www.sacw.net > Womens Rights Pages | October 8, 2004

Open Letter to the Media

[September 30, 2004]

We are appalled by at the media's (especially television) coverage of the 'Gudiya-Taufiq-Arif' case. We strongly resent the growing instances of trial by media, the media's self-appointed role as resolvers of conflict, and the use of people's personal tragedies to increase network ratings. Headlines like 'Kiski Gudiya?'also symbolised the regressive image of women as property that informed the media's coverage.

Zee's advertisement for its show said, "A man gets his life back....... a family gets its future: A soldier at Kargil spends 5 years as POW. His newly wed wife waits in futility and then re-marries. The soldier returns to find his life turned upside down. ... At Zee news we are happy to be the forum where the issue was resolved. As India's largest media house, its our duty to the nation". This is particularly tasteless and disturbing, but the other channels like NDTV and Aaj Tak fared little better. It is bad enough having village panchayats and religious representatives enforcing particular decisions, without having the media act as an alternative court.

The terms of the 'debate' were backward to say the least. Television anchors repeatedly asked Arif and Taufiq what they wanted, while Gudiya was rarely given a chance. The 'public' at large, which has no locus standi in the case, was asked for their opinion, and again the terms of the debate were set as a choice of which of the two men should get her. The media thus repeatedly reinforced the idea of a woman as an object to be handed around between various men.

One of the questions concerned the status of the child - i.e. whether Arif should keep the child or if Taufiq should take it back once it is born. The decision of the Deoband Ulema that Arif should keep the child, but Taufiq should pay for its upkeep also reduces parenting to a question of money and 'ownership'. But most of all, one got no sense in all this, that it is Gudiya's child as well, or rather, Gudiya's child most of all. Far from displaying any sense of social responsibility, the media have reinforced the idea that women should have no control over their fertility, bodies and lives- and that these should be controlled by the husband, family, panchayat and now the media.

The media claims in its defense that noone forced the parties to come to the media. However, there is a fine line between choice and coercion when the media decides to take over an issue like this. Besides, in complex situations of this kind, people may use any avenue to get their point of view across. Rather than resolving conflict, as Zee and others claimed to be doing, the media enhanced conflict in this case by forcing relatives to give public statements against one another. Gudiya and other family members have since complained of the media's violation of their privacy (HT, 26.9.04).

We also note a communal subtext to the coverage. Even as the media reduced Gudiya to silence, they kept focusing on how the decisions were being made for her by the Ulema and the village panchayat, the underlying message being that Muslim women have no choice and that the community is ruled by fatwas. We wish to point out that retrogressive caste or religious panchayats are a common feature of both Hindu and Muslim life.

While one may have every sympathy for Arif's trauma as a Kargil POW, this does not mean that 'the nation' owes him a wife. Nor does Taufiq become a hero because he 'accepted soiled goods' as one interviewee graciously informed us on television. If anyone is the real heroine, it is Gudiya, who has endured both her village panchayat, clerics and Arif's unreasonable demands that she abandon her child.

We also object to the way in which a woman who is eight months pregnant and reportedly ill due to the pressure of decision-making was virtually 'kidnapped' and subjected to long hours in the studio.

Finally, we believe that Gudiya should have been given the space to make her decision, away from the media and the contending families, village panchayats, clerics etc.

Many organisations and individuals, some of whom are listed below, have endorsed this letter:

Organisations: PUDR, Saheli, Nirantar, Lok Raj Sanghatan, Sama, CREA, Tarshi, Centre for Development and Human Rights, PRISM, Sahrwaru, Delhi University GCash, Purogami Mahila Sanghatan, Akshara, Awaz - e- Niswan, Vacha, Forum Against Oppression of Women, Ashray Adhikar Manch, Rahi, Jagori, Mati Munsiari, Ankur, Anandi, Olakh, Sanlaap, Swayam, Gramya Resource Centre, Majlis, Labia


Individuals: Sujata Patel, Prabha Nagaraj, Neha Sood, Nivedita Menon, Aditya Nigam, Rakhee Timothy, K. Johnson, Malini Ghose, Farah Naqvi, Laxmi Murthy, Ujjwal Singh, Anupama Roy, Vineeta Bal, Paramjeet Singh, Prateeksha Baxi, Vikram Vyas, Janaki Abraham, Nandini Sundar, Dipta Bhog, Shahana Bhattacharya, Sharmila Purkayastha, Jaya Sharma, Mosuhumi Basu, Sucharita, Manjeer, Poornima Gupta, Shalini Joshi, Deepika Tandon, Sarojini, Sonal, Nischint, Kumud, Yasmeen, Nandita Gandhi, Shivanand Kanvi, Kalyani Menon, Bina Srinivas, Veenu, Malika Virdi, Soma KP, Ammu Joseph, Priyanka Trehan, Sunita Menon & Others.

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