On Sunday, November 19, the night of the cricket World Cup final, the manager of a pub in Chennai’s Turn Bulls Road called the police after a group of people created a ruckus at the establishment. Meanwhile, the group, that had accused the pub of not allowing them inside, also complained to the police that the pub was operating after the cutoff time of 11.30 pm. As the ruckus continued, the police arrived and forced the pub to shut down. But in their reportage of the incident, Tamil news channels including Thanthi TV, NewsTamil 24*7 and Polimer bafflingly turned on the women who were at the pub. The reportage, rife with misogynistic remarks about the women’s clothes, implied that their interactions with the men at the bar were lewd and sexual in nature. Further, the news channel’s footage from the pub repeatedly focused on the women, policing their attire and trying to get close shots of their faces, despite being asked not to.
According to the Saidapet police, under whose jurisdiction that pub falls, the place was functioning beyond 11:30 pm on Sunday. “Upon receiving a complaint at around midnight, we reached the pub. They didn’t open the door for ten minutes. Later the place was cleared and a report was filed in the J1 Saidapet police station,” a police official confirmed. The police also said that news channels including Polimer, News Tamil 24x7, and Thanthi TV among others, were already present at the premises when the inspection happened. The pub manager however told TNM that they wanted to shut down by 11.30 pm, but the group of men threatened them against sending the other customers out, which is when they decided to call the police.
The coverage of the incident, which has led to widespread outrage online, brings up the question of why the women at the bar were targeted by the media for the actions of the management. Many also pointed out that the presence of women at the bar was reported as if it were a crime.
On Monday, November 20, the morning after the incident, Thanthi TV, in a now-edited post on X (formerly Twitter), said that the “all-night alcohol party was busted by the police,'' problematically adding how “half-dressed women ran out during the incident”. The channel then went on to edit the post, but it was no less misogynistic and continued to pin the blame on the women who were present at the pub. “Please… Thayavu seidhu ponga, Iravil ladies seidha seyal, sathamillamal vandha police, iravil nadantha paraparappu,” the post said, which translates to “Please leave. Here’s what the ladies did at night, and how the police arrived at the scene quietly.”
In the video report that accompanied these captions, Thanthi TV’s camera can be seen to repeatedly focus on the women’s faces and bodies, despite their expressing discomfort. Even those women who were leaving were relentlessly followed for deliberate close-up shots of their faces. Many women tried to use scarves, masks, and dupattas to hide their faces, but the channel’s camera persisted in trying to expose their identities. One woman can be seen telling the cameraperson that she would lodge a police complaint against the channel’s breach of privacy, to which he replies with a rude challenge asking her to do it.
The horrific moral policing of the women did not end there. Thanthi’s YouTube video thumbnail and caption read, “Chennai Pub-il Manmatha Koothu, Raid-il sikkiya Kilukilu Paravaigal - Moonjai Moodi kondu therithu ootta- Kathariya Thidir couples.” The caption, even translating which is quite conflicting, implies that the interactions between the men and women at the pub were entirely sexual. Terms like ‘manmatha koothu’ and ‘kilukilu paravaigal’ are extremely sexist usages that objectify those who were socialising at the pub, and especially aim to morally blacklist the women present there. The rest of the caption is similarly belittling, mocking how the women and men left the bar in a hurry, with no context of their privacy and dignity being hounded.
Questioning Thanthi TV’s coverage, an X user @monislost wrote “No morals worst journalism. It's the organisers' fault for exceeding the time limit, why are you chasing people who are trying to cover their faces and go away? why couldn't you show the organizer or the name of the place?”
Another user, @ArunGovindan5 on X wrote, “Shame on you Thanthi TV! Rather than shaming the administration and law enforcement, you are shaming those who are there! Grow up and if you have a spine, question the people who are at fault! Isn't it moral policing you are doing?!”
"Is it the pub management's fault that the place was kept open beyond the time set by the government or the fault of the people who went there?? Will the people who went there know how long the bar is supposed to remain open? Or is the management supposed to know??" tweeted @Surya_BornToWin pointing out how the entire focus of the incident has been derailed by the reportage. The user further questioned, "Instead of pointing out that the bar was functioning illegally after curfew, these media houses have chased people who went there and filmed them. That too they have focused on women even after the women asked them not to film them. Did they consume alcohol and fall on the road? Media is selling the freedom of individual persons. Is this media ethics?"
While the outrage has been predominantly against Thanthi TV, another Tamil news channel named Polimer, also ran similar content. Their YouTube video carries the caption: “Chennayil bar-il soundudan ladies looties, ravundu kettiya police, nikamma odu, nikamma odu”. The caption translates to, “The women in a Chennai bar who partied loudly ran away as cops surrounded them.” Again, this raises the question of why women socialising at a bar were heckled and chased like law breachers, and why the incident was reported with a view to passing a commentary on their conduct.
Inputs from Bharathy Singaravel and Nithya Pandian