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No sex please, we’re Indian: Get Religion, January 9, 2014 January 9, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Hinduism, Press criticism.
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Rape and religion returned to the front pages of India’s newspapers this week after a judge in Delhi stated premarital sex was sinful.

The Hindu reported:

Pre-marital sex is “immoral” and against the “tenets of every religion”, a Delhi court has said while holding that every act of sexual intercourse between two adults on the promise of marriage does not become rape. Additional Sessions Judge Virender Bhat also held that a woman, especially grown up, educated and office-going, who has sexual intercourse on the assurance of marriage does so “at her own peril”.

According to The Times of India, Judge Bhat, who presides over a court set up last year in response to the nationally publicized gang rape and murder wrote:

When a grown up woman subjects herself to sexual intercourse with a friend or colleague on the latter’s promise that he would marry her, she does so at her own peril. She must be taken to understand the consequences of her act and must know that there is no guarantee that the boy would fulfil his promise. He may or may not do so. She must understand that she is engaging in an act which not only is immoral but also against the tenets of every religion. No religion in the world allows pre-marital sex.

The BBC picked up this story as well. It added this explanation for Western audiences in its story “Indian judge says pre-marital sex ‘against religion’”:

Pre-marital sex remains a cultural taboo in India. Last year, a court in Delhi said live-in relationships were immoral and an “infamous product of Western culture”.

But the BBC goes no further in offering context or an explanation (it appears to be a re-write of an AFP story, which may be a mitigating factor). Even though the lede and headline of the BBC story makes explicit reference to religion, this angle is not developed. This criticism does not fall only on the BBC, the Indian press has also shied away from developing the religious angle to this story and has been content to publish only the judge’s obiter ditca.

The press has not remained silent in discussing Judge Bhat’s remarks — but the conversation has been channeled into discussions of gender and women’s rights.

Why the reticence? In a series of GetReligion posts, TMatt has addressed whether the Indian press avoids reporting on the religion and caste angles to a story. In a 2010 post entitled “Life and death (and faith) in India,” he wrote:

… I was struck by one consistent response from the audience, which I would estimate was about 50 percent Hindu, 25 percent Muslim and 25 percent Christian. When asked what was the greatest obstacle to accurate, mainstream coverage of events and trends in religion, the response of one young Muslim male was blunt. When our media cover religion news, he said, more people end up dead. Other students repeated this theme during our meetings.

In other words, when journalists cover religion stories, this only makes the conflicts worse. It is better to either ignore them or to downplay them, masking the nature of the conflicts behind phrases such as “community conflicts” or saying that the events are cased by disputes about “culture” or “Indian values.”

The Indian press as well as the BBC and the wire service reports on Judge Bhat’s decision are continuing this trend of avoiding religion in reporting. An in depth article from the Wall Street Journal last November entitled “Indian Rape Law Offers Desperate Last Resort” sticks to culture only.

While the Indian press may be restrained to report on religion, should the BBC frame the story in a faith-free atmosphere? Were India a fiercely secular society, such an omission might be justified. But it is not — nor are the rates of pre-marital sex comparable to the West. A study by the International Institute for Population Studies estimated that 3 per cent of women had engaged in pre-marital sex.

Why? Perhaps it is because sexuality for a woman in the Vedic tradition of Hindu culture is controlled by her age and marital status. It frames virginity, chastity and celibacy as being appropriate for distinct periods of life. Virginity is expected of a woman before marriage and chastity is expected within marriage. Celibacy, as signaled by an ascetic withdrawal from the obligations of marriage and family life, takes place at the end of life with abstinence being a liberation of the self from worldly attachments. While Tantric cults exalted women in worship, their sexual mores did not extend to a modern notion of female sexual autonomy. While the ideal seldom governs the real, it must be stated that pre-marital sex simply does not work within the Hindu worldview.

Discussions of sexuality in India seem to go in two directions: blame the English and the golden past.

As the BBC noted an Indian court blames the penchant for some to engage in premarital sex as an “infamous product of Western culture.” Homosexuality and the country’s sodomy laws are also laid at the door of the British too.

Or we go to the opposite extreme and hear of a mythologized past where openness and a lack of hypocrisy ruled. This is the Kama Sutra narrative, but it is not history. It is more a product of the nationalist aspirations of the rising middle classes. A macedoine of anti-colonialism with a dash of “Orientalism”, seasoned with a repressed Westerners and liberated Orientals. However the Kama Sutra narrative of Indian sexuality is largely irrelevant to an understanding of its modern manifestations and as sociologist Sanjay Srivastava of the Institute of Economic Growth in Delhi writes:

is best confined to expensive coffee table books of our ‘glorious’ past that was supposedly destroyed by foreign invaders.

There is no middle ground in reporting on sex in India. Silence or secularism governs the discussion. While this may be the environment in which the Indian press must work, should we not expect more of the BBC and the western wire services?

First printed in Get Religion.

South Africa reaches tipping point on rape: The Church of England Newspaper, February 17, 2013, p. 6. March 15, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Southern Africa, Church of England Newspaper, Crime.
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Bishop Rubin Philip of Natal

The gang rape and murder of 17-year old Anene Booyson has galvanized South Africa, focusing attention on the county’s culture of rape.

On 2 Feb 2013 a security guard discovered the dying girl at a construction site close to her home in the rural town of Bredasdorp in the Western Cape. Before she died, the girl was able to identify one of her three attackers – a family friend.

According to United Nations statistical reports, Southern Africa (South Africa and Lesotho) lead the world in incidents per capita per rape. The Crime Report 2010/11 published by the South African Police Services stated 66,196 rapes had been reported to the police – however, women’s rights activists claim the number of rapes could be eight times higher as most women do not report to police.

However, the rape of Anene Booyson may have “become a tipping point” for South Africa, said Albert Fritz the Western Cape provincial minister of social development, that leads to change.

President Jacob Zuma denounced the crime saying: “The whole nation is outraged at this extreme violation and destruction of a young human life,” he said. “This act is shocking, cruel and most inhumane. It has no place in our country. We must never allow ourselves to get used to these acts of base criminality to our women and children.”

The president called on the courts to “impose the harshest sentences on such crimes, as part of a concerted campaign to end this scourge in our society.”

The Bishop of False Bay, the Rt. Rev. Margaret Vertue, paid a pastoral call on the dead girl’s family after preaching in the Anglican Church in Bredasdorp on 10 Feb 2013.  “Anene is the victim of the social ills and loss of moral values of our society,” the bishop said, adding that what “happened to Anene and others who have died a violent death is a symptom of brooded evil.”

The Dean of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACSA), Bishop Rubin Philip of Natal stated: “Anene Booysen is a name on the lips of almost every South African this week. She has become the visible image of a deathly scourge that haunts us all – the scourge of rape.  As happens more and more frequently, Anene’s rape was accompanied by extraordinary levels of violence.”

“Anene has been robbed of her life. Her mother has been robbed of a child. But it is not only Anene who has died brutally this week. The hope of our rainbow nation dies, agonising cry by agonising cry, every time a woman is raped – approximately 3500 times a day.   How is it that the dream nation has become the rape capital of the world,” Bishop Philip asked.

The leaders of ACSA had called upon all Anglicans to “use the season of Lent to recognise that every time we fail to act against gender based violence, we are complicit in its perpetration. Anglican churches are being requested to light a candle on Wednesday in memory of Anene and all women who have suffered the violence of rape. Male members are being asked to declare ‘not in my name. This violence may not continue’,” the bishop said.

Rape a weapon of war in Syria: The Church of England Newspaper, February 10, 2013 p 7. February 14, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East.
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The Syrian civil war has sparked a refugee crisis marked by gender violence and sexual assaults, the Bishop in Jerusalem, the Rt. Rev. Suheil Dawani reports.

In a 28 Jan 2013 statement published by the Anglican Communion News Service, Bishop Dawani said the “latest news coming out of Syria and the refugee camps is so deeply appalling and tragic.”

The bishop noted that U.N. estimated that 2.5 million peopled had been displaced by the fighting. “Many are women and children who are fleeing in fear from the ongoing sexual violence against them. The International Rescue Committee reports that those who finally make it into the refugee camps are also victimized.”

“As refugees, women and girls and boys remain vulnerable to multiple forms of gender-based violence, and unfortunately few cases are reported due to the feeling of shame or fear of retribution.”

The bishop said the “crisis requires urgent action.”

“As Christians, not only in the Middle East, but worldwide, we are called to respond to this crisis. Jesus is our example of how we are to live and Our Lord has specifically told us to ‘look after orphans and widows in their distress’.”

“We, as Christians, must work to be the bridge of reconciliation that can bring peace, with justice, to the Middle East. In this land, that all the Abrahamic faiths hold Holy, we co-exist, living side by side; however, we cannot be a silent witness to the brutal treatment of women and children. The ravages of war will leave, are leaving, deep scars that will take generations to heal.”

Bishop Dawani said it was also important to “change the archaic attitudes that dominate this region of the world. Generations of women know nothing more than continued suffering.”

“I have the deepest concern for all people, women and children, who are in Syria, and in the refugee camps in foreign lands,” the bishop said. “My prayers are ongoing for peace, with justice and reconciliation, that we can live in a world of non-violence, that we can hold our women and children as treasures and treat them with the respect and dignity that all human beings deserve.”

Rape and religion in Israel: Get Religion, February 6, 2014 February 6, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Religion Reporting.
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Here’s a proposition for GetReligion readers: The quality of a news article should be measured not by how well it is written, but by how well it is read. The reporter’s task is to provide facts, context, and balanced interpretation of an event. However, if the reader is not able to grasp the meaning or context of a story the work, while being technically proficient, is unsuccessful as journalism.

The reader, then, is as important as the writer in the evaluation of merit. Unless the reader is able to bring a level of knowledge to the encounter to make the story intelligible, the article can be said to have failed. But where does the fault lie for this failure? In the reader or the writer?

A story in Tuesday’s English-language edition of Israel Today entitled “Rabbis suspected of hampering child rape case investigation” prompted these thoughts. Israel Today or Israel HaYom is Israel’s largest daily circulation newspaper. Written from a conservative perspective, it has about a quarter of the Israeli daily newspaper market share. Owned by American billionaire Sheldon Adelson the newspaper has an online edition that competes with the Jerusalem Post for the English-language Israel-centered news niche.

(Self-disclosure: I was a London correspondent for the JPost for a number of years, but have not written for them in sometime.) (N.b., the article in question is on the top right of the page above.)

The article begins:

Judea and Samaria District Police suspect their investigation into the rape of a 5-year-old girl in the ultra-Orthodox city of Modiin Illit is being deliberately hampered by rabbis who ordered all involved parties, including the victim’s parents, not to cooperate with police. As a result, police have still not identified a suspect.

The article describes what the police have learned so far about the rape of the girl by a “haredi youth, apparently from an established family in the city,” and states the child’s school teacher alerted the parents and took her to a hospital. However, the rape has not been reported to the police, who only learned of the attack after a reporter contacted them for details.

We then have these statements:

neither the school nor the parents filed a complaint with police out of fear that the city’s rabbis would ostracise them.

And …

When investigators began looking into the incident, they were met with a wall of silence. Those few who did agree to speak told police that the girl had been taken to the emergency room of a hospital in central Israel, but refused to divulge her details. The law requires hospitals to report sexual assaults, and investigators sought a court order to force the hospital to give them the victim’s details. But the presiding judge denied the request and ordered the investigators to find the parents and get permission from them first. However, police cannot contact the parents as they do not know the identity of the victim.

The article closes with a paragraph describing the frustration of the police.

Police in Modiin Illit have compiled enough information to deduce the neighborhood in which they believe the incident took place. They have questioned numerous people in the community, but those questioned claimed to not know anything about the event.

From a reporter’s perspective, this is a nicely done story. He has been able to unearth cover up of a sex crime ostensibly committed by the son of one of the town’s leading citizens. But I suspect most GetReligion readers will be unsatisfied with the story, asking themselves, “why would rabbis cover us such a crime?”

The New York Times has run several stories on this issue, focusing on the ostracization parents of abuse victims face from their communities. Unlike this Israel Today story, the Times addresses the religion ghost — the religious roots of the cover up — in this 2012 article.

Their communities, headed by dynastic leaders called rebbes, strive to preserve their centuries-old customs by resisting the contaminating influences of the outside world. While some ultra-Orthodox rabbis now argue that a child molester should be reported to the police, others strictly adhere to an ancient prohibition against mesirah, the turning in of a Jew to non-Jewish authorities, and consider publicly airing allegations against fellow Jews to be chillul Hashem, a desecration of God’s name.

This may be the situation in Brooklyn, but do the ultra-Orthodox of Israel consider their government to be non-Jewish? The question why the haredi do not cooperate with the police is not asked in this story. But, would not the original audience, an Israeli audience, know the answer to that question based upon the context of their culture and country?

Is this a failure, then of the writer or the reader? In today’s Morning Jolt newsletter, National Review Online’s Jim Geraghty raises the issue of reader/audience response in a discussion of political satire. He argues that satire works only with an informed audience, with readers who have a common intellectual culture. “Tying this back to my earlier point about satire,” he writes:

think of the times we’ve seen Jay Leno make a joke about some story that’s big on the political blogs or back in Washington, and the studio audience just titters nervously. They didn’t hear about the story, and so they don’t get the joke; Leno usually pivots back to “boy, Americans are getting so fat” jokes.

Is the joke bad, or is the audience ignorant? Geraghty criticizes Leno earlier in his piece for the quality of his work, comparing it unfavorably to his earlier work — as well as noting the decline of political humor from its heights twenty years ago.

Looking back to the 1980s and early 1990s, this meant Saturday Night Live, particularly Dennis Miller behind the anchor desk. Spy magazine. Jay Leno’s monologue when he was guest-hosting for Johnny Carson – believe it or not, kids, there was a time when Leno was funny and very, very news-oriented, instead of the increasingly-chubby guy phoning in fat jokes. …  To get the jokes, you had to know what they were about – which spurred me to look at what was going on in the news.

Just as Geraghty had to prepare to understand Dennis Miller or Jay Leno to “get the joke”, more should be expected of a reader to “get the news”. This is not to excuse poor quality, biased or unintelligent writing — but to say that the reader must bring something to the text in order to make it work as a news article.

In his 1961 book, An Experiment in Criticism, C.S. Lewis applies this argument to literature, arguing there are no bad books, only bad readers. He writes that rather than judging a book, and then defining bad taste as a liking for a bad book:

Let us make our distinction between readers or types of reading the basis, and our distinction between books the corollary. Let us try to discover how far it might be plausible to define a good book as a book which is read in one way, and a bad book as a book which is read in another.

Tell me, GetReligion readers, should this standard Lewis brought to literature be brought to your newspaper? For Lewis reading is an important aspect of our humanity.

Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality. There are mass emotions which heal the wound; but they destroy the privilege. In them our separate selves are pooled and we sink back into sub-individuality. But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and I am never more myself than when I do.

Is it too much to expect that the best journalism act upon the soul in the same way as “great literature”? If so, does that not impose upon us, the reader, the same obligation?  What say you?

First printed at GetReligion.

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