Neglect Or Nexus?

BY Vasavi| IN Regional Media | 28/08/2002
Neglect Or Nexus

Neglect Or Nexus?

Vasavi in Ranchi

How come newspapers in Jharkhand think that the rape of an adivasi woman by the worker of a non-governmental organisation, and the subsequent surrender of the accused, is not news?

On June 6, when a man named Ranjit Singh surrendered in the court of the chief judicial magistrate in Dumka, it marked the culmination of a three month effort by the police to bring him to book for raping a tribal woman. This was the fourth instance of rape of an adivasi woman by the same man. He had become a menace for those allegedly being served by the non governmental organisation (NGO) he worked for, The Agrarian Assistance Association.

If you read the Santhal Pangranas edition of either Prabhat Khabar or Hindustan, you would not have known that such an incident had taken place at all, or that the man had finally surrendered to the local court. There was not even a tiny news item on June 7, or even thereafter, though the papers devote three pages to local news of the most trivial kind. And this was not an exception. In March when the incident took place, coverage had been muted, and the organisation and the culprit were not named. It is the norm for newspapers to here to take a charitable view of oppressive acts that NGOs commit. Most of those who run these organisations are non-tribals, as are the owners, editors and staff of most newspapers.

The non-governmental sector is well entrenched in districts which fall within the new state of Jharkhand. But one of the issues long glossed over by civil society and the press is the sexual exploitation of adivasi women by these NGOs. The reason the latest case came to light is because a tribal activist from the area, Munni Hazra, raised the issue. Before that even the thana in-charge in Kathikud, refused to register the FIR for three days, despite being a woman herself. She is a non-tribal police officer. If the case reached the stage of trial it is because the DIG (deputy inspector general of police) for Dumka took a strong stand and pursued the case.

There was enough evidence of the assault, the rapist was caught by villagers in the house of the victim and held. There was a meeting between the village head, known as the Majhi Haram, and those who came to try and release the accused Ranjit Singh, pleading that he should be let off because he had done social service in the area. But the victim, Putul Soren went ahead and tried to file an FIR, which she finally succeeded in doing.

Ranjit Singh is the nephew of Satinder Singh who runs this NGO, and he also works there. This is the fourth time he has raped an adivasi woman, using the access that he has in that area as a social worker. In national newspapers such incidents become front page anchor stories. In the regional language press they are not even treated as news. Why is that? Is it because the NGOs have enough influence to hush up such cases?

Asked the reason for the blackout, the edition-in charge for Prabhat Khabar in Dhanbad, Vishnu Rajgaria, said that it was not a case of hushing up, since the paper frequent highlights incidents of assaults or oppression of adivasis. In fact he said the Dumka reporter was fairly committed in his coverage of issues affecting the adivasi population. If he did not cover this surrender it could be because it did not come to his notice. The police would not include the news in their press release if the victim had surrendered himself, and since there are a large number of surrenders, all of them do not come to the attention of the press.

The other likely source of such news is the lawyer for either party, but in this case he said, it seemed that no organisation had made the issue sufficiently public for the press to pick it up. Nor

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