[ Echo of India, 26 Jun 2012; Millenium Post, 2 Jul 2012; Globeistan ]
The Bengalee athlete Pinky Pramanik, who has won numerous medals for Bengal and the Indian Union, has been at the centre of unprecedented media attention surrounding the issue of her biological gender. A woman who was living with Pink for some time has accused Pinky Pramanik, who considers herself female, of rape. The way this case of alleged rape has been taken advantage of, by wide sections of the print and television media, should be enough for serious soul-searching about the nature of media we have and the depths it has reached for a few eyeballs more, for more and more revenue. The media has finally taken unbridled infotainment to its sordid extreme by manufacturing information and conjectures to provide entertainment – that too by massaging already existing prejudices against gender and sexual variance.
First came the police, then the reporters with cameraman in tow, and then in the TV sets came doctors and psychologists. The doctors conjectured about the biology of intersex, ‘male’ and ‘female’ hormones, the merits of ‘early treatment’ of ‘such’ cases and what not. Only a few tried to delve beyond a crude form of biological determinism to talk about what gender one may consider oneself, in spite of their penis or their vagina. However to think that gender ambiguity is something unknown to our populace would be a cover up. This cover up seeks to ignore the huge number of male children dressed up in sarees and ornaments, even if for a photograph, in certain Bengalee homes – a practice becoming far less frequent now. That biologically determined sexual features and the gender of the self, both lie in a continuum and not necessarily in tandem, is a consciousness we have strived hard to cremate. Which is why in public discourse built of posing, the richness of human gender identities and forced to coalesce into two polar forms, thus forcing most of humanity into performing roles and not living their lives.
This case of alleged rape and the prurient ‘reporting’ around it stems from a certain feature of the Indian Penal Code, that only a man can rape. A woman can commit a sexual assault, but not rape. This asymmetry in law stems largely from archaic and make-believe notions of gender roles in sex and by extension sexual predation. Many countries, including France have gender-neutral rape laws where rape at its core remains sexual intercourse without consent, with certain exceptions of statutory rape. It is from this ludicrous asymmetry in the IPC stems the need to demonstrate Pinky Pramanik’s gender, for ‘rape’ as defined by the IPC can only be committed by a man and hence Pinky Pramanik can be charged with rape only on being shown to be a man. This is where the media came in and took it upon itself to supply masala and queer-hate masquerading as a rape-case reporting. Every time a hijra is violently raped by members of the police force and other extortionists, something that happens with gut-wrenching regularity, where is this debate of rape or not, article 302 or 377? There is no report, there is no conviction, and there is no case. This same media doesn’t report it. That violent sexual crime is not the monopoly of the ‘sexually deviant’, is hardly a sensational story. If anything, it can give rise to sensations that threaten to open a Pandora’s box.
From the very outset, the basic assumption of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ was thrown to the winds. Pinky’s whole life was brought in public scrutiny, including instances where she had reportedly shown ‘unwomanly aggressiveness’. What sterling examples of gender sensitivity we have in our media, which finds female aggression extraordinary, and by implication, male aggression as ordinary. What is this but an extension of the sick mentality found in numerous books of religion and law where disciplining the woman by aggression is placed when within a man’s right.
Pinky Pramanik’s story has not died down. Her picture is all over. So are detailed second, third and fourth hand account of many events in her life. How all this discussion in the public domain affects the legal decision-making in her case is a pertinent question – at the least this provides unnecessary and prejudicial information to the judges and magistrates who will sit on Pinky’s case. The police have constantly handled her with male constables. It appears they are better judges of gender than the 7 member medical team set up at the Barasat Hospital to determine the same. The same police has been freely circulating a video clip of Pinky naked as ‘proof’. So we have a set of law enforcers who have trampled the rights of the accused and have taken upon themselves to spread naked clips of the accused. When under trials at Abu Gharaib were filmed naked, many reacted in horror. Our police can do this and get away with it. And that, alas, in this much-famed democratic republic, is not the media story.
Couching our worst prejudices as a simple search for the resolution of a law and order technicality, we are being fed Pinky’s day in custody, Pinky’s medical report, her past life, in amazing detail, in bits and pieces – anything short of a high-resolution photo of Pinky’s genitalia. This competitive detailing of Pinky’s life day by day reminds me of another dark episode of journalism in the Subcontinent when the daily life of Dhananjay Chattopadhyay, condemned to hanging by death, was printed day after day for the voyeuristic consumption of the worst kind.
Pinky’s case, sans the sensationalism and rape allegation, is a heart-breaking one. It has been set up in public discourse as if her physiology and bodily features, however it is, is somehow criminal. This is the worst kind of profiling, making us indistinguishable from societal systems which publicly stone rape victims for adultery.
Bengali, English and Hindi media – among those I could review, fared sordidly, selling sex and gender ambiguity by sensationalizing any hint of difference on this issue. As a society, we were indulging in criminalizing sexual marginality and having a good laugh at the same time with friends – wholesome family entertainment for respectable people.
But every time this laugh was happening, every time this was being discussed in the public square, in homes- those among us who identify as anything but normative genders, were squirming. They were being made to feel unwelcome, just by dint of their being, ‘sexually deviant’ potential sexual predators in waiting. And those among us who daily derive ingredients for masturbatory fantasies by reading accounts of specific circumstantial details of rapes that papers produce expressly for that purpose, will go on to rise another morning as respectable people, to judge other people again. Do we have no shame or fear of gods?