Social media naming and shaming: Is it really justice?

Instant accusation now metes out an instant verdict.

 |  3-minute read |   25-08-2015
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In two cases in the past week - in Mumbai, a man masturbated at a foreign national Maryanna Abdo in Colaba and in New Delhi, Jasleen Kaur was abused by a motorcyclist who hurled obscenities at her, posed for her picture, and dared her to do something about it -the police only stepped in long after the issue was taken to social media and RTed numerous times. Even as social media generously stepped the pedal on the sharing, and heartily congratulated the women as justice was seen to be done, is trial by social media a sign that justice in India today, especially for women, is a failed system?

Also read: Time to shame and name men

The justice system - from the police beat constable to the courts of India - exist for a reason. And that reason whether we like it or not, is as much justice for the accused, as for the victim of any crime. So in the instantaneous name-and-shame criminal justice of the internet, a man or woman may be accused, strung up, and publicly shamed - the stones cast in a public lynching - without the accused having his say. Everyone from CM Arvind Kejriwal no less has hailed this taking the fight to the streets.

Did the man in New Delhi hurl obscenities or was she too quick to take offence? Why did the 20 witnesses Kaur says were around not step in to help? Who had the right of way? Was the man in Mumbai genuinely peeing? What does the man in olive green who stepped in to help (we will take a minute here to applaud Mumbai's stepping-in-ability over Delhi's), have to say about the issue?

Also read: How many tweets will it take for all the perverts to be exposed?

It may very well be, now that the police have taken both cases over, that both these women were absolutely correct and those two men deserve to spend some time behind bars or paying hefty fines. And it is absolutely brave, more so in New Delhi than in Mumbai, to take on an attacker, especially one issuing an open threat.

But the point is that social media does not allow one to ask these seemingly offensive questions of the victim and the alleged criminal. Social media conveniently does away with the word "alleged" altogether. Instant accusation metes out an instant verdict. While that's brilliant in the case of a man who may not deserve to get away, it isn't so much for the man who is misunderstood, or caught in a flood of anger that he has no ability to turn back.

The Dimapur lynching comes to mind.

Also read: Dimapur lynching: Five reasons this was a hate crime

Bravery is a great thing in women and is to be encouraged; modern technology and laws provide them with the tools to cloak themselves in it - apps to call for help, cameras to record, connectivity to upload, and the unquestioning protection of the law. Witness statements, to a wired woman, are no longer crucial. That a woman so equipped would rather take her evidence and testimony to social media than to the nearest police station is a damning indictment of the system in itself. It is the failures of law and order that are caught out as women react quicker to harassment now than the State itself and it is for the State to ask if it is doing enough to fill the gaps in policing that can so easily be plugged with an inventive use of technology. What is the police doing to restore faith in its systems in the people?

Trial by media is old hat. Is the State now comfortable with social media being the new justice system?


Gayatri Jayaraman Gayatri Jayaraman @gayatri__j

Mumbai-based writer, reporter, editor. Currently writing two books.

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