The recent case of a Zomato delivery boy allegedly punching a social media ‘influencer’ he was delivering food to has brought to the fore a grotesque but rather imperative debate. While at the surface, the case is swinging between assault on a woman and a woman making false accusations—a classic case of ‘he said, she said’—recent developments have also brought out a class issue.
Whilst our law is supposed to provide for both a fair trial and presumption of innocence until proven guilty, do we really see that happen? Especially when the victim is a woman? Even the ones with memory like a sieve may recall a few of the countless number of such cases—at least the case in Rohtak where two sisters beat up three men in a bus, alleging that they were being ‘harassed’. They were quickly praised and nicknamed ‘bravehearts’ by the media, but as it turned out, the fight was over a seat dispute. The sisters subsequently failed a polygraph test while the ‘accused’ passed it and all charges were dropped eventually. But they haven’t been able to find employment due to the label and stigma attached to the case. In fact, a media report on the charges being dropped against them had the word ‘molesters’ as the first word in its headline. So much for objectivity.
In the ongoing Zomato controversy, ‘Instagram influencer’ Hitesha shared a horrendous video on her social media claiming that a Zomato delivery boy assaulted her after she tried to cancel her food order as he arrived 59 minutes late. As claimed, she suffered a nasal bone fracture during the scuffle. From the public to the media, everyone took her side and the Zomato boy, Kamaraj, was swiftly booked by the Bangalore Police. Later, Kamaraj busted Hitesha’s allegations and said that it was she who berated and abused him in filthy language and hurled slippers at him. When he tried to defend himself, the ring on her own finger hit her nose, added Kamaraj. The ‘victim’ fled the city out of the jurisdiction of the Bengaluru City Police after a counter FIR was lodged based on the complaint of Kamaraj. The police learnt of her disappearance after they tried to contact her for questioning following Kamaraj’s complaint. On the same day, she got support from an unexpected source—Bollywood.
Now common logic dictates that whenever Bollywood comes out in support of something or someone, it warrants some due diligence. Bollywood actress Tanushree Dutta, who had dropped off the radar several years ago, resurfaced to support the influencer, calling everyone who supported the delivery agent “adumbass” and reiterated that an “educated urban woman ordered food” and that “since she ended up with a bleeding nose, there wasn’t supposed to be another side to it.” Note Dutta’s choice of words here—educated, urban and woman. Not only is this a case of “he said, she said” but also one of “she’s educated and urban, she can’t be wrong”: A clear-cut case of class issues.
As in every case, the principles of natural justice have been thrown out of the window and the ensuing media and the social media trials have ensured that Kamaraj is labelled for life. As I write this, Hitesha’s original video on Instagram has amassed nearly 2.5 crore views and her follower toll has reached lakhs. A cursory Google search for ‘Zomato Kamaraj and Hitesha’ will bring forth numerous reports from her side of the story. But when was the last time we heard from him?
There are three main takeaways from this case, up from the usual two that invariably arises out of such cases. The first is that of media trials and declaring one party guilty even before the facts are known. In many cases, the man is automatically deemed to be guilty, and in this case, the class difference is being used to add fuel to the fire.
The second and more important takeaway is the law itself. Our laws, in the matter of sexual assault and similar crimes, explicitly describe the victim as a woman and the perpetrator as a man. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2013, passed in the aftermath of the Nirbhaya rape case of 2012 only protects women from sexual assault, voyeurism, stalking and disrobing. Prior to the act becoming a law, it was a gender-neutral ordinance which attracted heavy flak from feminists and activists, resulting in the government retaining only acid attacks and attempted acid attacks as gender-neutral crimes.
The third takeaway from this case is a new one—the actual influence of “influencers” on social media. Hitesha’s case became viral only because she has nearly one lakh followers on Instagram. Influencers are to social media what film stars and celebrities were to traditional media. Social media users need to be made aware and should question what they see. After all, if influencers can ask their followers to question the government, why can’t normal users ask people to question influencers as well?