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Monday, June 09, 2014  
Killing a leopard and Killing the Adivasis: One is beastly, other is a victory!
"The report on a tribal girl allegedly raped by Jawans and Police was questioned for not including the version of the security forces or police on the grounds of ethical journalism. But hardly any report on cases of people, termed Maoists, being killed in encounters by Armed Police and Jawans carries the versions of the deceased family members or the community they belong to. The police story makes more sense in such cases than the basic principles of journalism and reporting. When the tribals, or Adivasis as they are called in India, have been the primary victims of such cases, their story of such incidents remain almost unreported. In the media reportsm these Adivasis at the receiving end do not even get the importance of a wild animal that has been killed recently by people of a village close to the city of Bhubaneswar in Orissa. A scanning of the media reports by Pramodini Pradhan of PUCL suggests how principles of journalism are neglected in the practice from case to case."
Pramodini Pradhan

In a series of encounters in the first two weeks of 2011, over 15 people, allegedly Maoists, were killed in police firing in Odisha. Except a couple of them, all the people killed were reported to be Adivasis. Ten of them were women, one a minor girl.

During the same period, a leopard was beaten to death by the people of a locality near the capital city, Bhubaneswar.

Both the killings got front-page prominence in the Bhubaneswar editions of all dailies in English as well as language dailies. However, there was a marked difference in the way the media as a whole covered the killing of the leopard and that of the Adivasis.

While reporting of the killing of the leopard was marked by professionalism as well as an overflow of sympathy for the victim and anger at the barbarity of the people who killed it whereas, the reporting of the killings of the Adivasis was marked by a sense of jubilation and praise for the killers. The victims, mere in numbers like 2, 1, 5, 9 and 2, just added up each time to the reports of “a successful encounter” kept coming in quick successions.

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 innocent leopard?

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 cold-blooded.”

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 Bhubaneswar, Orissa.)

Source: Bharat Chintan Group Mails

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