After Delhi Rape Victim Leaves India, Questions Raised About Media’s Role


Indian Media

Members of an Indian medical team leave the Mount Elizabeth Hospital to board an embassy van in Singapore on December 27, 2012. Credit: Roslan Rahman/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

On Wednesday night, the entrance of Safdarjung Hospital in New Delhi resembled a carnival, overrun with police officers, eager journalists and curious passersby.  At least two dozen television news vans were staked outside, awaiting the latest word on the condition of the 23-year-old woman who was gang-raped on a Delhi bus last week.

Reporters gave on-camera analysis and competed for snippets of “exclusive” news from the hospital authorities, while drivers stopped to gawk at the spectacle. Inside, security officers guarded the premises like a fortress.  At 10:30 p.m., the woman departed the hospital for the airport, to be flown to Singapore for further treatment; she left Safdarjung in a procession consisting of three ambulances, as many police vans and multiple police cars, with dozens of television vans not far behind.

The Indian news media’s coverage of the Delhi gang rape and its aftermath has started to resemble the kind of play-by-play commentary once seen only in cricket matches, with a focus on the short-term and the sensational that is drawing criticism from many quarters.

On his Facebook page, actor Amitabh Bachchan wrote “Ethics be damned !!,” and cited a story of a journalist who once came to his hospital room dressed as a doctor.

Noopor Tiwari, a journalist based in Paris, writes that in concentrating on stories like the Delhi gang rape,  the Indian media risk making other, more common forms of rape, such as acquaintance rape or marital rape, seem less serious. The Indian Express argued in an editorial that the nonstop coverage was breeding “bloodlust” in Delhi, saying that the recent protests in the capital had been “amplified and primed up hysterically by the electronic media.”

Unlike in many previous high-profile rape cases, the media (and the police) have not made the victim’s name public. But critics say the coverage has not only been incendiary but has, yet again, painted a rape victim as a shamed woman.

Activists from women’s groups say it is important to speak of rape not as the ruination of a life, but as a horrific act that one can survive and move on from. “There is this tendency to equate rape with the end of the girl’s life, which sends a very counterproductive message,” said Jayati Ghosh, a professor of economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University. “The media tend to refer to the girl as a victim – I believe that rape is an act of extreme physical violence from which one is a survivor and not a victim.”

The woman has been dubbed “Damini”  by protesters and on social networking sites, after a Hindi film about a woman’s struggle for justice for a rape survivor. Another survivor of the attack last week, a male, 28-year-old software engineer who, like the woman, was beaten and thrown out of the moving bus, has also been hounded by reporters, but is said to have been so traumatized by the incident that his father is taking him to their hometown in Uttar Pradesh to recover.

On Thursday morning the 23-year-old was admitted to Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore, which specializes in multi-organ transplant. The woman suffered severe injuries during the attack; at Safdarjung she underwent three abdominal operations and experienced a cardiac arrest.

On Thursday evening Kelvin Loh, the chief executive of the hospital said in a statement that the patient is still in extremely critical condition and was being treated at the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit. “A multi-disciplinary team of specialists is taking care of her and doing everything possible to stabilize her condition,” he said. Earlier today, a hospital official told the Press Trust of India, “We request that the privacy of the patient and family be respected.”

Barkha Dutt, a prominent Indian journalist, was among the first to reveal the name of the Singapore hospital on Twitter on Wednesday night, writing

The release of this information incited some angry responses. One Twitter user, Pranav Sapra, wrote:  

As of  Thursday morning, “Barkha Dutt” was trending in India on Twitter. Ms Dutt later tweeted

Published on December 27, 2012 in The New York Times India Ink.