Indian Decade

Privilege of Privacy

A recent high-profile death reminds us how powerful broadcast media can be.

They say a free press is a good indicator of a well-functioning democracy. Of course, it is. But, with Indian TV news, I think this freedom often comes at the price of others.

I wrote a few weeks back about a professor in northern Aligarh having been suspended from the historic Aligarh Muslim University after a sting operation by a local newspaper filmed him having consensual sex with another man, a poor rickshaw-puller. An indignant media rightly picked up the case and his suspension was decried as discriminatory and unjust. The professor, SR Siras, went on several news networks to talk about how bad he felt about being ousted from a university he had taught at for decades.

Well, last week Dr. Siras was found dead in his home in Aligarh. Initial police reports suggest it was a suicide. Of course, I don’t blame the media for causing his death. Their intention was to fight the unfairness of the treatment meted out to him.

But, I suspect, after becoming a well-known face across the country, Siras may have found it too tough to carry on. Was he being ridiculed, shamed and insulted by neighbors, relatives and friends? Did the attention his case got in the media make it impossible for him to live a normal life after the news had died down for the rest of us? It got me thinking. Perhaps anonymity is a privilege we all enjoy when we suffer our pains with only the people we choose to share them with. And I think there lies a little lesson for the Indian broadcast media which often underestimates its own power, even when it is driven by doing ‘good.’ At times, it’s better to just leave people alone.