Misunderstanding first person reporting  on rape

IN Opinion | 21/10/2002
Misunderstanding first person reporting on rape


Misunderstanding first person reporting  on rape 


Letter to The Hoot: It is all too simple to throw a stone at Ambarish Mishra, but unfortunately Bombay is one big glass house.

Throwing Stones


Dear Editor,


I appreciate the good work of "The Hoot", but I am astonished by Rahul Goswami¿s nine-page diatribe ("First person reporting on rape: what happened at the copydesk?) against Ambarish Mishra¿s article.

Like any other critical and serious journalist, I deplore the diminishing standards of professionalism in leading newspapers like the TOI. But I cannot fathom why you have singled out this particular article, which was amongst the few unusual and unsettling articles in a paper dominated by banal crudities, for attack.


Goswami cites a letter to the editor saying: "Well, if I was Ambarish Mishra, I would have been too ashamed to write this article, having done nothing to stop the rape." Well, apparently neither the reader nor Rahul Goswami have understood that this was exactly the point of the article--- to shock the sated and cynical reader into exploring the question whether he is really separate from those who commit such hideous crimes--- as he would like to believe, or whether the evil lurks inside of everyone,  or in less pathos-laden words, whether each one of us is sure that he/she could and would live up to the ideals of their proclaimed humanity. The answer is of course: NO. None of us can, otherwise we would not pass people on the streets who are ill or insane or even dying, without helping them. It is all too simple to throw a stone at Ambarish Mishra, but unfortunately Bombay is one big glass house.

The fact that this journalist, evidently neither particularly famous nor ambitious, would have the courage to confess to his complete loss of humanity on that evening on the suburban train, is an act of courage. His article is indeed dreadful, but "dreadful" in another sense: it is dreadful
because of its lack of explanation, reflection, relativism which usually distances the journalist from his subject matter. Mishra¿s is an act of public confession, and it can be judged only on these terms. The question as to how the newspaper should have followed up the story is a valid and
important one, and, as usual, the journalists of most newspapers showed appalling disrespect and disinterest in the victim, a dirty, maybe dumb tribal girl (imagine the reaction if it had been a girl from an elite college instead). That is scandalous, but it has nothing to do with Mishra¿s
initial article, which could only have appeared in this form, because it was a direct, poignant testimony. Pondering upon it for days, researching the social and economic context would have led to a distancing from the personal experience. I do not want any gibberish explanation as to why Mishra and the other men on board did not do anything - the horror of their crime is
self-evident and it is a necessity to rediscover the jolting impact of horror in an age in which our hearts have become callused and we cynically shrug off the tides of suffering that reach our doorstep.

Therefore I think it is dreadful and shocking to continue to write about babes and bimbos on Page 3 in times of such distress, far more shocking than the honest confession of a failed journalist on Page 1 of India¿s leading English-language newspaper. For this act, Mishra deserves our admiration as a colleague, perhaps as a first step towards redressing his failure as a human being.

With best wishes
Ilija Trojanow
October 19, 2002



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