‘Super-coverage’ of Pradyuman’s death was also a super miscarriage of justice.
When news of the murder of seven-year-old Pradyuman Thakur at Gurugram‘s Ryan International School broke two months ago, it stunned Delhi NCR, and indeed the whole country. Such an incident at a reputed school shook people, especially parents and guardians of school-going children.
The media took to the story with great gusto, and considering the seriousness of the crime, gave it a lot of airtime.
However, the murder story began to develop the way counting of votes leads to the announcement of election results. Soon after the crime, the Haryana Police had “found” the murderer and informed the world that he had “confessed”.
News Channels who solved the case earlier in the Ryan School murder case have once again solved it when the accused changed.
Ashok Kumar, a bus conductor in the school, then stood branded a murderer. A ruthless, brutal, barbaric man who was being compared to the devil himself.
For a long time, news channels displayed three panels on their screens – pictures of little Pradyuman, his distraught mother, and the “villain” Ashok.
Over the next few days, news media was flooded with nothing but the Pradyuman story. Terrified parents were wondering if their children were safe on school premises and buses. This fear became the staple for the media to feed on.
The story was playing on a loop: the narrative was being carefully built. “Super-coverage” of Pradyuman’s murder was on. All sorts of “tough” adjectives were being used for Ashok. Every school peon, driver, conductor, gardener, rickshaw-puller was being looked at with suspicion.
Ashok was demonised to such an extent that Gurgaon lawyers refused to defend him. Essentially, a death sentence was passed against him without trial or testimony.
Long programmes on TV debating Ashok’s alleged “brutality” and “depravity” were serving to turn public opinion stonily against him. In his village, people had ostracised him. Besmirched and boycotted, Ashok still continues to remain behind bars.
Twist in the tale
And then suddenly, on the first anniversary of the demonetisation of high-value currency notes, Pardyuman’s tale came alive again. This time, the villain is different. Ashok, tried, vilified, crucified, is not the accused, after all. According to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which took over the probe from the Haryana Police, the accused is a Class 11 student of the same school, a 16-year-old boy.
Now, the script has changed. The juvenile is a porn-addict, watches blue films in schools. Misbehaves, bullies others. Picks fights. Is not good in studies. Has been undergoing psychiatric treatment. Neighbours avoid him. The narrative has now been taken up by these stories. The media is getting ready to throw the new “murderer” to the lions.
If schools are turning into pressure chambers, all of us are responsible for it. Photo: DailyO
However, in the midst of this, no one is asking the police why it is so silent on the many unanswered questions in this “twist in the tale”.
So far, there have been no calls for action against the police officers who, it would now seem, “forced” a confession out of Ashok and thereby obfuscated the probe.
What now, Gurgaon District Bar Association?
The bar council that had passed a verdict even before Ashok’s trial could begin and had refused to defend him is now facing questions from the bus conductor’s family if they will hold the same “principled stand” for the wealthy juvenile. In how many more such cases will lawyers so abdicate their duties?
Media must apologise
The biggest question, however, is on the role of the media. The preparation and vigour that were used to declare Ashok an inhuman killer, the sustained, concerted efforts with which his image and social standing were shred to pieces – doesn’t the media owe this bus conductor at least an apology?
The ease with which we manage to damn someone who fits a certain stereotype – the servant as the evil criminal – shows our ethical bankruptcy. The job of tracing Pradyuman’s killer is being done by agencies such as the CBI.
But shouldn’t we fix some responsibility on those who tried to murder Ashok’s reputation without any proof of his guilt, expect that the narrative fit their prejudices?
Society is responsible
One more question stares our society in the face, a society shocked to find a juvenile “murderer” in its midst. This society and its education system have robbed us of many children in the past. From primary and secondary schools to AIIMS and IITs, children are choosing to kill themselves rather than face examinations.
Hundreds of students preparing for competitive exams, students unable to answer the AIIMS paper in English, students finding themselves left behind in the race to score 99 per cent, commit suicide in our country every year.
The responsibility for these deaths lies with us. If the Ryan juvenile indeed killed Pradyuman, and did so to escape an exam, it’s a slap in the face of all of us. Suicides are changing into murder, stressed students are turning on others.
Students killing themselves out of the fear of examinations are now killing others to put those exams off. If this is indeed true, it shows we have become a society utterly devoid of compassion, a society utterly doomed.
Heed these warnings, today we are all part of this.