Kathua: Hindi Journalism Beats English Counterpart

For once, the world of Hindi language journalism has beaten its English language counterpart hands down in the battle for credibility, with details of the case as well as choice of the slot in the newspaper for placement of the reports; this challenge to a narrative is a healthy practice in a democracy, which would go a long way in ensuring justice for the victim’s family


In this day and age, it might be unfashionable to say journalists are more reliable than some popular, non-journalist figures in social media. Yet, I trust journalists more for the simple reason that they alone reach the spot where a story unfolded. Those who have attained popularity either by constantly challenging journalists on Twitter and Facebook, or by trolling fellow users of these networking sites, cannot afford to spend time in the field; they must do other or some business to fend for the family whereas fieldwork is the job rather than a hobby, pastime or mere passion in the profession of journalism.

Second, what the popular Twitter handles have mostly done is challenge the opinions of journalists rather than the facts that the latter report. Of course, of late, there have been instances where journalists have made up stories, relied on unreliable peers’ versions rather than their own fieldwork and then outraged over something that never happened. But those cases are few and far between.

Now, within the community of journalists, I trust the English language journalists more, followed by Hindi language counterparts, followed, in turn, by regional language media. That is not because I am a ‘Macaulay-putra’. It is because English language journalism makes a clear distinction between direct speech and paraphrased speech. What we write enclosed in double quotes has to be the exact words of the subject whose speech we are reporting. Then we have single quotes that imply that the word enclosed may not be a universal truth. There is a characteristic difference between he said and unhonne kaha ki. Using the second, Hindi language journalists mostly interpret rather than report what has been said.

Regional language media, going by English language journalism standards, is an atrocity. Where an incident, which is being reported, may hardly take, say, 100 words to describe, they would begin with a long-winding introduction in ornamented lingo and finally let you know what really happened after conditioning you to accept the reporter’s version of the story.

Nevertheless, reporting is not all about reporting speeches; it is — or must be — more about reporting other facts. This is where journalism in Hindi and regional Indian languages has beaten the English language counterpart hands down as far as the incident of alleged rape and murder of an eight-year-old in the Rasana of Harinagar village of Kathua district of Jammu is concerned. For the past couple of days, Dainik Jagran has been punching big holes in the narrative set by English language news channels of India: NDTV, Times Now, India Today, IBN-Network 18, NewsX, WION and Republic TV. Print media, in this example, has not covered itself in glory. It has merely repeated the television story: That the girl — shamelessly named by some journalists arguably to flare up communal passions — went missing on 10 January this year and that her body was recovered on the 17th. Their story is that she was continuously gang-raped and finally murdered inside, of all places, a temple! And that a gang of lawyers, based in Jammu, are agitating to free the eight accused.

Dainik Jagaran, Page 1, 20 April

The English story suppresses — or does not use — phrases like “the Crime Branch says/claims”. It is silent on the antecedents of one cop, Irfan Wani. While the Crime Branch’s version occupies prime time TV and the front page of newspapers, the press conference by members of the Bar Association of Jammu is relegated to the obscure pages inside.

But let me play the devil’s advocate here. If I were to be a Siddharth Varadarajan of The Wire or a Shekhar Gupta of The Print, I’d say, in a civil or criminal case, the authority to be relied upon is the court; until the court delivers its verdict, the version of the police prevails. Since the BAJ is neither the court nor the police, their account is, at best, a version like there could be hundreds of versions of Toms, Dicks and Harries of society. Perhaps even less credible is the story that activists who were demonstrating for the deportation of Rohingyas have been framed, as that comes from a social media user, never mind his popularity. Fair enough!

Going by that logic, Narendra Modi should not have been hounded by the media since 2002, as the Gujarat Police never accepted the theories of, say, Sheila Bhatt of Rediff, one of the most prolific reporters of the 2000s on the ‘beat’ of riots happening in that State. The journalists back then, quoting one another instead of quoting the police, also read the SIT report in parts that suited them. Penultimately, they rubbished the Liberhan Commission of Inquiry report. Ultimately, they haven’t yet come to terms with all the acquittals by different courts of law. But I will let that pass.

What does the Dainik Jagran say on Kathua? What does the Gurjar, a Muslim who should have sided with the police version for the sake of preservation of his community in the Jammu region, say with regard to the incident, the video recording of which has gone viral on social media? And how are both or either more trustworthy than the story English language journalism in India could muster?

Here is a translation. “The evidence and eyewitness accounts presented in the charge sheet for the case of the alleged gang-rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in the Rasana village of Kathua district of Jammu division do not add up,” Awadhesh Chauhan reports from Jammu for Dainik Jagran. Well, that is an opinion. So, I move on.

“There are indeed two post-mortem reports that the medical superintendent of the district hospital of Kathua has sent to the Special Investigation Team (SIT),” the next sentence reads, and that is a fact; so, my interest in the report resumes.

“Normally, just one post-mortem of the dead is sent. However, here, two doctors have carried out the autopsy and submitted their respective reports, which complicates the case. This fact came to the fore when the advocate of the accused sought copies of the post-mortem report and got two reports instead of one. In neither report is there a mention of rape of the child.” Now, this cannot be the reporter’s opinion by any stretch.

Five box items follow. The content in the first box says that the first report talks of six scars on the body, with the skull intact. The scar on the temple is about 2 inches long. This is the kind of injury one sustains on suffering a fall. This or any other mark of injury did not lead to a fracture of the skull. The Crime Branch claims that the girl was first strangulated and then her head was smashed using a rock. Had that been true, the injury marks would have been deeper. This post-mortem report does not match the theory of the Crime Branch.

The second box in the newspaper report talks of a few scratch marks on the thighs. Such injuries can be sustained by a fall, too. This post-mortem report says conclusively that the girl was not raped. However, her hymen was found ruptured. The hymen can rupture due to activities such as horse-riding, cycling or tough menial jobs, the gynaecologist of Sri Maharaja Gulab Singh Hospital says (to whom?).

My question in the parentheses above is a pointer towards the shortcomings of Hindi journalism. In place of Chauhan, I would have written, “Looking for an expert opinion, Dainik Jagran contacted the gynaecologist of Sri Maharaja Gulab Singh Hospital who said to this correspondent…” or “…said to Dainik Jagran that…”. In the absence of the recipient of the message, the report may read as though the said gynaecologist was the/an author of the post-mortem report. But this is not important as far as the facts of the case are concerned. So, I move ahead.

The last sentence in the second box mentions that the charge sheet filed by the Crime Branch says that the Forensic Laboratory had received the clothes of the child after these had been washed.

That is a weak defence by the Crime Branch. It might explain why no trace of semen could be found on the clothes of the dead. It fails to explain why the vaginal tract contained no trace of semen either. Was the body cleansed internally as well? The charge sheet does not say that.

The third box says that asphyxiation followed by a heart attack caused the death [important: asphyxiation and strangulation are not the same; one may lose one’s breath even without being strangulated]. The content in this box reads: The police had recovered the body from a spot in Rasana where, the Crime Branch claimed later, the victim was (or her head was) smashed by a heavy rock. The piece of rock that the Crime Branch has presented as evidence does not contain stains of blood. This proves that the girl had died earlier. If the girl had been killed on 17 January, the rock would have retained some blood stains.

Of course, the post-mortem reports says, the third box continues, the cause of death of the girl was asphyxiation followed by a heart attack. However, the report also says the stomach (digestive system) of the victim contained traces of some sedating drugs. As far as the injury marks on the body of the victim is concerned, they are in the region of the right side of the lower abdomen.

The fourth box says that the police erred by not sending the undergarments of the victim to the FSL. That clothing would have aided the investigation. The report says that there was a faint stain of blood on the vulva. This may imply an injury (not necessarily rape). The post-mortem report says further that the girl had died 36 to 72 hours before the recovery of her body. This indicates that the murder took place somewhere else and then the body was disposed of in Rasana.

The fifth and last box questions whose hair the Crime Branch had sent to the FSL. For, the temple, which is the alleged scene of the crime, is washed daily so that the devotees can pay obeisance to the deity every day. The newspaper concludes its report here. There is no part continued on another page; the presentation is compact, occupying the front page alone.

A professional journalist can at best nitpick if he/she is hell bent upon finding faults in the Dainik Jagran report, as I have on a few occasions above. There was another report preceding this one the previous day. It said that the lawyer of the main accused has placed before the court evidence that his client had appeared for an exam on the alleged date of the crime — he failed eventually — and is, thus, unlikely to have been present at the scene of the crime. Add the fact that the report of 20 April was placed prominently on the front page of Dainik Jagran, and the world of Hindi language journalism has beaten the English language hands down in the battle for credibility.

Bollywood, many actors in which struggle with the Devanagari script and a standard diction of Hindi, would do well to hire tutors for a beginners course in the language to read up this report. Assuming these personalities of the tinsel town are honest, which is a big assumption, they must react to these findings as well.

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Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sirf News Surajit Dasgupta has been a science correspondent in The Statesman, senior editor in The Pioneer, special correspondent in Money Life, the first national affairs editor of Swarajya, executive editor of Hindusthan Samachar and desk head of MyNation

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