It happened again this week or so went the outcry in India. A young photojournalist went to a desolate section in the heart of central Mumbai with a male colleague. Five young men cornered them, tied up the man and gang-raped the woman. This sent a shock wave through out urban India. Mumbai, our lovely Mumbai, has been correctly regarded as the safest city for women. To have a gang rape in the heart of Mumbai, even in an old decapitated Detroit like ex-industrial section of Mumbai, was a blow to the psyche.
But then we realized this was a very different situation. That those who compared it to the barbaric rape-murder of the 23-year Delhi woman in December 2012 were mistaken. The photojournalist was not out for a social or personal event. She was at that desolate site on an assignment from a Mumbai-based English language magazine. In other words, her being there was job-related.
That to us changes everything. Look at the photos from the New York Times article about the case.
If you are a woman, would you want to go this desolate place without protection? If you are a man, would you escort a woman to such an isolated area located in the middle of a bombed out ex-industrial waste land. This area of Parel went through the same dynamics in 1980s that Detroit went through in the 1990s – complete destruction of jobs, shutting down of mills, exodus of working families, total impoverishment of an entire generation with middle class women forced to go into prostitution just to feed their families. Movies have been made about the intense anger and deep despair of the working people of this area.
All this is well known and that is why this photojournalist was sent to that site, to take photographs of the destruction for a presumably glossy magazine spread. It should be obvious to everybody that this was a potentially risky assignment. And it is not as if the dangers of rape in India are not well known. Stories about rape in India are now firmly embedded in the minds of any one in the world who can read English.
Then why didn’t the managers of the magazine take adequate precautions to protect their chosen journalist from the dangers of this assignment? Security is not that expensive in India. Had the magazine provided an armed security guard to the young photojournalist & her colleague, this horrible tragedy could have been avoided.
Our quick check with Indian counsel revealed the existence of a “reasonable care” doctrine in Indian law. So the key question for us is did the management and the owners of this Mumbai-based English language magazine take “reasonable care” to ensure the safety of their employee during her work-assignment? And if the answer is No, then what is the liability, both criminal and civil, both jointly and severally, of the magazine, of its management and of its owners?
And the liability should not be restricted only to the photojournalist and her male colleague. The expenses suffered by Mumbai Police were entirely due, it could be argued, to the lack of “reasonable care” taken by the magazine. So the magazine should, if the courts agree, be required to reimburse the Mumbai police for their expenses. And what about the damage inflicted on Mumbai’s reputation?
These questions could potentially put the magazine into bankruptcy. But that is exactly the risk India’s media companies must face when they expose their employees to the risk of rape or worse without taking “reasonable care” for their safety.
Why weren’t these questions raised by a single newspaper or TV network in India or America? Because they would expose themselves and reveal their own liability if they pursued this line of questioning?
Indian TV networks like CNN-IBN, NDTV and others routinely expose their journalist employees to risk without, we assume, adequate protection. Shouldn’t the management and ownership of these TV networks have appropriate criminal or civil liability? What about Indian reporter employees of American media companies like New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Reuters and others? Would their employees have recourse in American courts for physical and monetary damages suffered due to negligence of their American employers?
If we were, for example & example only, Neha Thirani Bagri of the New York Times, Shefali Anand of the Wall Street Journal or Anuja Jairam of Reuters or one of their many fellow employees in India, we would want to research our rights, under U.S. Law in American courts, for negligence and/or unreasonably risky practices of their American employers?
And India needs to pass laws that hold corporations and their owners, jointly and severally, liable for exposing their employees to risky assignments without taking “reasonable care” of their safety. This is not just for journalists but for all professions, like BPO workers who work late into the night, physicians & nurses on night duty, etc.
It is utterly useless and wrong to blame the Mumbai police for the deeply troubling rape of this young photojournalist. No police force in the world can protect their citizens from such risk. They simply don’t have the manpower to do so. The responsibility for protection must be on the individual in a social or personal setting and on the corporate entity on a job-related situation.
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