By Tilotamma Shrinivasa

Before we begin, a quick grammar lesson is due. Google for ‘passive voice’ and the very first hit defines it like this:

Passive voice is used when the focus is on the action. It is not important or not known, however, who or what is performing the action.

And adds this:

“Sometimes a statement in passive is more polite than active voice, as the following example shows:
Example: A mistake was made. In this case, I focus on the fact that a mistake was made, but I do not blame anyone (e.g. You have made a mistake.).”

So, saying “Draupadi stole Bheema’s apple” blames Draupadi for stealing, while saying “Bheema’s apple was stolen by Draupadi” focuses on the fact that the apple was stolen. Now if you drop Draupadi from the second sentence, “Bheema’s apple was stolen” conveys the idea that this terrible thing happened to Bheema but doesn’t blame anyone! Or if I use an even worse and a grammatically dodgy form of passive voice: “Bheema had his apple stolen” squarely dumps the responsibility of what happened on Bheema’s head!

Now that you are equipped with the power of grammar, here is a snapshot of Google results for the recent assaults in Gurgaon and Manipal:scr1 scr2

Let’s not even start with the ‘allegedly’ business! Anyway, here is another general snapshot of recent articles:



Now we know newspapers, especially the online variety, need eye-catching headlines. Keeping this in mind we are going to try rewriting the headlines in an active voice so the reader (whilst intrigued –> eager to click on news link –> amazed –> quick to post link on facebook & twitter –> all 500 friends/followers amazed –> link goes viral with 1,000,000,000 hits) does not get the impression that rape just happens to people in a “Girl soaked to skin while motorbiking in the rain” kind of way.

How is this for eye-catching or why is this any less eye-catching?

PassiveComments from retro news deskActive
1Two women gang-raped in moving car in GurgaonWomen are the ‘weaker sex’ because it is always so easy for 7 men to overpower 2 womenFive men gang-rape in moving car in Gurgaon
22 women raped during ride home from pub in GurgaonOh god! How do I emphasise the point that the girls went to a pub?Cab-drivers abduct and rape 2 passengers in Gurgaon
3Gurgaon: two women raped for over two hours in moving cabOver 2 hours? I think this must be censored on the grounds that it will result in unrealistic expectations in our women!Gurgaon: 2 men rape for over two hours in moving cab
4Manipal: 22-year-old medical student allegedly gang-rapedMy allegedly makes more sense than your allegedly!Manipal: 3 men allegedly gang-rape student
5Medical student raped in ManipalThis student was returning from the library btw. Not pub. So we won’t mention it. We will mention that it was late though while failing to mention that in a university town, the streets are crowded 24×7Three men rape a student in Manipal
6Medical student abducted, raped at Manipal3:1? Did these wimps never win fights in school or what? Losers!Three men abduct and rape in Manipal
7Woman offered lift on bike, rapedLook at that first sentence under the headline! Why miss an excellent opportunity to lecture to dumb idiots (i.e. all women) on the dangers of coming out of the purdah!Man abducts friend on bike, rapes
8University student raped in own houseWe suddenly care about being too sensationalist. Rape can be a threat to mortality, but then we would have to use the word murder!Attempt to murder university student in own house
9Minor girl gang-raped in moving carDon’t mention she is 17 in the second line, that makes her almost close to the legal age for rape! Writing about attackers saves us so much reporting. We can just call them ‘people, youths’.2 persons gang-rape minor in moving car
Click to enlarge to read what Freeman has to say

Does it really matter? Yes! It works on the same principle as the excellent piece that was attributed to Morgan Freeman (that later turned out to be actually from someone called Mark from Vancouver) after one of those American school shooting horrors:

What headlines such as the ones above do is

  1. Blame the victim or at least make the act the focus but absolve the perpetrators from all blame
  2. Glorify the act
  3. With many not-so-subtle references, bring in the She was Out Late bit.
  4. Imply women are weak although, in every single instance above, they are actually out-numbered! How many men do you know who can win a fight with 1:3 ratios? (also, increased rape reporting is fine but notice how it is always female victims (and male perpetuators) until it is completely drilled into your head that only women are raped (including girl-toddlers) and only men rape which is also NOT true. Other cases are just not reported in our media, is all)
  5. By stating completely irrelevant things like the victim’s age or profession, they feed the “her life is finished – this is worse than death” bullshit. (Does this make sense: Man, 35, beaten up by four people or is this closer to the same idea: Man, 35, murdered…see a pattern here?)

Here is what I think. If you are a reporter or writer, please use the active voice when you report rape and if you are that all-important person, the reader who reads/increases the hit-count to an article), please consider NOT clicking on regressive headlines and if possible boycott the paper that allows such biased reporting!

The life of the next victim depends on us not glorifying rape and being so passive.

Tilottama Shrinivasa is a mechanical engineer who is especially interested in mathematical modelling, structural analysis, biofuels, cats and dogs.


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