Summary and Keywords
News narratives of violence against women in India are part of a larger discourse of Orientalism that began in the nascent years of the British Raj and continues into the present; these narratives also reflect documented patterns of reporting on gender violence that sustain intersectional hierarchies of race and class as well as gender.
In the years leading up to British Crown rule in India, newspapers were embroiled in debates around the rare practice of sati, or the self-immolation of widows. British and Indian newspapers carried articles and commentaries both decrying and defending the practice. Arguments about sati were predicated on contests over national autonomy rather than on the gender violence at the crux of the practice. Sati is conceptually related to “bride burning,” also dubbed “dowry death,” which is reported in the news media as an effect of Indian tradition and gender culture, in contrast to the reportage on domestic violence in “First World” settings, which is depicted in terms of isolated incidents and not interpreted as a consequence of the social milieu. Female infanticide and feticide follow similar patterns of journalistic framing. Human trafficking in India is reported narrowly in terms of sex trafficking and without reference to its connections with other forms of human rights violations.
The 2012 rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey in New Delhi incited widespread international and domestic media coverage of violence against women India. Analyses of this coverage revealed repeated tropes of Orientalism in the foreign news. The journalism about this crime characterized India as a place of ungovernable violence against women, overlooking the occurrence of similar crimes in the global North and thus reasserting geopolitical hierarchies of “First” and “Third” worlds. Indian news about this crime reinforced middle-class positions and values, reflecting the changing social dynamics of 21st-century India. Violence against LGBT+ populations, aggravated after the Indian Supreme Court’s re-criminalization of non-heterosexual sex in 2013, is largely unreported in the mainstream news media, although specialized LGBT+ media channels report on it regularly. Neocolonial tropes continue to circulate in news depictions of violence against Indian women, but the rising numbers of women journalists in India seek to expand the scope and depth of reporting on gender issues.
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