The Network of Women in Media India (NWMI) is horrified by the prolonged and traumatic sexual harassment to which the Banda team of Khabar Lahariya, a rural collective of women journalists in Uttar Pradesh, have been subjected over many months.
We are also disturbed by the attitude and behaviour of the police, who seem to have begun to take the matter seriously only after a tweet from the office of Akhilesh Yadav, the chief minister of the state, who was responding to public anger on the matter. We are somewhat heartened that the alleged stalker has reportedly been finally nabbed by the Banda police. But the delayed action on the part of the police is inexcusable, and a disturbing indication of the lack of seriousness with which such complaints are taken.
This week, Kavita, an editor at Khabar Lahariya, published a hair-raising account of phone stalking experienced by her team of reporters since January. Members of the team were subjected to weeks of lewd comments and threats of violence. Their phone SIMs were also illegally locked by the stalker. Their despair was compounded by the conduct of the UP police: a senior official refused to treat Kavita’s complaint with respect and urgency; his juniors told her to get the men in her house to abuse the stalker back on the phone as a way of dealing with the harassment. Despite two FIRs being lodged in March, no arrests were made and the calls continued until Kavita was forced to go public with her team’s experience of harassment on 14 September 2015.
Following public anger, in particular on social media, the office of the UP CM Akhilesh Yadav responded on Twitter that they would act urgently on Khabar Lahariya’s complaint. The UP police now claims to have arrested the stalker. The Khabar Lahariya team will be speaking about this case, and the wider issue of sexual violence in UP, at a press conference on September 17, 2015 in Lucknow.
The NWMI would like to express support to and solidarity with the Khabar Lahariya team of journalists, who have overcome personal hurdles to play a trail-blazing role in reporting neglected stories of rural UP, in particular of rural women. Given the widespread absence of such stories in the "mainstream" media and the large rural readership this 8-page weekly serves, it is vital that the Khabar Lahariya team enjoys a safe and secure working environment, in their newsroom and in the field, so that they can continue their important professional task of news-gathering.
The Criminal Law Amendment of 2013, through the addition of Section 354 (D) specifically identifies stalking as a punishable offence. News reports indicate that the stalker continued to behave with impunity, after the FIRs were lodged. The NWMI demands that the UP police and administration recognise the seriousness of the matter to act swiftly and credibly on Khabar Lahariya’s complaint, and not merely appear to be taking action, in a bid to assuage public anger or protect their own image.
The NWMI also demands that Vodafone, the phone company in question, explain why they repeatedly locked the SIM cards of the Khabar Lahariya reporters, based on calls by the stalker asking them to do so in his bid to further harass the women journalists.
As pointed out by the Khabar Lahariya team, there is also a far larger problem of sexual violence in UP, and the mechanisms to address this, from the very first step of the 1090 helpline, simply do not work. The administration should use this case as an opportunity to carry out a direly-needed public review of the flawed institutions and attitudes that women in the state encounter when they aim to report a crime of sexual violence.
September 17, 2015