Justice Jan: Media guilty of spreading falsehood, inciting violence and Hindus for the Shopian rape-murder
Posted by jagoindia on July 15, 2009
Media misrepresented key facts on Shopian rape-murder
Journalists share responsibility for fanning south Kashmir violence, judge says
For the most part, Justice Jan found, the media misrepresented forensic evidence
Blood on a victim’s forehead was “shamefully distorted and projected as a mark of sindoor”
NEW DELHI: Ever since May, when the bodies of two women washed up near Shopian, journalists have chronicled the multiple failures of administration and policing that allowed the tragic deaths to spark off some of the worst street violence ever seen in Jammu and Kashmir.
Following the release of the findings of the Justice Muzaffar Jan Commission of Enquiry on Friday, the Jammu and Kashmir government has announced that it intends to prosecute four police officials for some of those failures.
But both journalists and the Jammu and Kashmir government have maintained a stoic silence on one institution blamed by Justice Jan for spreading falsehood and inciting violence: the media itself.
Justice Jan’s report highlights disturbing evidence that some journalists may have fabricated elements of their stories.
Early in June, several Srinagar-based journalists reported that one victim’s husband had received a call from her at 7 p.m. on May 29. During the call, the accounts said, the victim reported that she was being chased by CRPF personnel.
In their testimony to the Jan Commission, though, the victim’s husband and her brother made it clear that she had never owned a mobile phone, a fact first reported in this newspaper. Jammu and Kashmir police investigators attached to the Commission studied 32,686 cellphone calls made in Shopian on May 29, and were able to establish that none was made to or from any phone that may have been in the victim’s possession.
Efforts were also made by sections of the media to suggest that the local police may have sought to hush up the case on the orders of their superior. Journalists in particular turned on Constable Mohammad Yaseen, who was reported to have made several phone calls to superiors even as a search for the victims’ bodies was underway — evidence, it was argued, of the unusual interest of his bosses in the case.
In fact, the Commission found, Mr. Yaseen had made only four calls during the whole day and none between 10 p.m. on June 29, when the search for the victims began, until 6 a.m. on June 30, when the bodies were found.
Local resident Jamal-ud-Din Wani, claimed by the media to be an eyewitness to the killings, was alleged to have been abducted after the bodies were found. The Jan Commission found him living in a tent at the hamlet of Dehgam, close to Shopian, where he works as a watchman at a local seminary.
For the most part, Justice Jan found, the media misrepresented forensic evidence. Media accounts insisted that both women appeared to have been badly beaten and gang raped. However, the Jan Commission states, pathologists found no evidence to support the proposition of gang rape. Moreover, only one victim’s body was found to bear visible external injuries. Claims that one victim was pregnant at the time of her death, Justice Jan states, were also wrong.
Perhaps in order to buttress claims that the two women had been raped before they were killed, some journalists asserted that their clothes were torn. However, witnesses interviewed by the Jan Commission said that the women’s Feran and shalwar were intact.
Most disturbing, though, is Justice Jan’s finding that the media incited hatred by broadcasting communal propaganda.
Based on the accounts of individuals claiming to be eyewitnesses, newspapers said that one victim’s forehead had been smeared with sindoor — an allegation that suggested that the rapists were Hindus, and the rape itself macabre religion-driven hate crime. However, the Commission noted, the red marks on her forehead were in fact blood from a head wound. “The flow of blood,” the report states, “was shamefully distorted and projected as a mark of sindoor.”
Noting that this kind of reporting has fuelled violence in Jammu and Kashmir, Justice Jan has suggested that “firm guidelines are made to ensure that, before publication of any news, the authenticity of the news be verified.”