Loving Falak to Death

Written by  //  February 15, 2012  //  Economic & Social Policy  //  11 Comments

I remember the first day I read the story.

Human girl child, 2 years old, head bashed in, with human bite marks.

Bitten. By another being, a human being.

Indeed, it was shocking. Dogs bite people. Dogs biting children are stories which will always get pride of place in newspapers. But, do people bite babies? From one newspaper’s pride of place in the ‘flyer’ position, the tragic story spread, swiftly, like a vampire’s bite, to garner massive, daily press coverage.

Since then, many facets of the story have been reported, stressed and re-enacted. The baby was a victim- bitten by, and bashed by, a teenage mother. The teenage mother herself was a victim of a purported trafficking racket. The child has siblings, also victims of an awful, exploitative adult world.

Which we learn in high-resolution photographic detail, day after day.

Each story of this baby- called Falak, and ‘battered baby’ in equitable alternates, is accompanied with a high-resolution picture. You can see the baby has been bitten, each welt lovingly captured. You can see the pathetic size of the victim, as the pictures capture the length of a body that is mostly uncovered, almost naked. You see the eyes tightly, painfully scrunched up. What you probably can’t see are her eyes wincing as cameras go off, or grimacing over a fresh photo shoot she has not sanctioned.

I want to fervently stress at this point that I am happy the press has taken up the issue of Falak with the gusto, and the outrage, it deserves. Undoubtedly, this has inflamed the police into taking action that spans many states and requires differing levels of investigation and intervention.

But surely coverage with the particular brand of moral outrage this case calls for, can be accomplished without an accompanying, high-res picture of the incapacitated victim?

If you look at your childhood pictures, you will most probably find a black and white shot of you as a baby or toddler: dimpled cheeks, dimpled arms and legs, wearing, for all purposes, nothing. That’s because we have been taught to believe that notions of privacy differ for toddlers and adults, and for toddlers and children. After a certain age, pictures of children appear in sepia tones, usually covered up in embarrassing costumes- bow ties for boys, poofy tutus for girls; but covered up all the same. There is, in the middle-class psyche, an unspoken cut-off date which dictates collectively- now is when the child needs to be covered up in all photos, and more significantly, now is when the child needs some privacy.

Possibly, this middle class cut-off line can explain why it seems to be permissible to publish pictures in high-resolution, different on most days, of a battered baby, daily. Unfortunately for Falak, she doesn’t seem to be at the magic cut-off date yet.

And then, I have to pause.

This is the same nation which gushes over the Bachchan family, which decides not to publish, sell, or otherwise ‘expose’ pictures of a new baby in their family.  This is seen as virtuous and wholesome. In the international columns, accolades have been given to the French media for not publishing pictures of celebrity children.

Why is Falak different?
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Today, there is no doubt that Falak is a celebrity, whether of her choosing or not. Undoubtedly too, her celebrityhood has been decided by reporters covering her, and the media has become her spokesperson. Does it stand to follow then, that there is to be no moderation in the particular tone adopted by the spokesperson?

It is not merely a question of the personal and private space of an abandoned child. It is also not a question of the privacy accorded to adulthood and infancy.  It is simply a case of what should be acceptable or not.  Clearly, Falak’s case stands for many why’s- underage rape, violence against women, unwanted pregnancy, trafficking. But why is it acceptable to publish invasive, aggressively taken pictures of Falak to drive home all those points- problems of which Falak is a symptom?

Even if the pictures were all taken in one day, I do not believe her now too familiar face and her battered body need to stand daily as an accurate, all-consuming representation of the violence against women.

I have searched for a moderation of view: a long shot, a blurry image, even an arty picture of a tiny hand on a pillow. And yet all I find are detailed, gruesome closeups of the tiny face and the unfortunate body. I have to wonder- what life will this girl grow up to lead, after this proprietary, unflinching watch?

I want to end on this thought: Nigella Lawson, food connoisseur, has refuted claims that photos of her with food trickling down her face, in high-res, multicolour detail, are pornographic. I wonder if Falak, and those defending her, will stop to ponder on similar questions.

Image: from bumptobaby.blogspot.in


About the Author

Neha switched from Environment journalism to a degree in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management at Oxford University. Interests include wildlife, conservation policy, and more wildlife.

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11 Comments on "Loving Falak to Death"

  1. Sharmila Sinha February 18, 2012 at 8:54 am ·

    Today, there is no doubt that Falak is a celebrity, whether of her choosing or not. Undoubtedly too, her celebrityhood has been decided by reporters covering her, and the media has become her spokesperson. Does it stand to follow then, that there is to be no moderation in the particular tone adopted by the spokesperson? — So well said, Neha. Indeed I think media has forgotten to draw a line between what should be said and how much should be said. The blaring television and its ‘high priests’ are the ones that rule the mind (trying to probably should be the word). Has the media thought how will she cope when she grows up? Probably they think she would never. And as long as their TRP is going up and they can boast that their newspaper readership is highest in the world all is fair. Quite a sorry state of affairs. And when will this end. haaaaa

  2. neha February 18, 2012 at 10:18 am ·

    Thank you, Sharmila.
    I like your point on the difference between what’s to be said, and how much is to be said.
    The press coverage suggests they don’t expect this child to actually grow up. I wonder if we are about to experience an Indian Jade Goody, vis-a-vis, a live media documentation of a human death. That’s not justifiable, even if death is expected!

  3. Jasmine March 15, 2012 at 7:07 am ·

    Neha, Do you know the current status of falak.How is her health?
    I wanted to adopt her, but, waiting for my good husband to say YES.
    Neha, I work in a good company, but for the last 2 months, I cannot sleep well..I think of falak & I cry…
    see, dear, thinking of falak, her health, dreaming that one day, she will be in my hands, I will hug her, kiss her, surround her with toys, she will play with my kids… Iam always dreaming. When I realise its far from reality, I pray to ALLAH. Now, Iam finding it difficult to concentrate in my office works.
    Dear, by ALLAH’s grace, Iam excellent at work & well paid. May ALLAH keep me humble. I have enough money by ALLAH’s grace.
    I want to see falak one day. I hope atleast that will happen someday.
    My husband is good, but suggests let someone who doesn’t have a baby adopt her. But….
    Neha, everyday when I read news, terrible news like 3 yr raped, 2 yr burnt..I .. my head spins.. I love kids. They are innocent.. Why is the world so cruel to them? WHY? How can they think of doing such cruel things?
    look at sanyam, how cruel..my poor child might have run to hide from his stepfather, everyday..
    but,no news on him in the media now a days. I wrote to TOI , NDTV to get updates on sanyam.
    Now, I hate reading news like Aishwarya’s baby…..Iam sorry.
    I salute all the people who adopt, eventhough they have kids & take equal care of all the kids… Only a few , a very few can do that.
    I want to do the same…INSHA ALLAH.
    Dear, if you get any news on falak ,please mail me…
    please. i want to know my baby is safe. maybe that will stop my tears..

  4. neha March 16, 2012 at 5:21 am ·

    Thank you for your concern, Jasmine. The tone of outrage that you have adopted is important for issues like this, because these issues are not just about one child but systems (gender inequality and trafficking being obvious ones) that need dramatic and speedy overhaul. Obviously this will take time but till then it is important to keep up the pressure, in different ways like legal intervention and the more difficult task of making calls to the moral fibre of a society. At the same time, a victimised child cannot be converted into a mass conduit assuaging guilty consciences through graphic imagery. Sadly, it is now confirmed that Falak is dead.

  5. manavi March 20, 2012 at 10:31 am ·

    sadly falak is no more. I too like you had decided to adopt falak since im childless for a very long time. i too dreamt like you. I imagined of getting her to my apartment, giving her all the motherly care that she was deprived of, take her to the park, get her unlimited toys to play, hug her tightly and make sure that recovers soon. i thought of being 24 hours with her once she was adopted by me. I wanted to very badly cuddle her in my arms……..sadly this all remains a dream…….and eyes full of tears, i bid my daughter farewell and deeply pray from the deepest of my heart to god that if i conceive then it should be a rebirth of baby falak and i surely will conceive next month……….baby falak will be reborn and i promise that my daughter will get the most of happiness that she never got………………i will fill every second of my baby’s life with happiness…….and if i conceive and it if is a girl then it is surely going to be baby falak’s rebirth and im going to send a blog again soon if i conceive next month……..

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