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The Print’s ludicrous article on Niraj Bishnoi

The Print has just published a bizarre article about Niraj Bishnoi, the alleged “mastermind” (whatever that means) of the ‘Bulli Bai’ app. I know nothing about Niraj Bishnoi; the article’s problem is that it has reproduced the Delhi police’s profile of Bishnoi and indications in that profile, provided by police personnel, of Bishnoi’s alleged deviancy sans any qualification. I’ve reproduced relevant portions of the article below (with a left-indent), and my annotations are intercalated.

But first, according to Sukanya Shantha, my colleague at The Wire: “These stories are quite common. They mean nothing in court. Defence comes up with such BS everytime before arguing on quantum of punishment. We saw similar stuff during Shakti Mills, and Delhi rape too. Even Ajmal Kasab was called ‘mentally deranged’ by his lawyer.” While such claims like those by defence lawyers may be common, I don’t understand why the media – and especially independent media – has to amplify them without sparing a thought for what they ultimately imply.

Suspected ‘Bulli Bai’ app creator, 20-year-old Niraj Bisnoi had 153 porn film downloads and lewd, sexual content in his laptop, sources in the Delhi Police claimed Thursday. The evidence in his laptop suggest Bisnoi is a “porn addict” and “has abnormal desires towards elderly Muslim women”, the sources added.

This para – the first – sets the tone for what you can expect from the rest of the article. And The Print considers the most important point vis-à-vis this article to be that Niraj Bishnoi had 153 pornographic films on his laptop, that he is a “porn addict” – presumably the Delhi police’s words – and that he harboured “abnormal” desires “towards elderly Muslim women”. We may never know how either the police or the author of the article leaped from pornography and fantasies to an implied justification for Niraj Bishnoi’s alleged crimes.

A 2015 article in Psychology Today did a good job summarising what we knew about pornography until then, and I think the conclusions still stand: a) there’s both good and bad to viewing pornography, b) the bad that is often attributed anecdotally to pornography is grossly at odds with the effects that psychologists have found; and c) even so, causal links between consuming pornography and holding specific beliefs or committing specific acts don’t yet exist. Against this context, what The Print has found fit to print is an unfounded opinion of the Delhi police and not a cause by any stretch.

Also, echoing Sukanya Shantha’s point, why is the Delhi police rising to Niraj Bishnoi’s defence, instead of Bishnoi’s lawyers? (Assuming of course that this is a defence…)

According to sources in Delhi Police, Bisnoi was introduced to the virtual world at the age of 15 and first hacked a website a year later, as “revenge”, after his sister was denied admission by a school.

“At the age of 16, he first hacked a school’s website when his sister didn’t get admission,” a source in Delhi police claimed.

“Introduced to the virtual world”. How clandestine.

First off, this is access journalism of the worst kind – neither to make sensible claims nor to name your sources. Public officials, including the police, shouldn’t be allowed to get away with being anonymous sources in articles; if they absolutely must remain unnamed, the publisher should specify the reason that the publication has decided to grant anonymity, on every occasion. (The Wire Science recently adopted this protocol, inspired by The Verge). Otherwise, as a reader, there is no one to hold accountable.

Second, I once ‘hacked’ a website to find out the class XII board exam score of a friend. However, does it count as ‘hacking’ when the website loaded the results for all roll-numbers as HTML, on its source page, but didn’t display them on the front-end, so all I had to do was right-click on the displayed page, click ‘view source’, and be able to access all the data? How good a hacker is depends both on the hacker’s skills and how well the object of their hack is guarded; if the object is barely concealed, we can learn nothing of the hacker’s prowess. And in this case, since Niraj Bishnoi allegedly hacked a school’s website, I sincerely doubt he did more than I did.

According to police sources, the code script of the Bulli Bai app has been recovered from his laptop — a high-end gaming machine, with a heady duty graphic card. Sources claimed the laptop only had games and porn.

Please, I’m laughing. A high-end gaming machine? My laptop is a high-end gaming machine. Any devices with Apple M1 or AMD Ryzen chips are high-end gaming machines. Many smartphones these days are high-end gaming machines. And what is “only games and porn” supposed to imply? Other of course than that the case against him apparently rests on one of the most tiresome snowclones of this age.

Those who know Bisnoi personally, also claim him to be a “loner”, someone who is more active in the virtual world than in the real one around him.

Sources in Delhi Police told ThePrint that Bishnoi displayed “abnormal behavioural traits” in his interaction with the police and has threatened to commit suicide multiple times since his arrest.

“He has told the police that he will fatally hurt himself — cut his veins with a blade, hang himself to death,” the source mentioned above claimed.

A second source added: “He doesn’t eat, has to be forced to eat. Today he skipped lunch. We had to order food from outside to feed him around 3.30 pm.”

This seems like the beginnings of some kind of personality profile that’s supposed to imply that Niraj Bishnoi was mentally unsound in some way – but which is psychotic in its own right for forgetting that none of these are excuses for what he allegedly did. I’m only prompted to recall the excuses many alleged perpetrators bandied about during the height of the #MeToo allegations – that they had PTSD, anxiety, depression, etc.; some only alluded to vague mental health concerns. These individuals may actually have had these conditions or disorders, as the case may be, but none of them implied any consequences that would have prevented the individuals from knowing that what they were doing – at the time they were doing it – was wrong. Yet such excuses persisted, and only served to further stigmatise others who were unwell in the same way, especially in the company of their parents, employers and others.

The probe so far has revealed that Bisnoi is addicted to the internet and his laptop, claimed sources. They also claimed that the 20-year-old is accustomed to creating fake accounts and user handles on social media platforms.

Is my tax money paying for this probe? Also, I once created 22 GMail accounts, simply because each one comes with 15 GB of space on Google Drive. The point is none of this is dispositive proof – or even points towards dispositive proof – that Niraj Bishnoi did what he allegedly did. Wouldn’t the bit about fake handles on social media platforms be true for every troll out there? The story so far only suggests that the Delhi police is building a loseable case and/or that it is colluding with Niraj Bishnoi’s lawyers to manufacture sympathy for his plight.

“Bishnoi has said that he doesn’t talk to anyone much in the outside world, that he doesn’t like to talk to anyone and that he has no friends in the real world. His only interactions are under assumed names and identities in the virtual world. His day starts and ends with the internet and laptop,” the second source claimed.

Police claims of the accused’s being a recluse are repeated by acquaintances who knew Bishnoi while he was a school student, and who spoke to ThePrint on condition of anonymity.

All of them described the accused as a “loner”, someone who was used to staying “aloof” and “didn’t interact much with the outside world” since he was a teenager.

“He has created his own virtual world around him,” claimed an acquaintance doesn’t want to be identified.

Ah, the stereotype has landed. As another colleague of mine said, Niraj Bishnoi probably lives in his mother’s basement, too.

And Naomi Barton, yet another colleague, said: “Also, lots of people are loners who spend the majority of their time in digital spaces – and that can be both good and bad, for instance queer children who don’t have any community in real life. What this story is doing is pretty much just blowing innocuous, if generationally different, habits out of proportion to scare-monger.”

Referring to another of the accused’s behavioural traits, the second police source claimed: “Whenever the interrogation hits a certain peak, he urinates in his pants. He has done this three-four times. We have checked if this is because he has a medical issue, but he doesn’t.”

If The Print hadn’t already crossed a line, it has now – by forwarding as it if were a knock-knock joke on WhatsApp the Delhi police’s claim that Niraj Bishnoi can urinate on demand when the “interrogation hits a certain peak”. Hits a certain peak? Is this a euphemism for the intensity of the interrogation? And what sort of ‘behavioural trait’ is this in which the bearer of the trait urinates – the insinuation being that he does this for reasons other than what might make people pee in these situations – for anything other than because something has prompted him to?

All this claim does is bring to mind Rowan Atkinson’s ‘Fatal beatings’ skit.

According to the source, the 20-year-old has also not expressed remorse for his alleged involvement in the ‘Bulli Bai’ app.

“He said he did the right thing,” claimed the source.

Finally, something that doesn’t sound ridiculous, although it isn’t worth publishing.

Ultimately, if Niraj Bishnoi – and others, to be sure – was responsible in any part for the ‘Bulli Bai’ app, he needs to be brought to justice and he needs to have a fair (and sensible) trial. But what we could all do without is a ‘news report’ that brings the nonsensical claims of the Delhi police – words that appear to be designed to exonerate the alleged actions of Niraj Bishnoi, but which may yet backfire, and nothing to remain sensitive to the people that the app has harmed – out to thousands of readers, if not more, without qualifying/rebutting them as warranted instead of letting them rot in the rooms in which they were manufactured.

Featured image credit: karatara/Pexels.