The Communalisation of a Crime: How We Saw the Worst Part of the Internet Today
This miserable cycle of irresponsible reporting and social media trials has made the accused a victim in this crime.
This is not a sensationalist piece. You will find no gory details here. If you’re looking for what exactly happened to the child in Aligarh, if you want to read about exactly what was done to this three-year-old, please - find your way out. We’ll wait.
Still here? Good. We’re here to talk to you about the reactions to this crime.
A hashtag with the name of the deceased child is trending on Twitter as we write this. We choose not to include it here. Trending along with this are #Aligarh and #MohammedZahid - the name of the accused. In these hashtags, you will see the groundwork for national outrage - a crime against a child, a named accused, and, because the victim was a Hindu child, the possibility of strife, between two major communities.
Here’s what we know - a child’s body was recovered. The body showed signs of mutilation. A man and his associate were arrested. The man, Mohammed Zahid, was interrogated by the police, and in the course of investigation, confessed to the crime of rape and murder.
Here is the context of the arrest: the body was recovered on June 2, in Tappal. On discovery, the villagers in the vicinity started an agitation. Their demands were centred around the appointment of a new station in-charge. Protestors staged a hunger strike, demanding that the police take appropriate action. The accused was apprehended subsequent to this. While in custody, the accused apparently confessed to the alleged rape, mutilation and murder.
On June 6, ANI quoted Akash Kulhari, SSP Aligarh as saying "A case of kidnapping was registered on May 31. The accused have been arrested and they have confessed to the crime. It was a case of personal enmity but there is no sign of rape. The minor was strangled to death and her eyes were gouged out. The accused are in jail now.”
Despite the statement above specifying that there is no sign of rape, the vast majority of tweets related to the crime refer to the brutal rape and murder of the child.
There are reports flying around about an unspecified loan agreement between the family members of the child and the accused. Some reports say the loan amount was 5000, others say it was 10000. Some news reports claim it was the grandfather who took the loan, others say the girls father, still others say it was the girls uncle.
Right now, all we can say with utmost certainty is this - throughout this case, there have been multiple levels of mishandling.
First - why is the victim’s name trending on Twitter? Why are we, as a society, still unable to comprehend the need for victim privacy? Indian law prohibits the naming of the prosecutrix in a case of sexual assault - and yet, through the vast unaccountability of the internet, here we are - the name of the victim is trending at number one. Whether or not a charge of rape is filed is yet to be seen - but in any case, the naming of the victim, when there is uncertainty on that aspect is highly objectionable. What we would like to bring special focus to is this - commentators seem to have decided that a rape occurred. These same enraged commentators are the ones most ardently praying for the victim’s soul - by naming her in full. Either you believe a rape did not occur - in which case your argument needs reassessment. Or you believe a rape did occur - in which case, your stance in naming her needs reassessment. Either way - we object.
Second - Indian law does not consider a custodial confession admissible. This means, while an accused is being interrogated by the police in police custody, any confession made cannot be admitted in court. The accused would have to make a judicial confession and he would have to be produced before a magistrate. A confession made before the police would be irrelevant to any criminal proceedings, and a conviction cannot be based upon it.
Third - What happened to innocent until proven guilty? In today’s world, it is nearly impossibly to sanitise information and keep it away from social media. Why was the name of the accused released? Why is he being made to undergo a media trial while he is yet to be produced before a court? When did due process and fair trial get thrown out of the window?
Fourth - and this is the biggie - why must we communalise every incident of violence that occurs between people of different religions? The naked politicisation of this horrendous tragedy is heartbreaking, to say the least. We could produce a series of tweets below, that would show the worst cross-section of society - people who are turning this into a question of a “Secular Rape” versus a “Communal Rape”, particularly in a case where the investigating officer has issued a statement clearly saying that he sees no sign of rape at all. However - we won’t. We choose to refrain. These tweets do not deserve to see the light of day. Here, we aren’t referring just to those who are calling light to violence by an accused Muslim on a hapless Hindu. No, this time, out outrage had to go meta - the majority of internet reactions are structured around this extremely problematic argument - ‘When a Muslim child is harmed, the nation is enraged, but when a Hindu child is harmed, there are no reactions’.
We refuse to accept this narrative.
We refuse the assumption that our rage is selective.
We reject the ideology that our reactions depend on the religious upbringing of the victim.
We will not rise to the bait.
Celebrities are being named and shamed for not holding up placards in support of this victim. News agencies are under fire for not perpetuating the internet crucifixion of the accused. People are enraged - and we understand that. We are too. But what enrages us isn’t just the illegality and unfairness of what happened to the victim. Everything that has happened to the accused - the miscarriage of justice, the abject failure of his rights - that enrages us as well.
This miserable cycle of irresponsible reporting and social media trials has made him a victim as well. And we simply refuse to be a part of it.