The recently launched Hindu Media Watch (as a division of the Hindu Council of New Zealand) believes that the tragic death of Indo-Fijian nurse Ranjeeta Sharma last month in Huntly, Waikato, once again revealed the vicious side of human nature and exposed the ugly, insensitive and irresponsible stance of some New Zealand media.
A Waikato Times January 23 report and subsequently the ‘Stuff’ website branded the murder as an Indian ritual of ‘Honour Killing.’
According to Hindu Media Watch, other media outlets including TV3 gullibly swallowed this unsubstantiated and incorrect information, following an interview with an Indian community leader.
“Police would not comment on whether the case was a ‘bride burning,’ or ‘Honour Killing,’ a form of domestic violence practiced in the Indian Subcontinent, when a victim brought shame on the family. But the manner in which Ms Sharma died did not surprise Waikato Indian Cultural Society President Roy Vellara, who said the name ‘Sharma’ was common in North India, where most Honour Killings occurred.
“Mr Vellara said people were burned alive as it was a way to get rid of any evidence and could be considered an accident. Reasons for the killing were often due to dowry (payment by a woman’s family to her new husband or adultery).”
Outraged at such statements, and subsequent other copycat ethnic-tagging and racial-stereotyping by media prompted some concerned Indo-Fijians and Indians to convene meetings in Auckland to show their concerns and disappointment.
The meetings held in Manukau and West Auckland on January 27 and 28 respectively (see Homelink) resolved to form the Hindu Media Watch, which would monitor and report on distortions and sensationally hurting issues affecting ethnic communities (Indians in general and Hindus in particular).
Coordinator and Spokesperson Rakesh Krishnan said that in view of the dereliction of responsibilities by some sections of the media, the Hindu Media Watch would lodge formal complaints to the Broadcasts Standards Authority and the New Zealand Press Council.
“A number of communities have raised great concerns over the negative labelling and targeting a particular last name by some fringe organisations that claim to be Indian. Such organisations were seeking cheap publicity, following a bigoted agenda, sensation-seeking journalists and news media,” he said.
Other community organisations and leaders have also slated the media tagging by race, surname and Honour Killing, which tended to lessen the seriousness, magnitude and gravity of a violent killing.
Tika Ram, a former member of Satsang Ramayan Mandali, an Auckland-based Indian religious society, told the New Zealand Herald that Honour Killings were “very uncommon” in Fiji.
Human Rights activist and Director of Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre, Shameema Ali agreed. According to Radio Australia, she was sceptical about the New Zealand media reports.
Auckland Indian Association President Harshad Patel said media speculation that Ms Sharma’s death was an Honour Killing was premature and seemed unlikely to be the case. He said such practices were nonexistent in civilised societies, including New Zealand.
The Hindu Media Watch is also concerned that the New Zealand Herald publishes ill-researched stories of one of its reporters on Indians and Hindus without getting information from reliable and credible sources.
Mr Krishnan agreed that some issues rested with the ethnic communities, represented by ignorant and divisive leadership.
Thakur Ranjit Singh is a media commentator, a journalist and a community worker in Auckland. He is an advocate of responsible journalism and fair reporting on ethnic communities. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The above article was redacted for clarity and space. The picture (taken by the author) shows Rakesh Krishnan (Centre) with Sonali Hegde and Pritika Sharma at the inaugural meeting of the Hindu Media Watch.