Prasanto K Roy calls TOI’s Agent Rana, as Patriotic Porn and a primer on normalising patriarchy, misogyny, and violence against women. In this opinion piece he also talks about the power of media and social media. Read on to know more:
On a day when India was stunned by the violence unleashed for a movie on a mythical queen by street mobs who had not seen the movie, a top national newspaper spawned a different kind of violence.
A daily cartoon strip—or adult graphic novel, if you will—had a young female student, Sameera, inviting a virtual stranger over to her hostel room (how shameless!) for tea. The stranger promptly rapes and hangs her, nude, from the ceiling fan–serves her right, innit?
The context was set in the past week in the strip. The hostel is in National University, or NU, as gently-masked JNU. ‘Firebrand student leader Sameera’– unmistakably JNU’s Shehla Rashid–was leading protests against the vice-chancellor. Her rapist-killer Timur is a Pakistani agent going around the country giving out suitcases full of cash to student-leaders to fuel their agitations.
Agent Rana, The Times of India’s controversial thriller graphic novel launched last September and serialized daily, stars a detective who saves the Nation alongside casual sex. His Muslim co-star furiously seduces men to manipulate them, stocked with cheesy lines like “I will keep the bed warm for you” and “I will give you the time of your life in bed tonight”. (In front of a house Husna tears off her T-shirt. She knocks and a middle-aged man opens the door. “Help me! Please,” she pleads. They jump into bed.)
The strip by author Juggi Bhasin and artist Subodh Poddar has been the source of protests including, a petition (with over 45,000 signing) against the sex and violence it depicts on the paper of a family newspaper.
And a bizarre, sick twist to @timesofindia's Agent Rana, with a character based on Shehla. TOI is playing out a sanghi-bhakt wet dream: rape and kill JNU 'antinationals'. Seriously sick, @vineetjaintimes pic.twitter.com/5Uuh7f3AF3
— PKR | প্রশান্ত | پرشانتو (@prasanto) January 24, 2018
So, what’s wrong with TOI’s Agent Rana?
This is no more about merely showing casual sex to kids. You could argue they get it on the internet, and anyway many parents restrict newspaper access to very young kids, thanks to the sex and violence in daily news headlines.
First, it’s a cartoon strip, reaching the widest possible audience, cutting across social strata, age, class. Terrific: so, a great medium to convey and reinforce positive social messages, right?
I saw a driver in our condo complex poring over Agent Rana this morning. Word had spread: there was a rape shown, and I’m guessing TOI readership spiked yesterday.
Agent Rana picks out, aggregates, amplifies and normalizes all the elements of a regressive, patriarchal, misogynist, majoritarian society, packaging it in fun-size bits for quick daily consumption. Violence against women. Women as sex objects. Women whose top talent is their sexuality.
And as someone tweeted to me yesterday: “My four-year-old asked me why the girl’s neck is hanging on a rope.”
The strip jumps onto the nationalist bandwagon whose media trailblazer was Times Now, which now struggles to keep pace with Republic, and whose central doctrine is: There is one bad guy and his name is Pakistan. Drive that message home via comic strips, and you can be sure the next generation, and the one after, will grow up believing in The Enemy and their belief will be a reality throughout our lives and theirs.
Agent Rana encourages violence against real, living, visible women very thinly disguised by name changes. (Shehla today. Who’s the next victim, tomorrow?) That’s the power of media and social media.
As I’ve seen in four years of tracking online violence against women, and written about, online violence can inspire real violence. And online violence largely goes unpunished in India.
All ‘anti-nationals’ – anyone opposing the government or ruling party — will be fair game for Agent Rana: co-opt them as transient guest stars, link them with Pakistan, quickly rape and kill them off in a week, to applause.
What a turn India’s leading newspaper has taken: from a largely politically-neutral media group of tremendous influence, whose only master was money, to one desperately seeking to align its ultra-right nationalism with the ruling party’s.
We ain’t seen nothing yet. As we approach battleground 2019, we’ll see more Agent Ranas, killing off the opposition, to rising and ringing troll applause on social media.
And move further and further away from the story played out in The Post: where the media stand up to the powers, and stand together in solidarity. Where the courts remind every one of the Free Press: The Press that was meant to serve the governed, not the governors.
Prasanto K Roy is a former technology journalist, who works in public policy. The views presented are author’s own.