July 9, 2012 will remain a black evening in Assam’s history, when on the busy Guwahati-Shillong road in the heart of Guwahati – the gateway to Northeast India, a girl was chased, beaten, molested and traumatised by a group of 20 odd men in full public view with TV news channels recording the brutal act on tape.
One of the TV News Channel, News Live initially aired the ‘street molestation’ of the girl as a story of ‘degrading moral character’ of youngsters in Guwahati. Prior to the incident, viewers in Assam observed that the channel had been involved in ‘moral policing’ on air, filming youngsters coming out of bars and pubs and questioning their morality and in most cases, crossing the ethical boundaries of journalism and infringing into people’s personal spaces. Many believe that the channel had the audacity to do such ‘moral policing’ since its Chief Managing Director Riniki Bhuyan Sharma is the wife of the powerful health Minister of Assam, Dr Himanta Biswa Sharma.
In this context,when the channel first aired the GS road molestation visuals, the entire nation along withNortheast Indiawas outraged. Guwahati is thought to be a highly fortified city since it has seen many terror attacks and bomb blasts. The Tarun Gogoi government came under scathing attacks for not being able to ensure the safety of girls even in busy evening. Activists, students, journalists and politicians across the nation went berserk on social media, Facebooking and tweeting outrageously.
The drama saw a further transition, when RTI and anti-corruption activist Akhil Gogoi, whom many believe to be Assam’s moral compass, released a video CD of the incident alleging that the TV reporter Guarab Jyoti Neog, of News Live, had ‘orchestrated’ the entire episode to generate ‘sensational news.’ Soon News Live was at the receiving end, the mainstream media and social media targeted it and even Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi found the behavior of the TV crew ‘unacceptable.’ Gaurab Jyoti resigned, later as did his Editor-in-Chief, Atanu Bhuyan. A day before he was arrested, Gaurab, in an exclusive interview to Tehelka, claimed that he was a ‘pawn to a conspiracy’ and that his “innocence will be proved.’
The Special Investigation Team (SIT) which was entrusted to handle the case seized the recorded footage of the incident from News Live and another TV news channel DY 365. The footage by Gogoi was also seized and sent for examination at the Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL),Chandigarh. Voice samples of the TV reporter Gaurab Jyoti Neog were also collected and sent to CFSL for sample matching. Sixteen persons were arrested and chargesheeted, including one minor and the main accused, Amarjyoti Kalita.
A fast track court in Guwahati on 7 December convicted 11 persons, while acquitting four, including the TV news channel reporter Gaurab Jyoti Neog. Chief Judicial Magistrate Siddharth Pratim Moitra pronounced his verdict where 11 out of the 15 accused were convicted under section 143, 341,323 and 354 of the IPC. Four others – TV reporter Gaurab Jyoti Neog, Diganta Basumatary, Hafizuddin and Jitumoni Deka were acquitted of the charges due to ‘insufficient evidences.’ The 11 convicts were sentenced to two years of rigorous imprisonment.
While the incident evoked a sharp response, it seems nobody cared about the judgment. No women rights groups were present in the court premises; there was hardly any reaction on the judgment from civil society who were up in arms to fight for proper justice for the victim. The fact that they did not bother to express their ‘happiness’ or ‘anguish’ over the judgment, makes it clear that public outcry is only immediate. The ‘national’ TV news channels only aired the judgment in ‘brief’ since it is no more the “TRP driver.” Once again an issue from the Northeast faded out of the mainstream media mind space ‘too soon’, the disease long harped upon.
For Gaurab Jyoti, the news brought mixed feelings as it came when he was observing the shradh of his mother who passed away recently. For News Live it is thumbs up to its argument that had it not aired the visuals and recorded the entire brutal act, the perpetrators would have not been easily identified. But can the channel shy away from the ethical question of its habit of on-air moral policing?
The video tapes were crucial for investigation. Gaurab Jyoti was acquitted on the ‘benefit of doubt’ since there was ‘nothing conclusive’ to prove that he had ‘incited’ the convicts.
Charges were framed against the accused under the following Sections of IPC: 143 – unlawful assembly, 341- wrongful restraint, 294 -Obscene act, 323 – voluntarily causing hurt and 354 – Assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty. Gaurab’s defence counsel Bijon Mahajan, had hard argued that since he was at the site of incident discharging professional duty, his motive should not be the same as the other accused.
So the bone of contention was the report from Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL),Chandigarh. In the judgment copy available with Tehelka, the Court has observed that the SIT did not collect the certificate of genuineness from the source of collection of all the electronic evidence it collected. This is required as per section 65B(4) of the Indian Evidence Act.
The CFSL also found that none of the video tapes and CDs seized by the SIT has the original raw footage of the incident; it has post production edited footages only. It seems that the SIT could not recover the original raw footage, although the top cops claimed that it had clinching evidence.
The court goes on to observe ‘the evidence on record reflects that due to ignorance about the process, the controlled voice sample of S/I had been taken in haste and amateurishly. It is not understood, why the investigating team got the controlled voice sample of accused Gaurab Jyoti Neog recorded by a studio photographer, when the CID has got their own experts in this line. The investigating team could easily collect the voice sample of the said accused with the help of experts of CID or with assistance of forensic experts. Thus, by such act of nonprofessional approach and lack of precision, the investigating team has allowed to waste vital evidence’
The big question is when the Chief Minister claimed that the case will be handed with utmost seriousness, why did the most hyped crack team of investigative cops in the form of SIT leave these loopholes in the investigation?
Legal watchers inAssamhave opined that the judiciary could have also asked the cops to produce fresh evidence when it found ‘shortcomings’ with the evidences produced.
Nonetheless, the SIT is supposed to handle the ‘most critical’ investigations inAssam. The court’s remarks on its ‘unprofessionalism’ leaves a doubt on its credibility and the Assam DGP Jayanto Narayan Choudhary and Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi with solid reason to ponder. Perhaps, the cat is really out of the bag.