The mischief of Firstpost that Sirf News reported earlier today is clearly a part of a trend in the media. In several reports dated 20 September, a section of the news media had used a misleading representational image for the child marriage of a Muslim girl in Malappuram, Kerala. The reports say police had booked a qazi for officiating the marriage along with the groom and the parents but the images featured with the stories mostly create an impression it was a Hindu marriage.
Qazi, who is the magistrate of the Sharia Court, was there to solemnise the marriage, which proves that it was a nikah (Muslim contractual marriage). However, the representational image on several websites and newspapers of the day show a bindi-clad minor Hindu girl with garland showing as if it was a Hindu child marriage.
Interestingly, another report on the same case published by media on 19 September mentioned that the couple was from the ‘minority community’. The representational image in that report was of a ‘Hindu’ wedding, misleading the readers.
Case of child marriage in Kerala
The nikah had been solemnised on 18 September in Karuvarakundu, District Malappuram, Kerala. Reports say that the police registered a case against four persons, including the qazi, groom and the parents, after they learned that the bride was a 17-year-old girl studying in 12th standard. On the next day, the police recorded the girl’s statement and initiated a probe in the case.
Manoj Parayatta, Inspector, Karuvarakundu Police Station, said that they had registered a case under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. He said, “Child marriage is a serious offence that will attract a punishment of five years imprisonment or Rs 10 lakh fine. Those abetting the marriage which may include the guests who participated in the marriage, caterers and videographers can be booked under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act.”
The officer added that it is hard to gather evidence in cases involving child marriages. He said, “Usually, such marriages are conducted secretly. They won’t take photographs, and the people in the area will not cooperate with the investigation by handing over the pieces of evidence. Still, we will carry out the investigation seriously and ensure maximum punishment for the people involved so that such cases don’t happen again.”
Malappuram district, a Muslim majority region, is known for such child marriages. In 2017, ten such weddings were stopped by the authorities. In 2016, 12 such marriages were blocked in the Moothedam panchayat that is adjacent to Karuvarakundu.
Mainstream media regularly use misleading representational images
Using misleading representational images that stigmatise the Hindu community when the crime involves persons from the Muslim community is a common practice in mainstream media. Such representational images often contact graphics associated with Hindus even though the parties involved are Muslims. There have been countless such incidents where media houses change the representational image after the uproar.
In July this year, Maharashtra Police arrested occult practitioner Baba Karim Khan Bengali for cheating a young woman, but the mainstream media decided to call him “tantrik”. In the same month, occult practitioner Afzal Malik and his aides gang-raped a minor girl in Amroha, but the reports in the larger section of the news media referred to him as ‘tantrik’.
Often, the imagery associated with the reports is Hindu, creating a false impression in the mind of readers that Hindus were the perpetrators of the crime.