Acting as the ‘custodian of Indian culture’, one of Assam’s leading news channels, recently ran a video report which explicitly showed women, as young as schoolgirls, wearing shorts and short skirts and compared them to monkeys who cannot keep clothes on themselves. The video, which was aired almost a month ago, is being criticised for its ‘misogynistic’ undertones, attempt at moral policing, and for filming young women without their consent.
Watch the full report here:
As the video starts playing, you hear the remixed item number ‘Kaanta Laga’ in the background and the visuals are of several young girls wearing shorts, short skirts and short dresses. Soon a voice breaks in and explains, “Even monkeys from the forests have started wearing clothes. The simians from the woods have also started washing clothes. But the need for clothes has come down in the civil society.”
As the background music fades, the voice over continues: “These are visuals from your favourite city. Now shorts have turned out to be the favourite dress for many young girls in Guwahati. That includes half pants too. As if gradually the dresses of a section of young girls have become increasingly shorter than required. For this breed fashion is perhaps expose. But they want to say that wearing clothes as per their choice is a matter of individual right. Wearing shorts give you comfort.
Not only is the report extremely biased and sexist, it stereotypes women wearing shorts as “indecent” and says that the culture of Assam has fallen due to girls who “wear such clothes”. The report has also quoted men, who are wholeheartedly agreeing with the report. “Assam has lost its earlier etiquette. People get usually angry with the men and blame them for giving a bad eye. But just now a girl passed and the dress she was wearing what should I say? The culture we had… that we should be prim and proper in public is gone now.”
A small group of women in Guwahati, although, have decided not to sit quietly after this report. Bipasa Saikia, a journalist, has registered an online petition on Change.org against the vernacular media in Assam.
“Journalism is not about journalists giving their opinions about other people. Journalism is about journalists stating facts and making the people aware of things in the society. However, since the past eight to ten years we have been noticing a trend in the Assamese media where self proclaimed journalists go out and sexually objectify women,” writes Saikia.
Saikia, who is based in Assam, told Firstpost that journalists like Hemen Rajbhonghsi (a Pratidin Time reporter), who upload news like “‘Scantily clad girls, A summer time nuisance’ do not even spare little girls of taking shots that are unimaginably indecent.”
“I want women and girls in my hometown Guwahati to be free. I lived in Delhi for about a seven years, and I was more free there than I am here. Women in Guwahati are subjected to various bullshit. There have been several incidents where girls, who were visiting bars, were dragged out and attacked. The reason given was they were ‘loose’ women.”
A senior journalist based in Guwahati added that vernacular media in the state has taken upon themselves to define the way a woman should “behave” herself in the society.
“It is worse than being repressed. It brings back scary memories of 2012 molestation case. There has been no sentencing yet in that case,” she said on condition of anonymity. The brazenness with which men conduct themselves in this society is nothing short of gross misogyny, she added.
In 2012, a mob had attacked and molested a 20-year-old girl, who was coming out of a bar in Guwahati.
The case had attracted attention across the nation on account of the insensitivity that the local media showed towards her. Instead of preventing the perpetrators from doing the heinous crime, the cameras kept rolling and the questions kept coming.
Another senior journalist, who is based in Guwahati and who did not wished to be named, said that these incidents happen on a daily basis in Guwahati.
“Every week some news channel or the other will carry a report where they shame women some way or the other. The most common are those reports which have both women and alcohol. Every week this happens, sometimes more than once. And this is the first thing you see in the morning.
“Guwahati as a city is suffering because the media here is busy highlighting things that really don’t matter. You should see the sad state of roads, drainage, floods, infrastructure here. But no! The only thing that our media is worried about is why are our women wearing shorts and why are they drinking beer?” she said.
Saikia, elaborating on the mob mentality and the cudgel of moral policing that news channels seem to have readily picked up, said, “It is sick here. You cannot go out and drink. You cannot even think of lighting a smoke on the streets. God know what they will do to you. Most of my friends are backing me up. Most women I know are outraged, but I also know that there is a section of people who agree with the reporter.”
After the Pratidin Time report went viral and social media and the channel and the reporter drew sharp criticism from netizens, Pratidin issued a rejoinder:
“It has been brought to our notice that unwarranted controversy has been created over a news item that was broadcast on ‘Pratin Time’ nearly a month and half ago by a section of the people on social media. That news item was largely based on an issue often discussed in the social and cultural space in Assam. There was no intention to hurt someone’s feelings and denigrate any individual through that news item. If the broadcast of the news item has hurt someone, ‘Pratidin Time’ apologises to everyone concerned.”
Despite several attempts, Hemen Rajbhonghsi was not available for a comment. However, he issued a statement on Facebook too:
“Thanks for being a viewer of our channel. I don’t think my work disrespects my mother and sisters. Because, they never show their legs in public. You don’t know about the male psychology. Men are visually stimulated by nature. And culture! Perhaps you don’t know Assamese culture. As a sister, I respect you. And I also know that learning never ends. So I will be happy if I will be able to learn something from you. Thanks for your comment. But shorts are not symbol of ‘sobhyo’ (the culture). Get well soon.”
The blatant disregard for the outrageous report did not go down well with activists and social media users. Kavita Krishnan, Secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) wrote on Facebook, “Tell this Assam journalist that he can’t use channel for his voyeurism of women’s clothes and bodies and his moral comments on them. If he finds it a nuisance to see skirt clad women he can lock himself up in his own home or cover his eyes. He and the channel have no business to use the TV medium to propagate hatred against women in this fashion.”
Saikia said there should be laws in place that protect women from such baseless abuse on TV.
“I want there to be a law that clearly states the ethical guidelines of jounalism. Especially something that protects women of smaller cities in our country. If a woman in a place, like say Dhubri, is raped and a woman of say Mumbai or Delhi is raped, the results are going to be completely different,” she added.
Saikia told Firstpost that Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has to wake up and take note of the issue. “We are planning for a protest this Sunday.”
Interestingly, the reporter of Pratidin Times ended his report with a very ironical question: “We have sent spacecraft to Mars. But at this time in Assam, the news is on dress code. Till how far is this acceptable? (sic)” We wonder.