The 'cameraman' as participant, instigator

The 'cameraman' as participant, instigator

The 'cameraman' as participant, instigator

The camera is an intrusive wea­pon. In its basic form it merely registers  an event. But in the hands of a television reporter, it can assume various avatars. It can inspire and motivate, it can incite and turn a bystander into a villain or a hero.

In all its roles, the camera takes advantage of a basic human frailty: the desire and need to be preserved for eternity. It is this search for preservation that has made the camera (or the printed word, to a lesser degree ) assume a power and weight, far beyond its ethical role or function.

So in the darkness of a Guwahati night, or within the confines of a Mangalore Homestay ,the very sight of a camera prompted and encouraged some thugs to preserve their hellish act of  molesting girls, in video format.

Nothing else mattered to them. Seeing the camera whirring nearby, they laughed, mocked, molested and brutalised girls, in the name of great Indian moral code. We do not know if the cameramen in the twin incidents were the instigators of the ghastly crime but we do know that their presence prolonged the humiliation women suffered in both cities. Should the cameramen have played citizen, instead of turning it into a public spectacle ?

Love for visuals

In today’s India the camera is the media. We love to see, rather than read. A molestation reported in a single column holds no gravitas for us. We are not shamed by it. But a clip on YouTube? It guarantees a million hits.

The camera, also leads the fight against corruption (sting operations). It   instigates revolts against constitutionally elected governments (the Anna movement). It sets agendas, records moments of glory (sporting spectacles) and canonises spurious godmen (Baba Ramdev), apart from being a sort of national wailing wall where everyone comes and pours out their anger. With such immense power over a whole population, the camera has changed everything we know and transformed the way we react.

So has the camera become the final arguer and arbiter? Apparently it has. But what about the time honoured values of factual and faithful reporting? Does the camera have a social role to perform? In real terms, it is a perceptive voyeur of events that are happening around it. It does not have the arsenal to solve social issues, it has no solutions for national ailments, no weapon to immobilise hooligans, and yet, it must draw the line between reporting reality and creating it.  

That is the danger we face from the camera today. It must, therefore, go back to its role as observer and reporter and never assume the role of instigator, creator  and arbiter. If it fails to do so, it will completely erode it’s credibility and raise questions about its relevance.

Crime and punishment

The homestay attack is neither the first such incident nor will it be the last going by the growing intolerance in Mangalore and other places. Here is a list of attacks by the moral brigade in the state (attacks on persons transporting cattle, on prayer halls including the infamous church attacks and head scarf row excluded).

- June 4, 2005: A group of youth belonging to Bajrang Dal attacked a bus carrying employees (mostly Hindus) of a cloth store and their spouses on a tour organised by their Muslim employer, near Pumpwell in Mangalore.  The “moral police” stoned the bus and assaulted the passengers. The police took nearly 45 minutes to reach the spot, by which time the vandals had escaped. A cameraman from a private TV channel suffered stab injuries in the incident.

-  Aug 9, 2008: Karnataka Rakshana Vedike activists raided a dhaba near Manchanabele dam, Magadi taluk and attacked around 35 persons having a rave party. Though police booked the revellers under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 and recovered liquor and banned substances, the KRV came in for criticism for not informing the police and taking the law into their hands.

-  Dec 27, 2008: A group of students of Matha Educational Trust PU College were on a tour to Mysore from Mangalore, when Bajrang Dal activists led by Mangalore city unit convenor Sharan Pumpwell assaulted the students.

- Jan 24, 2009: The infamous pub attack in the heart of Mangalore city made nationwide headlines. The attackers led by Sri Ram Sene leader Prasad Attavar, along with a few mediapersons, assaulted a group of boys and girls who were having lunch in the pub. Cases were booked against Sene leader Pramod Muthalik, Prasad Attavar and nine others. The case is pending trial.

- Feb 6, 2009: Manjeshwar MLA C H Kunhabbu’s daughter, a II PU student of a Mangalore college, was kidnapped by members of Hindu Yuva Sene, after stopping the bus in which she was travelling from Kasargod, for allegedly speaking to her  friend’s brother, a Muslim. It was a well orchestrated attack in which four youth boarded the bus, dragged the boy and girl out and kidnapped them in a waiting autorickshaw. The victims were rescued by the police.

- Feb 11, 2009: A 15-year-old 9th standard student,  Ashwini, committed suicide at Aikala near Kinnigoli in Mulky (Mangalore taluk) after alleged harassment by Bajrang Dal activists for talking to a Muslim youth.

- Aug 14, 2011: Bajrang Dal activists assaulted 15 youth, mostly employees of call centres and college students, partying in a resort on Ucchila beach road in Ullal, and fled before the police arrived. Cases were booked against 16 accused.

- July 28, 2012: Hindu Jagarana Vedike members attacked a group of nine boys and girls partying at ‘Morning Mist’ homestay near Padil in Mangalore. The police have arrested 22 out of the 27 accused (who include two mediapersons who have not been arrested).
They have been remanded in judicial custody till August 24. The prime accused Subash Padil has been booked under various sections of the IPC read with the Karnataka Prevention of Destruction and Loss of Property Act. Padil is facing 11 more cases in various police stations.

(The writer is a Delhi-based advocate.)


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