An 8-year-old girl from the Bakarwal community goes grazing her ponies in the hills. She is clad in a pretty purple dress and has big beautiful eyes offsetting it. But she never makes it back home... only the news of her brutal rape and eventual murder does.
That was in January, and India has only slowly woken up to the horrors that were inflicted on the little one, three months later. One would say, the Kathua gang rape case, when seen along with the Unnao rape case - where a teen rape survivor claimed that BJP MP Kuldeep Singh Sengar had raped her and the death of her father in police custody - had shaken and stirred the Indian society that couldn't come to terms with this unimaginable inhumanity.
Friend and fellow journalist Shuja ul-Haq was in pursuit of the story of the brutal rape of the 8-year-old girl in Kathua, near Jammu. The pain, disgust and disbelief was only palpable in Shuja's posts because this turned out to be one of those stories that had left the journalist in him numb. But strangely it wasn't time for people to seek justice for the girl just yet. Back then, the girl hadn't made it to the trending pages of social media.
It is a shame that national flag is being for such a things. But why would anyone care in the country. Outrage is possible only on a specified topics nowadays. https://t.co/PnAA8kjgba— Shuja-ul-haq (@ShujaUH) 16 February 2018
Today, just as the horrifying details of the Kathua rape and murder case are made public, the collective outrage is gathering steam. New hashtags are trending every day, and so is activism from that metaphorical armchair. The film industry with its silent protest is leading the shout to get justice for the child - now dead.
The outrage isn't what is being questioned here. The belated online outrage, however, is either a reflection of herd mentality or armchair activism. The internet today is a reflection of who we are as a society. At a time when the national conversation is dominated by the two cases of rape and murder, it is also important to call out the cloaked misogyny and blatant communalism surrounding us. And with film personalities it's easier to make that weighted argument some did make that attempt.
Just when Bollywood and its placard posts with the hashtag JusticeforOurChild went viral, in came the brickbats. Actor Swara Bhasker was at the receiving end of one such instance of hatemongering after her tweet on the subject.
I am Hindustan. I am Ashamed. #JusticeForOurChild #JusticeForAasifa 8 years old. Gangraped. Murdered.In ‘Devi’-sthaan temple. #Kathua and lest we forget #unnao Shame on us! #BreakTheSilence #EndTheComplicity #ActNow pic.twitter.com/O8rABOrZq9— Swara Bhasker (@ReallySwara) 13 April 2018
This led trolls to question not just her intention behind the tweet but also her acting prowess.
1:-This pic is taken with HD camera.2:- Mam has done makeup before shooting.Now this reminds me of syria children pic which were taken 4 shooting purpose.As far as rape is concerned, hard punishment must be given.— Khiladi Bhaiya (@Khiladi55_4Evr) 13 April 2018
While we laud Swara as she held her ground against the trolls, we also have an unsettling thought, on how easily the power of social media is used and abused - and more so to insult women. Swara's run-in with the trolls wasn't over just yet. Her Veerey Di Wedding co-star Kareena Kapoor also joined the campaign and got massively trolled on social media. Kareena's picture was incidentally also shared by Sawara herself. And out of the zillion likes on the post, there were a few voices of dissent.
She should be ashmed of the fact that despite being a Hindu is married to a Muslim. Has a child with him and named him Taimur, after a brutal Islamic barbarian.— Harshwardhan (@W_harsh_) 14 April 2018
Swara stood by Kareena fighting off the online thugs tweet after tweet.
You should be ashamed you exist. That God gave you a brain which you chose to fill with hate and a mouth you chose to spew filth from. You are a shame on India and Hindus. That shits like you feel emboldened to talk this crap publicly is this govt.’s legacy ???????? https://t.co/nmR5WIngBd— Swara Bhasker (@ReallySwara) 14 April 2018
But the internet is only mirroring the religious wars we are fighting on the ground, where the horrific episode of sexual violence against a powerless girl by brutal men is being given a communal colour. However, social media influencers more often than not erroneously act as catalysts - so eager they are to opine.
So when Sonam Kapoor reacted to Kathua rape case and tweeted, Koena Mitra was quick to take on Sonam for her tweet.
Ashamed appalled and disgusted by fake nationals and fake Hindus. I cannot believe this is happening in my country. https://t.co/V8tKoo6viX— Sonam Kapoor (@sonamakapoor) 12 April 2018
Any comments @sonamakapoor? You condemded a heinous crime(I appreciate) but gave it a communal twist "Fake Hindus " .Kindly do the same for all . How can you blame an entire religion for this Rape. These victims are ours too! ????#justiceForAll ???? pic.twitter.com/8tFtLWT1tL— KOENA MITRA (@koenamitra) 12 April 2018
It's a dangerous world, this world of social media. People are scared of confrontation and through social media, they can make that veiled attack. The cloaked bigots usually use this tool to call names and shame women who speak their minds. Many others use it to peripherally register their support for a cause, their need to be accommodated in the collective consciousness is dire - a movement that will brand Kathua's little girl as "the new Nirbhaya" and revel in the nomenclature, without giving it a thought that when we call another rape victim by the name of India's most brutalised one, we glorify the brutal act of rape itself. It actually shows that we've made peace with the horror that is rape.
And social media in all its celerity, would rarely give us time to pause and brood, definitely not to reassess the Indian outrage because just like our followers on social media, many from the protesting lot are fake, some are bought, and only a quarter really are "organic".