On Thursday morning, Public TV, a Kannada news channel, posted footage of inmates at the Central Prison for Women in Tumkur cleaning the prison premises. The broadcast was supposed to be on the ill-treatment faced by the inmates of the jail, particularly at the hands of the jailer, Shinaza Nigawan, who also harassed them and refused to give them proper food. Ironically, it’s being alleged that it was Nigawan himself who gave permission for the women to videotaped without their consent or knowledge by the husband of one of the constables, who then handed over the footage to Public TV.
When the inmates saw this footage on Thursday morning, they were obviously shocked and upset. One of the inmates attempted to commit suicide after seeing the footage, and 80 other prisoners began a hunger strike, expressing their outrage at being filmed and broadcast without their knowledge in such circumstances. Deputy Inspector General of Prisons Veerabhadra Swamy visited the prison soon afterwards, and transferred the jailer.
Which is of course a wholly unsatisfactory response: action needs to be taken to ensure that the jailer can’t ever harass women prisoners in any way again, and merely transferring him to another jail won’t do that. At best, it just ensures that he won’t harass the particular inmates at the Central Prison for Women in Tumkur again.
The nature of this case, the media’s involvement in it and the horrifying impression it made on the minds of the women involved also reminds me of another report from a couple of weeks ago that I found truly heartbreaking. A girl from Kannur, Kerala scored 1180 out of 1200 in the higher secondary school exams. Immediately after, news channels began reporting extensively on her lower income background and living conditions. These were facts that she had hidden from her own friends and schoolmates, so it was obviously the last thing she wanted to see splashed on daily newspapers. Unable to bear the humiliation, she committed suicide.
So before we just go ahead and excuse Public TV entirely for airing that footage just because it wasn’t illegal to do it, maybe we could take a step back and think about what we’re doing, and whether its necessary, or just okay by common standards of decency (which are actually often a lot higher than the law). The media and publicity are powerful things, and a lot of the people we talk about so casually in public never asked to be in the public eye at all. It’s not a bad idea to never forget that the people we report on are real, actual people.