Journalistic Depictions of Violence against Women in India
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.
Violence against women is a global phenomenon, occurring in most, if not all, nations and cultures. In different contexts, the forms and determinants of gender violence vary widely: from the perspective of transnational feminism, genders and sexualities are functions of global flows of power (Grewal & Kaplan, 2001). Interstate wars are tied to sexual violence (Brownmiller, 1975; Meger, 2011); globalized commerce plays a role in gender violence, as in the murders of maquiladora workers in Juárez, Mexico (Livingston, 2004); forced migrations render refugee women more vulnerable to violence (Hynes & Cardozo, 2000); and the trafficking of women is a transborder phenomenon (Cameron & Newman, 2008). Even the gender violence that occurs in interpersonal relationships and family settings is a function of the structural violence of racism, colonialism, warfare, and poverty (Merry, 2009).
News coverage of violence against women tends to sustain the very hierarchies of gendered power that underlie the perpetration of the acts themselves. A significant body of scholarship demonstrates that the rhetorical and ideological structures at work in journalistic texts tacitly operate to stigmatize, marginalize, and blame the survivors and victims of gender violence while naturalizing and legitimating the violence itself (Benedict, 1992; Meyers, 1997). Over the past two decades, the analysis of news stories about violence against women has shown that they focus on lurid and extraordinary cases of violence, while ignoring everyday domestic violence (Carter, 1998; Meyers, 1997); they include details of clothing, behavior, and personal characteristics of female victims in ways that imply they are to blame for inciting the attacks (Ardovini-Brooker & Caringella-Macdonald, 2002; Benedict, 1992; Caputi, 1987; Cuklanz, 1996; Kitzinger, 2004; Meyers, 1997); they normalize sexual violence by denying its news value (Carter, 1998; Meyers, 1997); and they rationalize male perpetrators’ actions (Taylor, 2009).
A key factor in news coverage of violence against women is the way multiple axes of power intersect and accrue in these representations: ideologies of race and class overlap with gender in the discourse, most often working to reinforce social hierarchies and relations of oppression. Violence against poor women of color is underreported and its seriousness tends to be minimized; the victims are likely to be portrayed as hypersexual and promiscuous, and thus responsible for provoking the violence.
Yet another variable at play is that of nation. In an increasingly transnational and globalized world, journalism interprets and represents geopolitical power relations. Studies of international news indicate that most media corporations are based in the global North or “First World,” and journalistic coverage tends to prioritize news about countries culturally and geographically closest to this “center” or “core,” while sustaining colonial and neo-imperial power relations (Ahern, 1984; Jones, Van Aelst, & Vliegenthart, 2013). This is accomplished in part by focusing mainly on conflict, disaster, and upheaval in countries of the periphery/global South/“Third World,” positioning them through discourse as uncivilized and inferior.
This is not a new phenomenon. Journalistic narratives reflected and re-inscribed colonial authority during the heyday of European colonialism (roughly 1870–1960). Theories of Orientalism elucidate the rhetorical strategies through which such narratives constructed East-West binaries, positioning the Occident as superior to the “exotic” and “barbaric” Orient (Karim, 2003; Said, 1978). These Orientalist discourses had gendered and sexual overtones. Western media and other texts routinely depicted the Orient as an arena of unleashed sexual desires as well as gender-based oppressions, and these discourses sustained ideological hierarchies privileging European perspectives and power.
Violence against Indian women, in particular, has functioned as an enduring site for the repeated assertion of these hegemonic expressions. Although gender violence is an issue in every country and region, the construction of culturally and religiously entrenched practices of violence characterize Western news about gender violence in India. The human rights scholar Sally Merry notes, “Understanding gender violence requires a situated analysis that recognizes the effects of the larger social context on gender performances” (Merry, 2009). In examining news coverage of violence against women in India, particular forms of violence have dominated the agenda because of their purported regional, cultural, and religious specificity.
Indeed, British colonial authority in India pivoted on debates around the ritual of sati, or the self-immolation of widows1—a rare practice confined to specific regions of India, but one that gained symbolic significance during the colonial regime. The sati debates provide an early instance of news coverage of violence against women in India, a subject that resurfaces periodically in ways that highlight the deep and ongoing imbrication of gender and geopolitics.
Newspapers, Sati, and the Discourse of Nation
In the years leading up to the British Raj—the period of British rule over the Indian subcontinent—a heated debate about the legal prohibition of sati generated pamphlets, court briefs, administrative reports, police records, commentaries, editorials, and news stories. These documents were authored by colonial officials as well as by Indian male elites, notably Hindu priests and high-caste intellectuals. British authorities generally favored outlawing the practice of sati, initially on grounds of cruelty, but also because its criminalization would represent a step toward the modernization of India under British rule. However, some colonial officials were uneasy about intervening legally into the practice for fear that such intervention would generate indigenous rebellion against the Raj. Opinions among Indians were divided as well: arguments for and against sati’s legitimacy according to Hindu religious texts were mounted in these discourses. While sati had been written about in earlier travel narratives, newspaper coverage intensified in the years prior to the outlawing of the practice by the British in 1829.
Historians’ analyses of the documents pertaining to the criminalization of sati point out their elision of the women who actually burned on the funeral pyres: the debates centered not on the women’s experiences and standpoints, but on whether or not the practice was religiously sanctioned according to Hindu scripture or validated by Indian cultural mores. The women’s voices were not heard in the accounts. Early news stories, in both English- and Indian-language newspapers, provided dispassionate accounts of satis, without editorializing on its propriety or causes. But as the colonial government shifted toward legally banning it, the British and Indian press started to run editorials and commentaries, some defending the practice by claiming its status in Hindu tradition, others opposing it on religious grounds, some depicting the cruelty and horror of the act, and some accusing sati’s opponents of colluding with the British colonizers. It is important to note that most of the English-language newspapers operating in India at this time were controlled by the East India Company, the British governing authority in India. But Indian-language papers were also in circulation. Some of these were British-owned, some Indian-owned, while others occupied a middle ground, such as the Benagli language Samachar Darpan, which was British-owned but staffed by Indian journalists operating relatively autonomously.
The interpretation of the practice of sati in the news was, therefore, far from monolithic, and the terms of the news discourse reflected the struggles over national sovereignty at stake in the political context of the time. It is important to note that many Indians opposed the practice—the religious and political activist Ram Mohan Roy, for example, vehemently decried it—while some British officials supported it. Despite these variations, its abolition was interpreted by the colonial powers as symbolic validation of the “civilizing” influence of colonial rule over the “barbarous” Indian subcontinent. In this way, the journalism about sati as a form of violence against women exploited a gendered practice as the grounds for the debates over colonial politics and power.
Sati faded from the news agenda after 1829, although it was still a pivotal trope in the British takeover of India’s Princely States. But in 1927, the issue resurfaced in news discourse, when a sati incident in Bihar resulted in the sentencing of ten men by a British magistrate against an Indian jury’s findings of “not guilty.” Once again, the case precipitated collisions over national sovereignty and questions of cultural autonomy. The Bihari English-language newspaper Searchlight carried a series of articles criticizing the judge’s findings in language so strident that the newspaper was charged with contempt of court. The Searchlight contempt case provoked further furors about the freedom of the Indian press and Indian self-determination in jurisprudence and politics. “Consequently, the newspaper was championed by a number of leading nationalists, including Motilal Nehru, who used the case to challenge the authority of the colonial state” (Major, 2008, p. 231). Indian and colonial newspapers took a range of heated positions, but again, the practice of sati was a foil for larger debates—although the fledgling women’s movement in India participated for the first time in the discourse, advancing a position for women as agentive subjects. Overall, though, “the significant question was not whether Sampati Kuer was murdered or not, but who had the right to adjudicate that fact” (Major, 2008, p. 243).
Isolated incidents of sati in the late 20th century, though rare, continued to garner considerable attention from the news media; the practice remained newsworthy as a touchstone for debates about religion, communalism, and politics, as well as for its potential to spark social protests and violence. Indian news coverage of these satis tended to focus on the sociopolitical ramifications of the incidents rather than on their basis in gender roles and oppressions, but editorials—many of them authored by feminist activists—roundly condemned the practice as inhumane. Some Indian television stations were accused by police of faking footage to stir up controversy. International media coverage emphasized the political sensitivity of the practice in India, implying widespread support for sati by Indians despite the vehement opposition from Indian feminist groups, intellectuals, law enforcement, and judicial authorities. Again, the international press coverage—largely by news outlets based in the global North—reinforced Orientalist notions of India as savage and barbarous in its putative, religiously grounded endorsement of gender violence.
The immolation of Indian women has also attracted journalistic attention via the trope of “dowry deaths,” incidents in which women are set afire by their husbands’ families because their dowries were insufficient. The institutionalized practice of a woman’s family paying a dowry to her husband has been identified as a cause of the inter-familial abuse of married women in India; this abuse is oftentimes fatal. Indian news coverage of dowry deaths in the late 20th century has been extensive, largely due to feminist organizations’ efforts to draw public attention to the problem. Although the news coverage of dowry deaths has steadily increased over time, studies demonstrate that Indian newspapers tend to report dowry deaths as crimes—that is, as individual unrelated events—rarely examining the gendered causes or implications of the incidents (Borah, 2008). The structural determinants for these murders are thus overlooked, reducing them to isolated and idiopathic incidents. Like other forms of gender violence, in India and elsewhere, the practice of dowry and its most serious consequences are sites of contestation, but Western news media coverage has elided the controversy as well as the activism against these practices, situating dowry deaths as naturalized and essential elements of Indian—and particularly Hindu—culture (Parameswaran, 1996). By taking this stance, Western news coverage reasserts an Orientalist perspective that positions India as inherently predisposed to gender violence, in contrast to the purportedly civilized mores of the “Occident.” Indian and international news coverage of this form of gender violence, then, oversimplify it, failing to recognize its complexity as a consequence of colonial policies that diminished women’s societal power and denied them access to economic security, as well as an effect of ongoing conflicts over women’s autonomy, family roles, and social status, all of which have the potential to incite domestic violence.
Also controversial is media coverage of the trafficking of women in, and from, India. Worldwide, most victims of human trafficking are women and girls, while traffickers tend to be male (though some are women). While trafficking involves sexual exploitation, it also refers to indentured servitude, slavery, and other forms of coerced labor. Problems with the news media’s reporting of trafficking have been documented in scholarly analysis: the critiques of the coverage include its narrow focus on sex trafficking and prostitution to the exclusion of other aspects of the issue, its conflation of trafficking with voluntary illegal migration, and its complicity with official agendas that can work to further persecute and criminalize victims. Though accurate statistics are difficult to ascertain, given the illegality of the activity, India is believed to have high rates of human trafficking. One comparative analysis of the indigenous and American press coverage of trafficking in India found that the same patterns occur overall: sex trafficking is over-reported compared to other forms of trafficking, while the causes of the problem are unaddressed, and official sources tend to be cited, while victims’ voices are not heard. However, this study found that coverage is increasingly framing the problem as systemic rather than episodic, and stories are beginning to include remedies and interventions (Sobel, 2014).
Female infanticide and feticide are forms of gender violence considered by Indian scholars to have reached “genocidal proportions” (Bhatnagar, Dube, & Dube, 2005, p. x) in the contemporary moment. As in the case of sati, the rare and disfavored practice of female infanticide was exploited by British colonial authorities as evidence for colonizing intervention in India; some scholars argue that colonial discourses about the issue actually exacerbated its incidence. Currently, analyses indicate the journalism about infanticide in India routinely attributes the act to cultural factors, but stories about infanticide in the United States and the global North fail to explore cultural contexts or dimensions of gendered power as contributing causes. News stories of infanticide in the global North tend to be reported as isolated instances, while stories of infanticide in India or China are framed as part of larger social dynamics (Barnett, 2016). The latter perspective implies that “Oriental” cultures are predisposed to such practices and condone them, whereas Western cultures recognize such crimes as rare and taboo.
A notable moment in the journalism of violence against women in India centers on the case of Phoolan Devi, the so-called “bandit queen.” Phoolan Devi was a lower-caste woman who gained notoriety in the 1980s as the leader of a gang of “dacoits” (robbers) whose exploits became legendary for her averred defense of oppressed people, especially women. She was imprisoned for 11 years without trial, eventually released, and ended up as a member of the Indian parliament. She was shot to death under mysterious circumstances in 2001.
Phoolan Devi’s life and adventures have been commemorated in films, books, and other media. The news coverage of her story in the vernacular and English-language press was extensive, especially after her murder. She was commonly valorized in the media as a rape survivor whose rampages served as retribution for the wrongdoing against her. Analysis of the news coverage of Phoolan Devi sheds light on the ways journalistic narratives about her are used to contrast modernizing India with the cruder mores of its rural inhabitants. Phoolan Devi’s story is also used as a marker of feminist and social progress in contemporary India, with the implication that women need no longer resort to gang violence to redress rape or other crimes, and that caste-based oppressions have ostensibly been eliminated. The news framing of Phoolan Devi herself, both as a victim and perpetrator of violence, thus alludes to discourses of nation predicated on rural/urban and traditional/modern dichotomies (Murty, 2010).
Approximately a decade after Phoolan Devi’s death, the brutal 2012 gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey, in New Delhi, unleashed a torrent of media coverage, in India as well as internationally. The victim, whose name was initially withheld, was identified variously as “Nirbhaya,” “Damini,” “Jagruti,” and other pseudonyms, all denoting courage and goodness. Reports of her assault and eventual death sparked street protests throughout India. Largely because of the public reaction, the criminal incident became a global media spectacle, generating news stories, feature articles, editorials, and social media content. Analyses of the coverage reveal complex ideological crosscurrents underpinning the reportage and its reception.
Prior to this rape and murder, the news media had paid little attention to sexual assault in the Indian context. Historical accounts of rape and its attendant discourses (juridical, medical, literary, and ethnographic) trace its construction as a crime under colonial rule, during India’s partition from Pakistan, and in the context of various wars and conflicts. One study of rape coverage in the newsmagazine India Today noted the denial of autonomy to victims of sexual assault in contrast to dominant narratives of the modern “new Indian woman” (Daya, 2009). Another assessed the role of the women’s magazine Femina in constituting a space for Indian women to articulate and seek guidance on issues, including sexual abuse; the analysis demonstrated that the magazine upheld gender oppressions and the devaluation of women in its discourses (Dewey, 2009). Yet the journalistic coverage of sexual assault in India has largely gone unanalyzed until the recent high-profile “Nirbhaya” tragedy.
Indian news sources provided the first reports of the incident. These were picked up by foreign news outlets, which then sent reporters to cover the aftermath. International news about the 2012 rape reflected established tendencies and perspectives. Frequently identifying New Delhi as “the rape capital of the world,” the U.S. coverage positioned India as a land of barbarism and anarchy, where societal norms rendered women particularly vulnerable to sexual assault, and where politicians and other authorities were indifferent and ineffectual in prosecuting these crimes. Feminist critiques of this coverage pointed out that gang rape and related sex crimes occur everywhere in the world, and the recognition of this fact could more effectively mobilize transnational anti-rape activism (Durham, 2015). A comparative analysis of The New York Times’ coverage of the New Delhi rape versus its reporting on a gang rape in Steubenville, Ohio, noted that the former received considerably more coverage than the latter. The New York Times attributed the rape in New Delhi to an entrenched Indian culture of patriarchy, while no such contextualization subtended the coverage of the Ohio case. The focus on the New Delhi case was correlated with “an elision of cases such as Steubenville, whose very existence in the site of progress and modernity ‘at home’ threatens civilizational assumptions about us as opposed to them” (Patil & Purkayastha, 2015).
Indian news coverage of the incident was also prolific. Research showed that coverage of rape overall increased by approximately 30% in the wake of the “Nirbhaya” case. The attention paid to the case by the Indian media has been interpreted in the context of India’s emerging neoliberal economy, marked by “the entrenchment of a market ethic, competition and commodification” (Gooptu, 2009) and related social shifts, including the growth of a consumer class. The media coverage articulated the concerns and perspectives of India’s rising middle class, whose growing feminist activism and challenges to patriarchal conventions catalyzed protests and candlelight vigils throughout the subcontinent, positions largely supported by the media. Journalists’ uses of social media—notably Twitter and Facebook—to track discourses around the incident and its aftermath reflected this class predisposition in the coverage. The editor of the International Business Times noted that Jyoti Pandey’s class position as a physiotherapy student may have been a factor in the attention given to her assault; as he pointed out, lower-caste women are raped with impunity in India, and their assaults go unnoticed (Ghosh, 2015). The journalistic coverage of the “Nirbhaya” rape and murder is credited with inspiring rape prevention campaigns, artwork, advertising, films, and other anti-rape media. The media coverage of the case is also believed to have pushed forward the empanelment of a special judicial commission, chaired by former Chief Justice of India J. S. Verma, to review the Indian penal code vis-à-vis rape laws, though only minor changes in the laws resulted from the review.
Two documentary films on the incident generated media attention, as well. British filmmaker Leslee Udwin’s 2015 BBC documentary India’s Daughter was banned in India and drew criticisms of ethnocentrism, sensationalism, and neocolonial bias, though it was also defended by many Indians for its resolute exposé of the perpetrators’ defense of their act and its approbation of the street protests. Indian director Vibha Bakshi’s documentary Daughters of Mother India (2014) won the award for Best Film on Social Issues at India’s National Film Awards; the film focused on the motivations and perspectives of the anti-rape movement in India.
Violence Against LGBT+ People
Under current law, sex between gay, lesbian, transgender, or bisexual partners is illegal in India: in 2009, the High Court of Delhi repealed Section 377 of the India Penal Code, which prohibited sexual activities “against the order of nature,” but in 2013, the Supreme Court of India overturned that decision, recriminalizing non-heterosexual relationships. This recent criminalization of LGBT+ identities and activities has attracted news coverage. In addition, the legislation as well as the social stigma experienced by people with these sexual orientations are forms of institutionalized violence against these populations; and LGBT+ people in India experience interpersonal violence at high levels, as well (Chaudhuri, 2014).
In general, domestic and international newspaper coverage of LGBT+ people and issues tends to be episodic and event-related. For example, the 1998 Indian release of Canadian-Indian filmmaker Deepa Mehta’s Fire, featuring a lesbian relationship, sparked protests from Hindu fundamentalists, which generated news coverage. Similar protests attended the release of another lesbian-themed film, Girlfriend, in 2004, and news coverage of lesbians peaked again. Articles tended to foreground religious fundamentalists’ objections to the films, usually based on charges of westernization and the corruption of Indian culture. Nonetheless, the stories include quotes from lesbian activists and scholars who defend freedom of expression and the historical place of same-sex love in Indian tradition. Gay pride parades similarly garner media attention.
The 2009 repeal of Section 377 and its 2013 re-instantiation also generated articles about LGBT+ struggles and social movements. In the news outlets of the global North, editorials and commentaries related to these legal events often used homophobia as a criterion by which to define and disparage developing nations, including India, thus reiterating the tropes marking discourses of gender violence.
However, incidents of violence against LGBT+ individuals in India are seldom reported or investigated in mainstream news. In addition, misunderstandings of transgender identities abound in the coverage, and stories about transgender individuals are sensationalized, giving short shrift to their experiences of discrimination and marginalization (Murthy, 2010).
Among South Asian diaspora populations, specialized media addressing LGBT+ issues are in circulation—for example, the San Francisco-based magazine Trikone and the Queer South Asian News Network. These news media report regularly on incidents of homophobic violence, including police brutality, rape, and intimate partner violence involving South Asians, in order to raise consciousness about these issues and call for interventions. The website GayAsiaNews aggregates news stories about LGBT+ issues, billing itself as “the one stop, all gay, all Asian, news only source:” it features a South Asia department that regularly runs stories about violence, as well. As activism in this area develops, and the community attains greater visibility, news coverage and online media continue to expand their scope.
Journalism, Gender, and Geopolitical Power
From the early days of the British Raj to the present, gender violence and violence against Indian women have been used as signifiers of cross-national ruptures and relations. During British rule, a number of legal and political codifications of gender violence were developed to ratify the colonial project, and these interpretive frameworks continue to underpin journalistic narratives of violence against women, in the Indian as well as the international press. The structures of gendered power at the root of violence against women—in India, as elsewhere—are interpreted discursively in the news in ways that reassert geopolitical hierarchies and differences, especially binary oppositions between East and West or “First” and “Third” World. These narratives disengage crimes against Indian women from similar crimes occurring worldwide, thwarting transnational campaigns and resource mobilization. Moreover, the reporting of gender-related issues tends to be confined to news of violence, so that the more systemic and complex aspects of gender roles and relations go unaddressed in the media. It is important to recognize that violence does not occur in isolation from other injustices and breaches of human rights. New organizations of women journalists, such as the Network of Women in Media, in India, articulate agendas for expanding and deepening the coverage of women’s issues. The number of women journalists working in Indian media continues to rise. These changes in the workforce have the potential to transform the scope and structure of news coverage of gender issues.
Review of Literature
Journalistic coverage of violence against women in India has been approached from various disciplinary perspectives, although scholarship on the subject is not extensive, and much of it is quite recent. Early examples of news coverage of this subject surface via historians’ investigations of sati, where newspapers, among other primary sources, are analyzed to explicate the complexities of the positions taken by British and Indian commentators. Lata Mani’s book Contentious Traditions: The Debate on Sati in Colonial India (Mani, 1998) and Andrea Major’s book Sati: A Historical Anthology (Major, 2007), as well as her many articles on the topic, offer detailed and multifaceted analyses of the significance of sati as part of the colonial project. as well as its recurrent interpretation in relation to historicized political crosscurrents. While the news media are not the primary focus of any of this work, journalism is considered along with other texts—legal documents, pamphlets, police records, and so on—providing empirical evidence and critical perspectives on the news narratives. Similarly, feminist historians’ studies of discourses of female infanticide and feticide in colonial India include news sources, but do not prioritize them as objects of analysis. An example of such analysis is Bhatnagar, Dube, and Dube’s monograph Female infanticide in India: A feminist cultural history (Bhatnagar, Dube, & Dube, 2005). Much more recently, Barnett in Motherhood in the media: Infanticide, journalism, and the digital age (Barnett, 2016) focuses on parsing media accounts of infanticide and thoughtfully addresses cross-national issues of reporting in the contemporary press.
A persistent problem in the consideration of violence against Indian women is the fact that violence against women occurs in all nations and regions, so the specificity of the Indian context raises questions about how nation and culture operate discursively and ideologically in narratives about the issue. A great deal of scholarship about news coverage of violence against Indian women deals directly with these questions. Radhika Parameswaran’s important essay (Parameswaran, 1996) on The Dallas Observer’s reporting of a diasporic Indian woman’s murder was one of the first to highlight the facile and faulty uses of nation and culture in U.S. journalism about gender violence. These tropes are salient in much of the recent scholarship on this subject. From human trafficking to news coverage of sexual assault in India—a subject of particular interest since the 2012 rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey on a New Delhi bus—geopolitics and transnational relationships have figured into the analysis.
A small corpus of research focuses on women journalists in India and their influence on indigenous news coverage of women’s issues, including violence. The work of the feminist activist and journalist Ammu Joseph is at the forefront of such analysis. Her overview Whose news? (Joseph& Sharma, 2006) is a key text addressing the changing situations of women in the news workforce in India and their efforts to advance gender awareness in the press.
Violence against lesbian and transwomen occurs frequently in India, as it does in other countries. The Indian Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which prohibits carnal intercourse “against the order of nature,” has catalyzed significant news coverage of LGBT+ rights, in the Indian as well as the overseas press. The court’s 2013 instantiation of the law, after its 2009 repeal by a high court, has mainly impacted LGBT+ people in India, who report experiencing high levels of violence, institutionalized as well as interpersonal, in the wake of the court decision. However, there is virtually no analysis of news coverage of these assaults, which would call for theorizing discourses of sexual orientation as they intersect with gender, race, class, and nation. This avenue of research is a significant and untapped area of investigation with the scholarly potential to shed light on a pressing but invisible aspect of gender violence.
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(1.) Sati is a contested term. In Hinduism, the word “sati” signifies the woman who attains virtue through fidelity to her husband, but over time, the term has come to refer to the act of a widow’s self-immolation on her husband’s funeral pyre. The implication of sati is that the act is voluntary, yet scholarship on the subject indicates that many so-called satis are coerced—they are, in fact, murders. The term is used here to include all of these nuances and complexities.