Anusha Rizwi, director of Peepli Live, issues strong word of caution

Anusha Rizwi, the acclaimed director of Peepli Live, spoke on the occasion of the discussion on Justice, Human Rights and Media Trials. She began her talk by highlighting two main concerns in the Khurshid Anwar case. These concerns, she pointed out, relate to two recent developments- the new law passed in the wake of Damini rape case and the Tarun Tejpal case. She spoke on how in the Tejpal case we saw prime evidence being leaked to media which then took over the case. According to Rizwi, if the Tejpal case hadn’t happened, Anwar’s case would have taken a very different turn. She highlighted how in both the cases the complainant who was not un-educated, or powerless chose to go to the media instead of approaching the police or taking recourse to law.

In passively supporting such acts, as per Rizwi, we have not only undermined the law we ourselves wanted in the first place, but also indicated that the law will come to the rescue in only those cases where media is approached before the police and a sensation is built around the case. This pattern needs to be recognised and challenged according to Rizwi.

She served a reminder to the feminists about their central role of providing a nuanced reading of the laws and to abstain from looking for an absolutist law or an absolutist role of law. She stressed on the urgency of discussing the principled stance being taken by the feminists in the purview of the new law as they are the ones who are interpreting it for the layman. Their attitude, Rizwi cautioned, is giving way to a culture where justice has become a matter of mere policy. Pointing to the dangers involved in such a shift, Rizwi said, “justice fails to be justice when it’s not individualistic and when it fails to give due importance to the individual merits of the case.”

Rizwi demanded it of feminists and intellectuals that they rethink the kind of society they desire and their definition of a civilised society. She pointed out the worrying trend visible in both Tejpal’s and Anwar’s case; of people full of rage accusing them without any evidence and outside the legal system.

She brought out some highly important and telling facts about the reporting practices and media ethics of India TV, the channel which telecasted a highly slanted show on the night leading to Khurshid Anwar’s suicide. She revealed how the show about Anwar’s case was archived under Damini, even when the case clearly bore no relation to the horrific rape incident. Also, the shocking fact that the CD containing the complainant’s testimony was handed over to India TV long before Dec.17 which is the day the show was telecast. That the telecast was withheld in the hope of running it on the first anniversary of the rape incident, Rizwi asserted, was obviously not done either out of goodwill towards the complainant or any legal consideration. She also noted how India TV upended another regular practice by archiving the show in short clips rather than one full length clip. It must be recalled that the same TV channel cut out the portion with Khurshid Anwar’s side of the story during the final telecast of the show. Such biased reportage and complete disregard for the dignity of the parties involved, Rizwi stated, raises serious questions about the channel’s work ethics and integrity.

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