Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Does the Independent's Matthew Champion condone violence against Indian men?

"We can't condone violence." These are the very words that i100 website news editor Matthew Champion uses to introduce his latest article on the Independent's new UK website. In the very same sentence, he describes how "satisfying" it is to see an Indian man being forced to kneel while a woman stamps on his head. "Hurrah!" Champion exclaims in this outstandingly shoddy piece of reporting.

He is writing about a YouTube video shot in Bangalore. A young man, K R Suryaprakash, is pursued down the street and physically attacked by a woman after he allegedly "eve-teased" her—an Indian term used to refer to sexually suggestive behaviour by men toward women.



The term "eve-teasing" is important because it has cultural significance in India and is subject to a drive for cultural change. It is often portrayed positively in Indian cinema as mild teasing and flirtatious courtship. In recent times, there has been a drive to stamp it out and to conflate it with rape and throwing acid at women. Now I do not defend sexual harassment—I think it is unacceptable—but the fact is that the term "eve-teasing" could mean virtually anything. The reality is what Suryaprakash allegedly did or said isn't captured in the video, nor is it even clear what that was.

Nevertheless, Matthew Champion reports his "crime" as fact—he "sexually harassed her," states the title of his article. In the video, however, all we see is Suryaprakash being chased and ordered to kneel in the street by the woman he is accused of harassing, who then stamps on his head after he submissively complies. Personally, I think there's a whole debate to be had here about who's actually being socially disadvantaged in this complex cultural backdrop.

But you know what? Who gives a fuck?

Why should Champion let an inconvenience such as "balanced reporting" get in the way of an opportunity to demonstrate his "real man" credentials? Indeed, why let old-fashioned concepts such as justice and humanity get in the way of the sheer glee of seeing physical and social harm meted out to a young Indian male who is culturally unable to defend himself?

After all, he probably deserves it, right? No need then to consider his account, the cultural context, or even what it is that he is actually accused of? No need for any kind of due process on this one—no one cares about perverts anyway, so fuck him. "Hurrah!"

Is this what passes for reporting nowadays?

After a little searching, I found this less than objective article of the incident in the Bangalore Mirror. For the sheer level of vitriolic prejudice, this article takes some beating. (Perhaps it should serve as a glimpse of things to come for young men in western countries.)

However, it does provide an account by the woman in the video, Veena Ashiya Chindlur. This is what the young man is accused of:

"Around 9.30 a.m., my friend and I were jogging when he [Suryaprakash] made strange noises and eve-teased me. I tried to scare him by running after him. He tried to flee, but I chased him and hit him."

After Chindlur showed the video of her beating the man to the police, Suryaprakash was arrested and charged with "outraging the modesty of a woman" and "intending to insult the modesty of women," both of which are crimes under Indian law. From the above account, therefore, I surmise that he is alleged to have said something or made some gesture.

Let me reverse the genders here so that we can experience how things look the other way around...

As a teenage boy, I recall an incident in which lewd remarks were shouted at me by a group of drunken middle-aged women while I, too, was out jogging. If the genders were reversed, that incident would fall under the loose definition of "eve-teasing." Culturally, males are meant to feel "lucky" when women make sexually suggestive remarks to them. I didn't, and instead felt uncomfortable and kept running. At no point, however, did it occur to me to chase those women down and stamp on their heads.

No, I can't discern what it is that Suryaprakash actually said or did (if anything), and I would bet neither had Matthew Champion before taking to his keyboard. What I do know, however, is what is on display in the video is not justice. Simply because someone feels outrage at another does not and should not give anyone the moral and legal right to chase them down and attack them in the street. Irrespective of whatever he has done wrong, I see a young man with no opportunity to defend himself, no rights, and no one to represent his interests. He is simply painted as sub-human and "othered" by the media.

Moreover, I see people who should know better taking pleasure in watching him being harmed. The concept of "innocence until proven guilty" and the "right to a fair trial" are important human rights—both of which Matthew Champion has denied Suryaprakash.


Written by
Andy Thomas
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