Pictures speak a thousand words, videos a few more. In a perverse trend that should put our collective consciousness to shame, filmed murders and videographed rapes are a new rage. That we as humans can kill each other, that the men of this world can force their sexual perversities on women as a matter of right is horrendous enough, but that we also choose to make videos of our gruesome-selves is mental corrosion of the worst kind.
In 2015, a woman went missing along with her infant. In 2016, the family received a video through an MMS of her being gang-raped by six men. By the time the family had received this video, it had already gone viral on the internet. Videos and photos going viral is so much a part of popular parlance that we need to pause for a bit and revisit the meaning of what makes them viral to understand the gravity of what we are addressing in this piece.
A viral video or photo is one that becomes popular through a repeated process of internet sharing, typically through video/photo-sharing websites, social media and email. This sharing widens the ambit of the culprits, who popularise the pornography of violence.
Why are such videos made
In Rajasthan’s Rajsamand district this week, a man named Shambhu Lal Regar hacked and burnt alive a migrant labourer from West Bengal named Mohammad Afrazul and made no attempts to hide his crime. He, on the contrary, spoke to the camera that was reportedly held by his 14-year-old nephew claiming the killing was a message for those who support and participate in “love jihad”.
Many have demanded death sentence for Regar on the ground that this act falls under the “rarest of the rare crime”. We would have been lucky if it was indeed rare. But such videographed justice delivery is India's new normal.
In July 2016, seven members of a Dalit family were beaten up by a group of gau rakshaks for skinning a dead cow. The perpetrators recorded the act on mobile cameras. Their shrieks resulting from the intense pain that they were subjected to were clearly audible. The lacerations that dotted their frail bodies were visible too in the video that went viral. Also audible in the video was the message from the hate-mongers, who claimed to be protectors of the cow. Humans, of course, do not need protection as they are bestowed with the ingenuity to protect themselves.
In April 2017, a dairy farmer named Pehlu Khan was lynched by cow vigilantes in Rajasthan’s Alwar district. The brutality of what happened to him came to light when a video of the incident went viral. Pehlu Khan subsequently died in hospital.
The economy of filmed violence
According to an Al Jazeera report of 2016, which was subsequently, followed up by the local media too, footage of women being raped or gang-raped in India’s most populous state Uttar Pradesh is widely up for sale.
“The faces of the women are visible in these films. Their voices are clear. The attacks on them are brutal,” quotes the report.
Follow-up stories confirmed our worst fears about the apathy of the system when it emerged the trend continued and authorities were rendered helpless in stopping it. Such stomach-churning videos that evoke absolute disgust are dirt cheap – from Rs 50 to Rs 500. This business of human bodies – and worse their souls – is flourishing with complete impunity. Reports suggest that hands of police officials are greased well to allow this crime to continue without hindrance.
Why videographing such crimes is so problematic
A huge number of lynchings that have happened in the remote corners of the country would have gone completely unnoticed had videos documenting them not come to the fore. As these videos went viral, a public debate around the crime started and in some cases did lead to nailing the actual criminals. But in most cases no such breakthrough came.
The videos existed in public domain titillating its consumers and gradually normalising the crime itself. And that perhaps is the most dangerous outcome of the practice. It can completely make this medieval-era practice of mob justice, seen in numerous cases of lynchings in the name of "gau raksha" - and now also "love jihad" - perfectly normal. These videos also glorify the perpetrators for those who are supporters of ideologies in the name of which lynchings take place. Numerous unemployed youths get drawn to this negative agenda and in turn become active participants in this heinous crime by sharing and forwarding such videos.
It can also make rape and gang-rape appear perfectly normal. Given that there are so many customers of real-life sexual assaults, it is indeed a possibility that a lot of violence against women is being committed because voyeurism has a ready market.
Devil lost in the details
The brutality exhibited in filmed crimes often grouses out the sane minds and they in turn choose to look the other way. Some talk about how gruesome the video is and forget the intention of the crime and also the politics behind putting them in public domain. These videos are tools in the hands of the hate-mongers who use them as engines to spread fear to gain complete subjugation of people to their sickening ideologies and misogyny, which make killing and raping justifiable causes.
We live in times where technology has started to gain control over us. There is no quick-fix solution to this rising menace. We perhaps need to start talking about why we are being fed the gory details of crimes committed on humans by none other than the perpetrators themselves without a care for law and agencies tasked to enforce it.