Moral policing and media overzealousness cost a young life (Punjab Newsletter)

September 14th, 2012 - 1:38 pm ICT by IANS  

Chandigarh, Sep 14 (IANS) It took the life of a young girl in Jalandhar to expose the moral policing by an over-zealous, publicity-hungry woman officer and a section of the media in the state. The report of a high-level probe into the incident clearly blames Punjab Police and the media for her death.

Shivali, a BA student at the SD College in Jalandhar city, 150 km from here, was found dead on railway track Aug 30 just a few minutes after being humiliated by a woman police officer, Inspector Balwinder Kaur, in the presence of some media photographers.

The girl’s only fault was that she had been caught in the company of her boyfriend in his car. Balwinder Kaur had stopped the young couple, mocked them and got their photographs taken by the local media accompanying her.

The victim pleaded with the photographers and police not to photograph her as she would be humiliated if the pcitures were published. Eyewitnesses told police later that the police officer and the media photographers, however, laughed at her pleading. Shivali, video footage later showed, walked away from the spot and committed suicide minutes later.

The inquiry into the incident, conducted by Inspector General of Police (Jalandhar) Gurpreet Deo concluded “that the child committed suicide because of her belief that there was no way to prevent her pictures from being published next day”.

Deo’s report, submitted last week, clearly blames police and media. He pointed out that “if a little compassion and understanding had been shown by either of them, the young girl may have been alive”.

Following the report, police registered a case of abetment to suicide against Balwinder Kaur and two mediapersons - Brijesh Kumar (photographer) and Ravi (cameraman).

“When the victim pleaded with the photographers not to take her pictures and even threatened to commit suicide, they laughed and mocked at her. They even told her to check the newspapers the next morning. She could not bear the tension of that and took the extreme step,” one eyewitness told police.

Before registering the case, the Punjab home secretary had placed Balwinder Kaur under suspension immediately after the suicide incident was reported by the media. She has also been charged with misconduct.

“The behaviour of the woman police inspector was unwarranted. She was in the habit of taking media photographers and cameramen with her during her rounds in Jalandhar. Even though she was on traffic duty, she was indulging in moral policing and harassing young couples,” a police officer admitted to IANS.

As if the behaviour of police and the media was not enough, the Government Railway Police (GRP) too didnt cover itself with glory even after the girl’s death. GRP officials “recorded” the statement of an eyewitness on the railway tracks, where Shivali committed suicide, saying that she died because her foot got stuck in the tracks and she was run over by a train.

The GRP immediately registered a case of accident instead of suicide.

During the probe by Deo, eyewitness claimed that he was asked to give the earlier statement to make it a case of accident whereas the girl had committed suicide. The train driver also told Deo that the girl had jumped before the train and that it was not an accident.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)

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