By Paojel Chaoba
IMPHAL Feb 9: She was alone at her house located at Yaiskul area on January 24 ,the only adult and sole bread earner of her family ,her widowed mother had gone out on the dayâ€™s business.
Then arrived the officials of the electricity department on their power drive at her residence, her house listed as an unauthorized consumer. Leima was made to stand in front of a placard by the electricity department officials and videographed.
She was smiling at the time , innocently oblivious of what was happening. The day ended.
The milkman came and shouted to her mother Khomdonbi , â€œWhy did you put the photo of your daughter in the newspaper.â€ Surprised , she ran out to get a copy, she saw and tears ran down her cheeks as she relived the pain of motherhood once again. Leima also lost her smile. Following uncensored publication of her photograph in a newspaper ,Leima (name changed) is undergoing counseling at RIMS psychiatric ward as she started developing suicidal tendencies.
A follow up by IFP revealed that the since the inception of the power drive of the state electricity department to disconnect power lines of defaulters and unauthorized consumers under Electricity Act,2003 starting Janury 24 last. For judicial purposes, unauthorized consumers had to be video graphed to enable the department to press charges. The Chief Engineer of the department questioned on a child being treated in the manner stated that the placard the officials were holding bears the name of her mother and not of the child.
â€œWe have taken photos of all the unauthorized consumers ,unfortunately she was alone at the said residence at that time, the photo is just to establish proof and kept confidential and will help the consumer in future if they want a reconnection, no one invited the media and they should not publish the photographâ€,the CE clarified.
Leimaâ€™s mother Khomdonbi on her part stated that , she sold her late husbandâ€™s ancestral land and had moved in their new house recently. As repairs were still underway , the masons had connected the unauthorized line just to operate their electrical tools.
She voiced resentment against the electricity department officials and to the media organization on the actions perpetrated to her daughter. â€œ They power drive officials canâ€™t hold my daughter accountable in my stead , what they have done is wrong. The media might mean well ,but the photograph of my daughter should not have been published in totality. Would the electricity officials and the media do the same , if Leima was their own daughterâ€,she lamented. â€œI am going to take legal action and wonâ€™t rest till justice has been doneâ€,she added.
Consequently , Advocate M Gourahari on behalf of Khomdonbi served a legal notice to the Chief Engineer, Commissioner(Power) and to the concerned media house under section 80 of the Code of Civil Procedures in respect to victimization of the child on February 4. The notice mentions of initiating legal procedures within a month if satisfactory reply is not received from the respondents.
An application was intimated to the convenor of Manipur Alliance for Child Rights (MACR) requesting appropriate action in the regard. Activist K Pradip of MACR stated that they have received an application from the victimâ€™s family and have started the fact finding process. â€œ The girl was tagged unnecessarily by the power department officials , we condemn the way the department has dealt the situation.The case is similar to the arrest of one baby Bidyarani of Nongmaikhong by police personnel some years back ,she was locked up as her parents had absconded . Meanwhile , it was unfortunate that a media house exposed the identity of the girl child without adhering to ethical normsâ€,he said.
Veteran Journalist K Madhumangol Sharma on the matter stated that the media needs to be careful while publishing news and photographs. â€œ We have a certain code of conduct and needs to know where to draw the line. We have to be ethical or we might get caught in a compromising situationâ€,he stated,talking during the sidelines of a press conference held for disabled persons.
At the same venue ,Sushma Laishram ,Director of Spastic Society of Manipur added that the child has the right to privacy , â€œEven taking photographs of disabled persons is not allowed without the consent of the person or guardiansâ€,she said.
The Yaiskul Volunteersâ€™ Organisation in a press release by the General Secretary of the organization ,H Santosh condemned the news publication for tarnishing the image of Leima. The release states that the child is appearing for the HSLC exams and the news report amounts to presenting her as a common criminal. YVO also mentioned of taking up libel charges against the publication.
As per diagnosis of Leima by a doctor of RIMS Psychiatric Department on February 3 , she is suffering from acute stress reaction and if persists for a month can become PTSD ( post traumatic stress disorder).
She was further diagnosed having suicidal wishes, loss of appetite, excessive thinking, irregular sleep,aprehension. She was refereed for counseling and prescribed anti anxiety medication.
Leima still refuses to go to school on apprehension that she would be ridiculed by her friends. She is the eldest of three sisters and is preparing to appear for her metric exam.
It may be mentioned that , the freedom of expression protected by Article 19(1) of the Indian constitution is an explicit guarantee in favour of greater media rights and the importance of a free Press has been recognized by the Supreme Court, while there is no explicit or related provisions providing the right to privacy. The Supreme Court traced the constitutional nature of this right in the case of Rajgopal vs Tamil Nadu and listed criteria for civil actions.
Quoting an excerpt from the Rajgopal case , the Supreme Court listed that â€œIt is not always necessary to bring truth to the notice of the general public. Let us assume that there is a victim of rape. In Indian society, if it is known that a particular woman has been subjected to rape there is a guarantee for a miserable life to her. In such a social order the poor victim may try to hide this truth from the public. Would it be right for the press to publish such a story ? After all, it is not going to serve any public purpose. In such a situation the poor lady shall be entitled to have a right to privacy although factually it would be correct that such a lady was raped. Therefore , it would not be always sufficient defence that the story published was factually correct. If the contention pleaded before us is accepted that truth should be a defense without further qualifications, then the press men shall enter anybodyâ€™s bed room. As has been held in R Rajgopal case that the right to privacy and right of freedom of press have to be balanced , therefore , a laxman rekha has to be drawn somewhere and in our view the laxman rekha is the public interest. We are of the opinion that in the interest of decency
By Paojel Chaoba