Little Lakshmi*, a resident of Jayashankar Bhupalpally district, stepped out of her house on December 3, just one day before her eighth birthday. But in a cruel twist of fate, her life came to a brutal end that evening.
The class 1 student was murdered, and it is alleged that she was also sexually assaulted.
On December 3 (Sunday), some villagers had taken out a procession for a Dalit woman, Bharathi, who had succumbed to a heart attack while clashing with the police in November. Curious to know what the demonstration was about, Lakshmi stepped outside her house as the procession was passing by.
But when she did not return for over an hour, her frantic parents and relatives launched a search. A missing person's complaint was registered on Monday.
That evening, the local police found Lakshmi around 4pm. The little girl had been dumped in a haystack in a field, her clothes partially torn.
A police officer working on the case told TNM that a case of murder has been registered. However, from the bite and scratch marks on her body, it appears that she was sexually assaulted before being strangulated, the official added.
The police do not yet have information about the accused and whether there were multiple people involved in the case. “Once the post-mortem report comes, in a week or two, we will have more clarity,” the officer said.
Lakshmi case bears a striking resemblance to another child sexual assault and murder case from earlier this year. Seven-year-old Hasini was allegedly raped and murdered in Chennai by a neighbour, 23-year-old Dhasvanth.
As in Hasini’s case, there are social media posts expressing grief over Lakshmi ordeal and demise. The posts, which are in Telugu, not only mention her real name, but also carry her photo, as well as disturbing images of her body as found in the haystack.
One such post, which has close to 30 shares now, is a poem in the memory of the little girl. But in sensitive cases like these, having good intent is not enough. Once details like the name of the child or the identity of the family are on the internet, they can never be erased.
As per section 228A of the Indian Penal Code and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act (POCSO), 2012, the identity of minor victims of sexual assault must be withheld. Discretion is of paramount importance here due to the consequences the victims’ families face. In Hasini’s case, her father allowed the media to publish her name and identity but only recently.
When the news of Hasini's assault and death broke, her family was forced to see her photo splashed across screens and papers. "Every parent, every father, wants to see his daughter's photo in the papers … for having done something good. I was very hurt when I saw her photos appear like this. It wasn't what I had dreamt for her," the heartbroken man had told TNM.
There are already media reports out which mention Lakshmi father’s name. To know more about why the media’s coverage of child sexual abuse needs to change, read TNM’s extensive piece here.
*Not her real name