Enough with the Bullshit

Reporting Pinky, Parading Pinky
Garga Chatterjee

The media vultures have swooped down on ace athlete Pinky Pramanik to get to the bottom of her gender. A woman who was living with Pinky for some time has accused Pinky, who considers herself female, of rape. The way in which wide sections of the print and television media reported Pinky's case should trigger serious soul-searching. The media has finally taken unbridled infotainment to its sordid extreme by manufacturing information and conjectures to provide entertainment 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 Indian 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 the society has 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. Pinky 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 375 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.

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 'unwomnaly aggressiveness'. What sterling examples of gender sensitivity one finds in the media, which finds female aggression extraordinary, and by implication, male aggression as ordinary.

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 there is 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. Indian police can do this and get away with it. And that, alas, in this much-famed democratic republic, is not the media story.

Couching worst prejudices as a simple search for the resolution of a law and order technicality, people 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.

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 democrats of indistinguishable from societal systems which publicly stone rape victims for adultery.

Bengali, English and Hindi media fared sordidly, selling sex and gender ambiguity by sensationalizing any hint of difference on this issue. This society is 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 is happening, every time this is being discussed in the public square, in homes. They are being made to feel unwelcome, just by dint of their being, 'sexually deviant' potential sexual predators in waiting.

Vol. 45, No. 3, July 29-August 4, 2012