Saturday, January 7, 2012

Arushi vs Nithari: Media's Class War

Just about one kilometer separates the two: one is a house numbered L-32 in Sector 25 of Noida, a suburb of Delhi. Sector 25 is inhabited mostly by middle and upper middle class residents. The other is a cluster of rooms and huts called Nithari. This slum is inhabited mostly by domestic help, rickshaw pullers and other discards of India Shining. In L-32, one teenage girl called Arushi Talwar and a domestic help named Hemraj were found murdered. The media coverage of this double murder-committed in May 2008-has been so frenzied, so sensational and so relentless that it is still front page headline in newspapers of Delhi. Virtually every newspaper printed in Delhi has a front page story today that says that the parents of Arushi will face trial for her murder. From the cluster of rooms and huts called Nithari, poor parents-of the type who work as domestic help in the homes of journalists-lost close to two dozen children ranging from age 6 to age 20. These kids were sexually abused, violated, killed, dismembered and even cannibalised in the house of a rich businessman. These crimes occurred over two years in 2005 and 2006. The sheer brutality and shocking perversion of the crimes did create a small media firestorm. But that is it. Nithari and its 20 odd namesless victims have been dumped into the dustbin of forgotten stories while the Arushi story still manages front page headlines.

What better example can you find of the deep rooted bias in Indian media? Both the Arushi and the Nithari crimes were brutal and chilling; the Nithari muders far more so by a distance. Both involved allegations of sex and sexual perversion. And yet, the Indian media focuses its harsh and voyeuristic lens only on the Arushi Talwar murder. In fact, I was ashamed of myself this morning after reading the front page headlines when I tried to recall the names of the Nithari victims. I have a reasonably good memory; at least others tell me so. And yet, the only victim's name I could recall was Payal; that too perhaps Payal is such a familiar name. Now that the parents of Arushi will stand trial, expect a media circus again and also expect comments on how powerful people like the Talwars get away. No one will talk of how the Central Bureau of Investigation gave a clean chit to Moninder Singh Kohli, the rich businessman in whose the Nithari kids were butchered and dismembered.

You don't need to be a rocket scientist to understand the reasons behind this discrepancy in media coverage. Arushi Talwar was 'People Like Us', middle and upper middle class. We journalists identify with such people. Nithari victims like Payal are poor Indians whom we journalists largely ignore, if not abuse and exploit. So one Arushi is worth more TV discussions and more columns and more headlines in newspapers than more than 20 kids who happened to be poor and living in slums.

The Indian media indulges in this kind of Class War on a daily basis; its prejudice, hypocrisy and double standards exposed every day in the manner in which covers stories. For example, journalists and columnists rave and rant about subsidised kerosene meant for the poor and how it encourages corruption, creates market distortions and what not. How many journalists and columnists write the same about the obscene subsidies given to LPG cylinders? Do you see huge front page stories when the price of Kerosene is raised? If the price of LPG or petrol-used primarily by the middle class and the rich-newspapersand TV channels go ballistic.

I could go on and on with such exmaples of Class War perpetrated by the Indian media. But then I know, Arushi will still grab the headlines while Payal will just be a name.


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