Reporting of abuse or abuse of reporting: Gurgaon incident, an observation of reporting language

Representational image.

The alleged sexual abuse and murder of a 7-year-old boy of Gurgaon based Ryan International School is not exclusive news now. He was found with throat slit in the toilet of the school Friday morning. Later it gets clarification as it was a murder not sexual abuse. NDTV reported quoting PTI, “The child die due to excessive bleeding. There was no sexual assault on the minor and no semen marks were found on his school dress,” news agensy PTI quoting doctor, who conducted the postmortem. These are the matter of investigation and judiciary probe indeed.

We here want to discuss about the news potryals of this gruesome crime reported in English press.

Deccan Chronicle writes in their article: “Killer attempted to sexually abuse 7-year-old schoolboy,” PTI quoted police as saying. They headline is, “7-yr-old schoolboy’s killer held, tried to sexually abuse him: Gurgaon police”

Screenshot of reporting on Deccan Chronicle.

Several other newspapers described this crime by framing phrases as “sexual assault”. HT anonymously quoted, “He wanted to sodomise the child but could not. Fearing he would raise an alarm or inform the authorities, he took out the knife and slit his throat,” said an official.

Screenshot of reporting on HT using the word ‘sodomise’.

Malayala Manorama headlined, “Bus conductor arrested for sexually abusing, killing 7 year old boy in school.” But wrote in their article “Police said he then went to the washroom, and then waited there, intending to commit sodomy on any student who walked in.”

The Tribune, TOI reported “Kumar’s family in Bhondsi also claimed he was innocent, though later in the day, outside the Gurgaon district court, Kumar made an “admission” of guilt before news reporters and said he had committed the murder because the child had seen him in an “objectionable position” (after his arrest on Friday afternoon, Kumar had told police he was stimulating himself inside the washroom when the boy walked in).

But police suspect he tried to sexually assault the boy, going by traces of semen that they claim was found on the child’s clothes, and slit his throat with a knife when he resisted.” Indian Express, NDTV, News18, Indiatoday, TheQuint , The Hindu used the phrases like ‘sexual assault’ or ‘sexual abuse’. Scroll.in headlined it as “Crime Against Child” and picked the term ‘abuse’ quoting IndiaToday in its main article. DNA quoted Gurugram Police Commissioner Sandeep Khirwar, “The previous records of the accused are being scanned. He has confessed to have killed the child. He was inside the washroom when the child entered. When the victim resisted his advances, Kumar slit his throat. He then washed his hands, cleaned the knife, threw it inside the washroom, and left. We have requested for a trial in a fast-track court.”

Screenshot of reporting on TOI.
Screenshot of reporting on DNA
Screenshot of reporting on TIE
Screenshot of reporting on Indiatoday.in
Screenshot of reporting on News18.com
Screenshot of reporting on NDTV.com

Gender neutral law & Sodomy:

We also know that this is a country where the only form of any recognized sexual wrongdoing towards a man is sodomy, under section 377 of IPC. So, it is essential for the victim to prove before court that he has been sodomised. This on the other way contradicts another verdict of 2013. On that verdict the Centre passed its stop-gap Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, which substituted “sexual assault” for “rape” and made the crime gender-neutral from the aspect of both perpetrator and victim. Yet this was, in effect, a mixed bag. While the recognition of male victims and female perpetrators was solved, it did not use the word “rape”, which was a significant omission. Mentioned in a previous article by the Scroll, which read “India’s law should recognize that men can be raped too”

Legal definition of sexual harassment according to US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature” are deemed as sexual harassment. It fits perfectly for any gender and is neutral.

In American perspective, The Slate carried an article headlined, ‘What is sodomy?’ , which explained, “The word “sodomy” itself is something of a misnomer, since the Bible contains no mention of homosexual conduct among the residents of Sodom. That corrupt city was not destroyed because of acts of buggery but rather because its citizens were inhospitable to God’s angelic messengers. Sodom was not linguistically linked with anal sex until the Middle Ages.” SaahilMurli Menghani, anchor of news18 tweeted 

Screenshot of tweet by SahilMurli Menghani

In response to his tweet a kolkata based mental health care professional Anindya Kar has something different to say

Screenshot of tweet by Anindya Kar, in reply to Sahil’s tweet

I have contacted this user (Anindya) to know why he is opposing this particular word. To which he replied “There is no harm on using Sodomy because the dictionary says it means anal intercourse. But for example in today’s India if we are highlighting a famous transgender activist’s work we will never use the word Hijra or “XYZ, the cyclonic Hijra of India,” because the word although means transgender will be derogatory and has been used as a slang for decades. Proper linguistic approach makes people aware of their own gestures and eventually helps to eradicate the hate words. Recently American Psychological Association interchanged the term “Mental Retardation” from their dictionary DSM(Diagnostics and Statistical Manual) with “Intellectual disability”, despite of the same meaning. The approach was just to address this subconscious hatred.”
If we are reporting about rape or sexuality of a woman we don’t need to describe it as “vaginal intercourse”. Even our lawmakers are in confusion to term “marital rape” which is in judicial process. For child abuse the word “sexual assault” is enough to describe this heinous crime. News is for everyone. There is no point confusing the readers by using particular ‘misnomer’ word like ‘sodomy’. If so, what would be the perfect word for language press?

However we are hopeful towards new English Media of India, where they are reporting/tweeting in a more sensitive way and consciously in sense of equal rights and tweeted

Screenshot of tweet by ScoopWhoop.com

The Scoopwhoop news headlined on Ramjas Professor case as “After 10 Yrs, Ramjas Professor Proved Guilty of Sexually Abusing a Number of Male Students”.

Words, in fact, can aid to thinking language of news reporting also.

With editorial inputs by Mita Biswas this article is produced by Sk Badiruddin.

He is a Kolkata based freelance multimedia journalist writes on socio-cultural affairs. He can be contacted on twitter @skbadiruddin

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