I’ve chosen to focus on two recent cases in India which highlight how cellphone footage can become both a witness and a tool of vigilante justice. In November 2014, two sisters hit the headlines when a video taken by other passengers showed them fighting with three young men who had allegedly harassed them on a bus. The men’s version of the story says the fight was over a seat. The veracity of the girls’ story was recently called into question when they were unable to pass a Polygraph test by the police.
A similar incident took place when a video of a woman confronting her alleged molester in an airplane, was posted on YouTube on 31st January 2015, with an explanatory note from the woman. The businessman was allegedly touching her inappropriately through the seats. Both videos went viral, with the latter currently having nearly 7.5 million views on YouTube. The videos do not show the alleged crime, but its aftermath, which is open to interpretation.
In both cases, the identities of the accused were released on social media, in an effort to ‘shame’ them. In the clip I’ve taken from a popular news source, you can see the media sensationalizing the event. Should the women have relied solely on the law enforcement authorities, instead of trying to mete out ‘justice’ on their own? In a country where eve-teasing and sexual violence against women is all too common, there is not much faith in the judiciary.
In the accompanying post, the woman wrote “i made sure i humiliate him as much as possible because i know law will do nothing”. There has been backlash, with many questioning the women’s authenticity, going to the other extreme and invoking the sexist stereotype of the woman who cries rape (or sexual assault) and destroys the life of the innocent man. This is a complex issue. Of course women should not remain silent when being harassed, and it’s good to have footage as ‘witness’, but are the effects of the video going viral on the alleged perpetrator’s life proportionate to the crime he is accused of committing? Or does he fulfill the role of a scapegoat for the society to punish for the collective guilt of the millions of men who molest women in India?