Muslim boy's assault in UP temple: Ethics of sharing violent videos

Muslim boy's assault in UP temple: Ethics of sharing violent videos
Last week, upsetting visuals of a man assaulting a 14-year-old Muslim boy inside a Hindu temple in Uttar Pradesh’s Ghaziabad were widely shared on social media. The virality eventually resulted in the arrest of two men — Shringi Nandan Yadav, who was seen assaulting the boy, and Shivanand Saraswati, who recorded the video. These two men were caretakers of the temple, and temple authorities have said that they had prohibited entry of non-Hindus.  The video shows the accused asking the boy his and his father’s name, and what he was doing inside the temple. When the boy responded with the names and said that he was there to drink water, the accused can be seen assaulting him brutally. The video has been largely circulated with a hashtag apologising to the boy, and condemning the act of communal hatred. While the outraged sharing of the video has resulted in official action, with police taking suo motu cognisance and registering an FIR, visuals of the brutal assault are splashed across the internet and have turned it into a spectacle.  While a few media publications have blurred the boy’s face, in most versions, the boy’s face is clearly visible. While the intent may be to demand justice for him and to talk about systemic human rights abuse stemming from communal hatred, the impact that such images of atrocity end up having cannot be controlled. There are concerns over the ethics of making an agonising incident in the boy’s life widely available for public viewing, and questions over whether the social value of sharing such videos justifies its impact on the victim and others from vulnerable groups.  At the cursory level, there is the risk to the boy of having his identity revealed, says Shantha Sinha, former chairperson of the NCPCR (National Commission for Protection of Child Rights). “It was not right to have revealed a minor’s face. If his identity is not hidden, it puts him at greater risk. There could be repeat attacks on him,” she says. But when anonymised, such visual evidence can be necessary, even powerful, in exposing actions based on a larger ideology that’s against constitutional values, says Sinha.  But this kind of violence has been entrenched in our society, which is built on caste and patriarchal structures, notes feminist writer Hannah Dhanaraj. While prevalent systemic violence that occurs on a daily basis may not warrant recurring, distressing visual reminders, such upsetting visuals are often also associated with a gaze of not just empathy and advocacy, but voyeurism as well. “WhatsApp is filled with graphic imagery, from such violent attacks to terrible accidents. There is a currency for such imagery,” Hannah says, calling it a social malaise.  While a few media houses have hidden the boy’s identity when reporting on the incident, the context in which the image is shared and viewed, and the narrative around the visuals once those are out there cannot always be controlled. In this case, the victim has had no agency or control over the narrative, notes advocate and activist Vinay Srinivasa. “There is often no sensitivity when such images are shared. We have to look at the dignity of the victim, whose life it will be affecting,” says Hannah.   Vinay also notes that the video depicts what could be interpreted as sexual assault on a minor, as the offenders were seen kicking the boy on his private parts, and that must also be considered in this particular instance.  The dignity and safety of the victim are major concerns, and Hannah adds that such videos also serve as warnings to members of oppressed communities, to adhere to the status quo of social hierarchies. In the Ghaziabad temple incident, the video was reportedly first shared by an Instagram account called Hindu Ekta Sangh. Police have said that it was the suspects themselves who made the video go viral. Vinay says that the more the video is circulated, the more it helps further the offenders’ intention to set a deterrent.  “Such crimes happen because they don’t want people transgressing social boundaries. We already know that there’s a price to be paid for such transgressions; that if you fall in love outside caste, you may be killed; or that if you enter a Hindu temple, you may get beaten up,” says Hannah. This fear, which might have earlier been hearsay, becomes something for people to see, she says. “Such videos serve as warnings. In Muslim families in that region, when the video is circulated, parents will tell their children to stay put. This is how caste or any social boundaries are maintained, by reminding that if you breach them, you could be killed or raped.” The outrage around such an incident need not depend on seeing the brutality in detail, which can also involve a voyeuristic gaze, Vinay says. He suggests that internet users who wish to amplify the incident and call for action, must think about doing so in a more responsible manner. “We can build pressure by just talking about the incident and its details. Many people have done that without sharing the video,” he notes. 

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