Let’s see in some detail, first the
coverage of the killing of the leopard, although the encounter killings
preceded this incident.
A leopard was killed by people in a
locality near the capital city. The leopard had strayed into the
locality from the nearby forest. Reportedly, it attacked two men from
the village and the villagers in their attempt to rescue the men beat
the leopard to death.
This version that the leopard attacked
first is contested by some. According to them, the leopard was hiding
behind a bush and the villagers provoked it to come out. And, when it
had no choice but to come out, it attacked two men and the angry
villagers killed it.
The story made headlines in the local TV
channels and was on the front pages of the newspapers. One English
newspaper had its headline: “Straying leopard lynched by city mob”. Most
headlines had the key words “Beaten to Death”. Some papers and channels
asked, “Who is beast – man or tiger?”
While reporting the circumstances that led
to the killing of the animal, almost all newspapers and the electronic
media asked all the relevant questions. These include: Who attacked
first – the leopard or the villagers? Did the villagers inform the
authorities concerned before pouncing upon the leopard? Did the wildlife
rescue team reach on time? And when the team came; were they
well-equipped to catch the big cat alive? And even if the rescue team
were late by 15 or 20 minutes shouldn’t the villagers have waited
patiently? How could the villagers be so insensitive as to kill an
Some reporters took the trouble to do a
bit of research to find out whether leopards ever attack human beings.
Quoting the wild life experts they reported that it was not a “man-eater
type”, which means there must have been sufficient provocation for it to
attack the two villagers.
The media also interviewed all the
relevant authorities –wildlife lovers, Forest department officials and
other experts. It even managed to get the reactions of Chief Minister
Naveen Patnaik, who expressed shock over the brutal manner in which the
animal was done to death and ordered an investigation into the
circumstances that led to the killing of the leopard.
While reporting the circumstances that led
to the killing, most of the newspapers took care to give both sides –
for balanced reporting!
Take TOI as example that quoted the DFO,
“The male adult leopard did not enter the village. It hid in the bushes
in the river bank. The animal got irritated only after some villagers
shouted and threw stones at it, forcing it to run for life. In the
process, the leopard came face to face with the villagers who barred its
flight and were wounded. The villagers finally overpowered it and beat
it to death.”
The villagers’ side of story was also
included with a quote, “It was only after we heard the screams that we
rushed to the spot. On reaching the location, I found my son and another
person, both badly wounded, trying to fight the animal in self-defence.
Had we not reached there in time, the animal would have mauled them.
Those alleging that we killed the animal on purpose are not aware of
what happened on location. We had no option but to kill the animal.”
Now, let’s look at the coverage by the
same media of the killings of the alleged Maoists.
To begin with, the news of each
“encounter” was reported as “a big success” of the police. As news of
“successful encounters” started coming in one after another the media
began to cheer the police. After the Kashipur encounter, in which nine
persons including five young women were killed, the TOI proclaimed in a
headline: “Reason for Cheer”.
None of the reporters of the channels and
the newspapers bothered to investigate the circumstances under which the
“encounters” took place. They faithfully reproduced what the police told
them. Nobody sought answers to these questions: Who were these Maoists?
Who attacked first? If the Maoists attacked the police first, was any
policeman injured? Did the police make any attempt to capture the
Maoists alive? How were the bullets fired? What about the post-mortem
reports? Has anybody seen the post-mortem reports?
The bodies of many of those killed were
not even identified by the members of their families or of the community
but the police only claimed they belonged to that area. The media did
not care to find out who these people were and why no family members
came to claim the bodies.
When it was found that one of the persons
killed in the encounters was a minor girl, some reporters expressed
concern as to how the Maoists are recruiting child soldiers. But very
few asked why these young girls joined the Maoists. Nobody asked whether
the young girls were going to school before they joined the Maoists.
One reporter made an analysis of the femme
fatale. He wrote, “They are
young. And they are lethal too. The two strong traits required to be
snapped up from the inhospitable regions of Orissa by Maoists”.
He went on to quote a security analyst as
saying: “It’s empowerment for them when they are taken into the fold and
they want to perform. They want to prove that they are as good as their
male counterparts. That drives them to be ruthless and even
Mercifully, the reporter added,
“Historically, the tribal population in Orissa has lived with
malnutrition and malnourishment and the statistics for their women is
even more bizarre.”
But what are those bizarre statistics
about the tribal women? The only statistical information in this
analysis said, quoting sources, that most of the women cadres who have
been captured or gunned down weigh around 45 kg!
What about the average weight of tribal
women in Orissa who have not joined the cadres? What are the statistics
about their health and nutrition? The report didn’t hint upon that. Why?
Is it because the statistics are too scary? Or, it is because the brand
“Maoist” is enough to sell the news and there is no need to know
anything more about him or her.
The encounter of January 9, 2011, in which
nine persons including five young Adivasi women were killed, took place
in an area that is known for recurrence of cholera and starvation. Only
a few months ago, over a hundred people died of cholera in Kashipur and
the adjacent Blocks. This is also the area where the local community
relentlessly fought for many years against an alumina company and three
persons were killed in a police firing. The media did not consider any
of this relevant while cheering the police for its success. Whether it
is history or current statistics, these all become irrelevant for the
media when poor Adivasis are killed as “Maoists”.
Every time a tiger or an elephant gets killed, the media comes up with
statistics of how many tigers and elephants are left in this planet and
what we need to do to save them. The Adivasis are not that lucky.
(Author is associated
with People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and is based in
Source: Bharat Chintan