Zomato case: Trial by misogyny

Source :SIFY
Last Updated: Thu, Mar 18th, 2021, 14:57:19hrs
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These are the facts of the case: a woman called Hitesha Chandranee, who happens to be an Instagram influencer, posted a video of herself in which she was bleeding from the nose and barely able to restrain tears. She accused a Zomato delivery man of having forced his way into her home when she asked him to wait while she sorted out her reimbursement or return with the call centre and grabbed the package. She said he was “so huge” and had pushed past her with so much force that she was badly wounded—she later posted an update from the hospital in which she confirmed that her nose had been broken, and that she had filed an FIR with the police station, following which the delivery man Kamaraj was arrested. She also said Zomato executives had met her and promised to cover her medical expenses and provide legal aid.

The media, which saw an opportunity for sensationalising the issue the moment people began to troll her, sought out the delivery man. A video of his being interviewed in Kannada by a man wearing the colours of a political party has also gone viral on the internet. Kamaraj sobbed about being poor and claimed she hit him with slippers and he tried to stop her blows. We are expected to believe—and the likes of Parineeti Chopra do believe—that defensive action on his part somehow caused her nose to break. Or perhaps she had broken her own nose so that her video would go viral and her follower count would increase? Kamaraj claims she accidentally broke her own nose with her ring while trying to fend him off. So, defensive action on her part somehow turned to self-harm. The man has no bruises, let alone a broken nose, but the internet is happy to believe the woman hit him with her slippers—a rather dramatic cinema trope and one that smacks very conveniently of class privilege for those inclined to use the phrase.

Zomato CEO Deepinder Goyal seemed to take careful stock of the situation before changing tack. Several days after Chandranee posted her video, he tweeted what was seen as a “balanced” view: he said Zomato was covering her medical costs and had taken Kamaraj off duty for the duration of the investigation. But what followed ought to have set off alarm bells in the heads of any journalist worth his salt—Zomato would cover the legal costs for Kamaraj (and not for Chandranee, although they had initially promised her legal aid) and would also pay him during his absence from work. Essentially, they were sending him on a paid staycation.

Soon after, an FIR was filed against Chandranee, in which the charges—which include “unlawful restraint”, although it is not disputed that she had simply refused to pay him until she sorted out the issue on the phone—read as if they had been crafted by a clever lawyer. Naturally, Zomato can afford a legal eagle, and it would save them a lot of bad publicity if it turned out that the entire video and broken nose were stunts to go viral rather than a case of one of their delivery executives being a brute.

Goyal had also mentioned that the man had completed 5000 deliveries in the one and a half years he was in Zomato’s employ and had a rating of 4.5 out of a possible 5. Conveniently for Zomato, this rating can only be checked on their own app. Even if it were actually the case, how often is it that we don’t give a 5-star rating to an executive who hasn’t broken our noses? In simple terms, as long as a cab driver stops at the drop point or a delivery person drops off the food without having assaulted us along the way, we’re happy to give them five stars, and sometimes a tip.

There is also a key statistic here, which somehow seems to have escaped most people—5000 deliveries in a year and a half, which is under 550 days, works out to nearly 10 deliveries a day. And this is assuming the man was working every single one of those days. It is likely he made about 12 deliveries a day, which works out to more than one an hour.

Services like Zomato and Swiggy and Uber Eats make promises about free delivery beyond a certain—often unrealistic—time, which puts pressure on their executives to ride as fast as possible. I have witnessed several accidents involving these delivery executives, and cannot count how often I have seen them riding against the traffic to take short cuts. I have even seen an Uber Eats driver get into a fistfight with another motorist.

Delivery services claim to have trained their executives, but clearly following traffic rules and not resorting to violence don’t figure in this training. It is not clear what sort of background check they do, and whether their executives need references in order to be employed.

Paying the man’s legal costs and covering his salary will naturally make him indebted in every possible way. It is unlikely he will speak about being overworked, or pressured in any way.

The only celebrity who has put herself out there and demanded what other side there could be to the story once we have seen a “broken bleeding nose” is actor Tanushree Dutta. Pertinently, she wrote “No man in the history of Indian justice system has ever said ‘Yeah, I did it’. They deny [the crime] even when they are in prison serving a life sentence.”

Are we supposed to believe that Zomato is paying her medical costs from a sense of altruism?

Chandranee is being accused by some media houses of “fleeing” arrest by leaving the city, although there was no case against her at the time she left. This is a single woman, living away from family and recovering from an assault. Is it so very unbelievable that she should recuperate from the physical injuries and emotional shock of the situation by going to stay with a relative? Or that she should feel unsafe in the house in which she was assaulted, particularly after its location was leaked online?

Also in the conversation is the fact that she deleted the video from her Twitter feed. Given the sort of abuse and responses the video is now attracting, one can’t blame her for it.

This is quite how it would all play out if a large corporate business, fearing for its reputation and not wanting to be seen as throwing one of its employees under the bus, had hired a PR firm and appointed expensive lawyers to pull them out of the mess and spin the situation in their favour.

It is upsetting that those who were celebrating the acquittal of Priya Ramani just weeks ago are either being neutral or expressing their support for the delivery executive and asking for “the other side of the story”, simply to maintain their liberal street-cred, given that the delivery boy is not “privileged” and the woman is “upper class”.

It is a challenge for any woman to live alone, even in a cosmopolitan city. House owners look askance at unmarried women who aren’t in the homes of parents or other relatives. Questions are raised about the clothes they wear, the friends they have, and the time of day they return home. To think that one can be assaulted in the purported safety of one’s own home only for people to ask for “another side to the story” despite video evidence of injury and an X-Ray of a broken nose is terrifying.

There is being liberal, there is maintaining a balanced perspective—and then there is misogyny. What is happening to Chandranee in the media is clearly trial by misogyny.

More Columns by Nandini Krishnan:

Of celibates, temples, and kisses

Covid 19: The paranoia is important

Hathras: The power of silence

How could we not lose Kashmir?

SPB: A personal loss


Nandini is the author of Invisible Men: Inside India's Transmasculine Networks (2018) and Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage (2013). She tweets @k_nandini. Her website is: www.nandinikrishnan.com

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