Sociology of Law (Sociology 2)
Course Number: L-CA-0005
The three examples that have been used to analyze this essay have played a pivotal role in the deliverance of justice and the realignment of the socio-political status quo by the media. The use of the new media, by the parties on all sides to control the justice system and the public knowledge of social issues can best be illustrated in the development and journey of the dialogue surrounding these issues, and these are highlighted in essentially the same ways. The issues under discussions are sexual harassment with reference to the #MeToo movement, mob lynching and the Nirbhaya gangrape case that occurred in 2012.
Before addressing the specifics of new media involvement in these issues, it important to highlight the benefits of the media in public matters in general. Firstly, it talks about how because of socio-political activism, the justice system is affected by how people react to certain issues, how the media plays a vital role in moulding the opinion of the society. Secondly, with the burgeoning of social media, the internet acts as a medium through which people are active about engaging in conversations and which acts as an open space for meaningful dialogue. Thirdly, the media’s sources are numerous. Anyone, including the social media and reporters can speak out about social, political and other issues and can publish or broadcast information. Fourthly, social media’s reach is unparalleled. Everyone, across the socio-economic spectrum can access and advocate for those who are affected or do not have access to justice. The beliefs, attitudes, behaviors and knowledge of a person, regarding a phenomenon can change because on public opinion and has an impact on him/her.
Firstly, when we talk about the Nirbhaya Rape case that took place on December 16th, 2012, we realize that we witnessed one of the most extensive use of digital technologies for activism in India. The incident which involved the rape of a twenty-three-year-old woman by six men, inspired the entire country to stand together for women’s rights and make the state answerable to its citizens for women’s safety. The Nirbhaya Rape case was fast-tracked as it was in the media glare. On 13 March 2014, the Delhi High Court upheld the guilty verdict and the death sentences. The question of whether victims of equally brutal crimes who did not get media coverage or public support arises in one’s mind. What exactly happens to them and the justice that they deserve? We can see that justice in many cases is often only served so that the accused parties can avoid exacerbating the media scrutiny which is a public relations’ nightmare. Before Nirbhaya, Kiran Negi was raped and murdered in Delhi, perhaps more brutally than Nirbhaya, but she is yet to get justice from the Supreme Court. In her case, the accused have been awarded the death sentence by the Trial Court which the High Court confirmed but the appeal is still pending even though it was filed before Nirbhaya’s rapists and killers filed the appeal. Kiran Negi has still not been given justice. (Ranjan 2017) And as the saying goes, ‘justice delayed is justice denied.’ I think that media no longer reports news, but it just opines news.
Considering the number and frequency of rapes in India, some stories get subsumed under the numbers. It also results in the normalization of such horrific incidents and creates an apathy in our minds towards such atrocities. In order to gather public support, the descriptions are mostly sensationalized by overemphasizing on the gory and unique details of the act. The pain of the families, the injustice they suffer at every stage and the glaring, intrusive eyes of the public are never acknowledged. It has diminished the issue in the larger discourse by showcasing non-contextual, controversial elements that are in news coverage. “Jessica Lal, Priyadarshini Mattu, Ruchika Girhotra, et al, would never have got justice but for the public opinion created by the media. Jessica’s killer Manu Sharma, acquitted by the trial court, was brought to justice by the high court only after the acquittal scared the hell out of people. Similarly, Santosh Singh, rapist and murderer of Priyadarshini Mattoo, was acquitted by the trial court. His father was a senior officer with the Delhi police, and he was given the benefit of doubt. The appeal against the acquittal kept hanging fire in the Delhi high court for over six years on the facetious ground that documents which were in Hindi could not be translated into English. But as Priyadarshini’s father mobilised the civil society and hit the street with candle march and the media took up the cause, the accused was convicted within a record 42 days.” (Ranjan 2017)
On one hand it is true and unfair that only some cases get media coverage but on the other hand, the media’s approach and the public’s apathy and low attention span make it impossible for all cases to get media coverage. For every brutal incident that takes place in a country as large as India to receive the same amount of attention is impossible. In fact, cases that do receive media and public attention, their process should serve as precedents for efficiency of the justice system to respond to public outcry. Here we can see how there are positive as well as negative shades to the use of media activism.
Following the Nirbhaya Rape Case, a Mob Lynching incident took place in the city of Dimapur, India where there was a change in approach to get justice from trial by media to sentencing by media.
On 5th March 2015 a mob of more than 6000 people stormed the Dimapur Central Prison, dragged out Syed Sarifuddin Khan and then proceeded to beat, stone and eventually lynch him (Kurian 2016). The reason for doing so was that he was accused of raping a Naga girl and was further accused of being an illegal immigrant from Bangladesh. The mob’s outrage resulted in the deliverance of instant justice. It was later discovered that he was an Indian, not an illegal immigrant from Bangladesh and the son of a man who had served in the Indian army in Nagaland. Why was a prisoner who was in the custody of the judiciary, handed over to the mob in complete violation of the judicial system ? Reasons such as “we could not open fire on children” were given. However, when in 2009 and 2010, several young boys in Kashmir were shot by the security forces for provocations less serious than trying to storm a high security prison then there was no attempt to prevent it.
I feel that to some extent the Dimapur Lynching’s were never really about justice. They were merely a stunt to prove what could happen to an immigrant if they commit a crime in a country where they do not belong. His categorization as a rapist is over-ridden by his identity as an illegal immigrant. “Women are regarded as the property of a community and what outrages a community is not rape but the temerity of the “outsider” who lays claim to another’s community’s “property”. And when an outsider commits it against a woman of another community, it is in effect the “emasculation” of that community.” (Roy 2015) Here the issue is not really the crime, but about “those guys” doing it to “our girls.” (Jagannathan 2015)
Kurian in his article “Dimapur Lynching and the Impossibility of Remembering” talks about “Disappearance from common memory of the Dimapur lynching” where he talks about why the Nirbhaya Rape case was still etched in the minds of people and the Dimapur lynching was long forgotten. I feel that the stereotypes that have targeted a group of people in a racial context also extend to the prejudices against a Bangladeshi immigrant who was accused of rape, in this case Khan. On social media he was portrayed as a potential predator, seeking any opportunity he got to violate the honour of our country. On the other hand, the Nirbhaya rape case received tremendous support on social media and the incident took place in Delhi which is considered the heart of India. As Dutt pointed out in his article that “The communal parties, particularly the BJP, base their active propaganda on the purity and respectability of a ‘woman’. This is an aggressive mobilization around the figure and de-sexualized body of a woman, often equated as ‘mother goddess’. The outrage on social media also had its feminist perspective. I also feel that if a documentary or a movie is made on a certain incident it automatically tends to leave a strong impression in the minds of people. For example, the release of the documentary “India’s daughter” and the controversy that followed it, including the ban on it by the Indian government triggered widespread criticism on social media before it was released on YouTube only to be banned from being available in India. This in turn caused a lot of people who were initially unaware of the situation, to gather knowledge about it.
Another aspect of this is how this media unconsciously prejudices the minds of judges and witnesses. Our Supreme Court held that “a trial by press, electronic media or public agitation is very antithesis of rule of law.” accidentally, Justice Kurian Joseph, who was on the Supreme Court bench hearing the Nirbhaya rape case, is reported to have said in July 2015, in the context of the very same case, about the “the amount of pressure that is built” by media and recalling that a Judge who dealt with the case had told him that “had he not given that punishment, they (media) would have hung him.” (Arjun 2016) Therefore, we see how the courts have relied on media trials even if they have done it negligently.
The justice delivery system of the country is equally to blame. Even before the case is taken to the court people start discussing what should be the outcome of the case and that influences the judges of the case “If cases like these are dealt with more interest and skill, the mob will have less excuses to loses themselves upon people guilty of crimes.” (Dowerah 2015)
Another movement that is noteworthy is the #MeToo movement. The #/MeToo movement one of the most powerful media actions, and illustrates the role that the media, and particularly social media plays in upkeep of law, order and justice. It was the crest of the increasing social media wave, where tangible action against sexual predators was initiated through online posts. There are many arguments for both sides with respect to the objectives and the use of media in this movement. There are those who object to the media trial and avoidance of due process, and there are who hail the ability of the movement to bring down the predators who are giants in the social spheres. However, for or against the movement one may be, it is foolish to ignore the simplicity with which the movement involves so many people and reaches them in so many different parts of the world. The movement is metaphorically, a sociological insight into the power of media and the role it plays in justice.
I feel like the legal system has failed so many Indian women that they think that coming out on social media is a better option. They think they get harassed by the law and have timely constraints. According to them it’s a simpler and effortless option. Very accessible and makes them feel empowered. This also disrupts the law in many cases. Men and women are using the internet for building up sentiment for grave crimes. While on one hand, social media is an enabling platform for women to voice their complaints, on the other hand it seems to ignore the legal frameworks that are already in place for redressal of such complaints.
It can be argued that false complaints may lead to defamation of the accused since people who address their complaints online may not back it up with substantial proof of the incident ever taking place and people tend to point their fingers on the character of a person. The personal life and character of a person comes under public scrutiny by the media, including things that have nothing to do with the legal accusation. For example, in the case of the Sheena Bohra murder, the accused Indrani Mukherjee’s entire personal life and character was being debated on social media and not how she was related to the murder.
The conclusion that we draw from these analyses is that the simplification and restructuring of communication, from antiquated forms like letters to newer ones like social media posts have resulted in stronger and more well-connected forms of social progress. Even though there is a tendency to lean towards the negative aspect of law and the distortion of the entire justice system, the media is an effective tool for social justice and raising voices against the oppressors and wrongdoers. With a little more
1. Ranjan, Sudhanshu. "Vigilantism vs the Rule of Law: Justice Driven by Public Opinion." The Asian Age. June 01, 2017. Accessed March 07, 2019. http://www.asianage.com/india/all-india/010617/vigilantism-vs-the-rule-of-law-justice-driven-by-public-opinion.html.
2. Jagannathan, R. "Dimapur Rape and Mob Lynching: Five Lessons from This Double-crime." Firstpost. March 07, 2015. Accessed March 07, 2019. https://www.firstpost.com/india/dimapur-rape-and-mob-lynching-five-lessons-from-this-double-crime-2140921.html.
3. Kurian, Anna. 2016. “Dimapur Lynching and the Impossibility of Remembering.” Economic and Political Weekly. January 13. https://www.epw.in/journal/2015/51/commentary/dimapur-lynching-and-impossibility-remembering.html.
4. Roy, Sandip. 2015. “Don't Touch 'Our' Women: Dimapur Lynching Was Never about Justice.” Firstpost. Firstpost. March 9. https://www.firstpost.com/india/dont-touch-our-women-the-dimapur-lynching-was-never-about-justice-2143305.html.
5. Arjun. 2019. “From Trial by Media to Now Sentencing by Media?” Home - Legally India - News for Lawyers. Accessed March 7. https://www.legallyindia.com/views/entry/from-trial-by-media-to-now-sentencing-by-media.
6. Dowerah, Simantik. 2015. “It's Not Just about Rape: Why 10",000 People Lynched One Man in Dimapur.” Firstpost. Firstpost. March 7. https://www.firstpost.com/india/its-not-just-about-rape-why-10000-people-lynched-one-man-in-dimapur-2139497.html.
and served as a warning to those not yet ac cused.