Truth and justice are the victims online after child's brutal killing

On May 30, the victim had wandered from her house and went missing.

By Anamika Chatterjee

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Published: Sun 9 Jun 2019, 9:00 PM

Last updated: Sun 9 Jun 2019, 11:19 PM

It's not common for an image of a two-and-a-half-year-old to hold a mirror to our collective conscience. And yet, that is exactly what a picture of the Aligarh victim - currently floating on the Internet - does. Her hair neatly parted on the side, she is seen smiling at the camera with a mischievous glint in her eyes. The picture evokes nothing but warmth. Contrast this with another image of a corpse wrapped in a white cloth, with face and body mutilated beyond recognition, and it's hard to believe that this, too, is the two-and-a-half-year-old victim - beaten, bruised and brutalised. The only shred of familiarity this lifeless body had with the daughter the Sharmas once had is a yellow capri that the two-and-a-half-year-old was wearing at the time of her sudden disappearance.
On May 30, the victim had wandered from her house and went missing. Two days later, her decomposing body was discovered and dragged by two stray dogs from a dump close to the family home in Tappal near Aligarh, in north India. Her arms and legs broken, face was destroyed beyond recognition. The Aligarh Police later identified her neighbours to be her perpetrators. A few days prior to her disappearance, the duo had had a heated argument with her grandfather over repayment of a sum of Rs10,000 (Dh529). To think that the cost of a two-and-a-half-year-old life is merely Rs10,000 would be a travesty - and yet it is a devastating truth that a family and, by extension, a nation is now finding itself grappling with.
What it is also wrestling with is sieving the truth from the false allure of misinformation. Despite the hashtag #JusticeForTwinkleSharma trending for days together, social media also became a playground for distortion of facts and a battleground for the liberal versus non-liberal contest. In a country where WhatsApp forwards often pass off as cardinal truths, misinformation and exaggeration of facts can be more dangerous than what we imagine, inciting more anger in cases where it is already a monumental challenge to not be moved. And yet, social media did just that. When the news of Aligarh victim spread like wildfire on the Internet, it was also alleged that she had been raped, her eyes gouged out and acid thrown over the body. At the time of writing this article, the Aligarh Police denied finding any evidence of this, in fact, even ruling out the possibility (In a tweet, it categorically stated, "According to post-mortem report, rape has not been confirmed till now.").
This does not make the Aligarh victim's brutalisation any less terrifying than what it already is. Rather it points questions on our urgency to classify all forms of brutalisation as rape.
In equally poor taste have been the comparisons made with the reactions to Kathua rape, where an eight-year-old was brutalised and sexually violated. From "why are the liberals quiet now?" to "why aren't the celebrities holding placards now?" - the range of conversations on the subject only point to our shrinking moral universe. Reading about the incident all of last weekend, I couldn't help but wonder who exactly is silent. The voices - liberal or otherwise, celebrities or non-celebrities - have all been united in their criticism and shock at the incident. The lawyers' association of Aligarh have refused to represent the accused. National Security Act, which pertains to security concerns in the country, has been invoked so that there are no easy bails. The fiction - consciously or unconsciously - added to the reports have lent a communal hue to the incident (which was yet another reason the NSA was imposed). Perhaps it was lost on many that one of the two accused in the case was also booked five years ago for violating his own daughter, and still has pending cases against him.
By limiting our conversation to the Left and the Right, we may be guilty of not recognising the larger problem in hand - that of growing violence against our young. According to data released by the National Crime Records Bureau last year, between 2015 and 2016, India witnessed an 11 per cent increase in the number of crimes against children. In real life, this figure translates to 12,780 cases approximately. The moral outrage needs to be directed equally at the problem of which Kathua rape and Aligarh victims have become most public faces. Changing the talking point around the issue from "How to address the problem". to "What about." strips the conversation off the gravitas, deluding us into believing that the kids are safe... when they clearly are not!

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