In addition, BASF has developed a biodegradable mulch film from its ecovio® bioplastic that is certified compostable – meaning farmers can reap the benefits of better soil without risk of contamination or increased labor costs. These and more of the company’s innovations are helping farmers in India achieve higher and more sustainable yields.

Of course, products are only one part of the solution. The company also recognizes the importance of training farmers in sustainable farming practices and in the safe use of its products. To this end, BASF engaged in a widespread farmer outreach program called Samruddhi from 2007 to 2014. Their ‘Suraksha Hamesha’ (safety always) program reached over 23,000 farmers and 4,000 spray men across India in 2016 alone. In addition to training, the company also offers a ‘Sanrakshan® Kit’ to farmers that includes personal protection tools and equipment. All these efforts serve to spread awareness about the sustainable and responsible use of crop protection products – ensuring that farmers stay safe while producing good quality food.

Interested in learning more about BASF’s work in sustainable agriculture? See here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.