How the media let down a brave woman last week

The fight of Santadevi should have mattered more to us than Manjeet Kaur's with a traffic cop.

 |  3-minute read |   16-05-2015
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As a journalist one always comes across stories that will make you feel you didn't do justice to them. Two stories last week broke at the same time - that was one such moment. The first featured visuals of a traffic police constable throwing a brick on a woman while her five-year-old child looked on distraught and the other, Santadevi, 19, from Rajasthan, who was ostracised by her community for publicly wanting to anull her child marriage.

jodhpur-child-marria_051615050330.jpg If there is someone who earned the right to be on prime time TV that day to tell her side, it was Santadevi.

Even the most jaded journalist will know which story would fetch maximum traction in the capital. Within moments of the story airing, our phones were ringing and viewers began to express disgust. Few could get over the fact that a petrified child in a school uniform was witnessing a cop assault his mother. How could a cop do this? And to a woman? The woman was Manjeet Kaur. As it turned out, the day belonged to Manjeet Kaur . Her "heroic" act of standing up to a "tyrannical" cop somehow overshadowed the news of Santadevi and possibly the first public rejection of child marriage in Rajasthan by a girl who was "married" off when she was 11 months old.

It wasn't just the media, most were quick to side with Manjeet. Sadly the questions being raised were not how or why a cop assaulted a citizen, but how or why did he assault a woman? And how a woman (Manjeet) fought back.

I thought of Santadevi's fight. Having reported extensively on child marriage and female foeticide/infanticide in Rajasthan, I can tell you that it takes a brave and bold woman to come out on a public platform and reject a marriage that her parents entered her into when she was an infant.

Away from the crores spent in advertisements and public service campaigns to raise the ills of child marriage, here we finally had a poster child. A live example of someone who stood up, said too bad, the panchayat can slap me with a 16 lakh rupees fine but I'm not married just because I was pledged to a man.

And how did we in the media respond to such a story?

We not only let Santadevi down but also confirmed that for most of us women's rights as an issue is far sexier when represented by aggressive TV campaigns or Bollywood stars talking about empowerment rather than real life examples.

Sadly it's not just us "TRP" hungry media to blame. While it was great that an FIR was lodged suo motu by the Delhi Police against the head constable who assaulted Manjeet, in the case of Santadevi the Rajasthan government said it will "contemplate action" if her family lodges an FIR. I'm sure Santadevi's family, already ostracised, will give enough time to the Rajasthan government to "contemplate" before they actually decide to lodge an FIR which in their community means nothing short of social suicide. Contemplate... Is a fairly good word to put in use... Maybe not for the Rajasthan government but for us... And what we should have done when both the stories broke.

Arguably the story of a cop physically assaulting a citizen, a stone's throw from Delhi's tony Khan Market is a bigger story, but if there is someone who earned the right to be on prime time television that day to tell her side, it was Santadevi... Not Manjeet. It is rather late to say this, and to be honest, I largely say it to stem the guilt, but Santadevi should have mattered to us more. If there was a heroine that day, it was her. Sadly, like a film award function, the performance which stole the show did not sweep any awards.

Writer

Preeti Choudhry Preeti Choudhry @preetichoudhry

The writer is a journalist with India Today TV.

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