Scurrilous insinuations about raped nun

BY Pramodini pradhan| IN Media Practice | 06/11/2008
An Oriya daily owned and edited by a BJD MP has published a number of articles questioning the veracity of the rape, and making other insinuations.
PRAMODINI PRADHAN of PUCL, Orissa asks whether such violations of Press Council guidelines should be allowed to go unchallenged. Pix: Tathagatha Satpathy

In the last few weeks, the issue of the alleged rape of a nun has been a subject of media attention, particularly in the local media.  But if we look at how a section of the media has launched a seemingly motivated campaign vilifying the alleged victims, it is a matter of serious concern.  While the role of the media in the larger context of the ongoing crisis in Kandhamal needs to be examined, I am responding here to the issue of nun¿s rape, which one newspaper has put it as the ¿main issue¿.


 In a local Oriya daily, Dharitri, which is owned and edited by Tathagatha Satpathy, a sitting MP (BJD) from Orissa, a number of articles have been published questioning the veracity of the allegation of rape.  The Samaj, another Oriya daily, has been carrying reports arguing that the allegation of rape is a blatant lie.  No doubt, it is the duty and right of the press to bring out all facts relevant to a particular issue if there is sufficient  reason/evidence to believe that it is true and its publication will be for public good.  This is the standard norm of professionalism for the press as set by the Press Council of India. 


Had the newspapers under discussion confined its writings to the facts of the matter to prove that the allegation of rape is false nobody would have objected to it.  What is objectionable and condemnable is that the arguments put forward in these articles/reports are not confined to the relevant facts of the matter but have delved into the private space of the individuals concerned, questioning the sexual life of the victims. For the information of those who haven¿t had the chance to read these writings I am giving below the gist of the arguments as reported by these newspapers. 



  • In the medical reports, there is no sign of violence or forced action on any private parts of her body;   


  • On the other hand, there was evidence of she having a physical relation with one person within 24 hours preceding the incident (of the medical test)


  • But the doctors didn¿t get any evidence of she being ¿enjoyed¿ by more than one man;


  • Further, the semen found on her body didn¿t have the sperm in it and this could be so only in case of elderly, old or impotent persons;


  • Two lady doctors have conducted the medical test of the nun and have given the view that prior to the incident the nun was an experienced one in sexual intercourse;


  • The forensic tests, done on the clothes that the nun was wearing during the time of rape, do not show any evidence of rape;


  • Going by her statement to the press, it seems she had no such regrets.


The fact that even after the newspapers have reported about the character of the nun and have the evidence to prove that the allegation of rape is a blatant lie, the Christian community has not protested any of these reports.  Their silence proves that they have accepted what the newspapers have reported.


It needs to be noted that the newspapers have made a reference to the case of another alleged rape of a nun which took place in 1999 in Orissa.  As in the present case, the newspapers have questioned the sexual integrity of the concerned nun in the earlier case, quoting the medical report which, ¿after examining the private parts¿ of the victim, reportedly mentioned that the ¿unmarried nun¿ was not only not raped but ¿she was experienced in having sexual intercourse with man¿. 


The Press Council of India has clear guidelines for the Press while reporting crime involving rape of women.  But none of these is being followed by these newspapers.


By publishing such defamatory writings the publishers and editors of the concerned newspapers have clearly violated the norms of responsible journalism.  While this matter should be brought to the notice of the Press Council of India, I think the response of the civil society organizations, women¿s groups and concerned individuals will matter most if we want to see the media refrain from such scurrilous writings while reporting incidents of rape.  Judging a victim of rape by her past or present sexual life continues to be the norm in our society.  In the present instance, before the case is admitted in the courts of law, the newspapers have tried the case and pronounced the judgement – the victim is condemned to be guilty on the basis of her sexual life.


I would like to know the views of others on this issue and invite suggestionson what collective actions could be taken.



Pramodini Pradhan



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