Chinmayi has been vocal about the conversations surround the arrest of social media influencer ‘Funbucket’ Bhargav for allegedly raping a 14-year-old girl.

We need sex education sensitive reporting Chinmayi on TikToker Bhargavs arrest Instagram/ChinmayeeSripaada
news Saturday, April 24, 2021 - 12:50

Earlier this week, an Andhra man known as ‘Funbucket’ Bhargav, who became a recognised face through TikTok, was arrested for allegedly raping a 14-year-old girl in Vizag. While the Andhra Pradesh police announced his arrest to the media only on April 20 evening, the arrest was first reported in mainstream media in that morning’s Visakhapatnam edition of Andhra Prabha. A clipping of the report was widely circulated, and not just because of the shocking crime involving a social media influencer. The report had nailed down the root cause for the horrific incident  — a ‘careless’ single mother who gave her child ‘too much freedom’, and an absent father. Among others, singer Chinmayi Sripada pointed out the insensitivity of such coverage, which has blamed the victim and her mother while ignoring important conversations around grooming of children for sexual abuse and proper sex education. 

Chinmayi, who has played a key role in the Me Too movement in India’s media and entertainment industry, spoke about the problems with the victim blaming narrative surrounding the incident at length on her Instagram and Twitter. The Andhra Prabha report, which said that parents are responsible for such incidents if they aren’t careful enough, made sure to note that the girl and her mother were living away from her father. “The mother had spoiled the girl. She didn’t keep track of her whereabouts and gave her too much freedom … With the father being away, there was no one to supervise the girl and tell her what’s right and wrong,” it said, while citing “local information” to claim that the 14-year-old was “sacrificed in the hands of the pervert” due to parental negligence. However, it needs to be pointed out that most other publications and TV channels did not follow this narrative.

“There's a line in the report which says that “people” are saying and thinking these things. Who are these people thinking all this? Who needs another opinion piece blaming the victim or her mother, shifting blame from the accused?” Chinmayi said to TNM, deploring the victim blaming and shaming that has followed since news of Bhargav’s arrest came to light. 

Chinmayi pointed to another public discussion on the incident on a Telugu YouTube channel, where a woman ‘social activist’ heaps blame on the victim’s  mother for allowing her daughter to make videos on TikTok that weren’t “useful to society,” and allowing her daughter to be seen and commented upon by random men on the internet. “This is an indication of what a section of Telugu society is saying about this incident. And comments under the video show men agreeing with this attitude,” Chinmayi lamented. 

An added reason for the usual trend of victim blaming to crop up in this case has been because the 14-year-old girl, who had been making TikTok videos, was promised offers by Bhargav to appear in media channels. Bhargav, who is in his mid-20s, shot to fame briefly in 2019, after his videos with the "Oh my God! Oh my God!" line, created along with Nithya (who was seen in the 2018 hit film C/o Kancharapalem) went globally viral. Acknowledging the implications associated with young people, especially girls, who wish to express themselves on the internet in different ways, Chinmayi questioned, “Why is it wrong if a young girl wants to put out content as a form of creative expression? Making content is not ‘asking for it’, being on social media or being friends with someone is not ‘asking for it’.” She pointed out that children’s images and videos are constantly put out by parents, either to simply show off their child to the world, or as part of their content, in case of influencers. Children are also creating content themselves all over the world,” she says, pointing to kid influencers like nine-year-old Ryan Kaji, whose toy unboxing and reviewing videos are hugely popular.

Rather than moralising over children’s desire to put themselves out on the internet, parents and other adults need to work towards establishing a safe environment for children to feel they can communicate about anything, including sex, Chinmayi said. Police have said that the girl rejected Bhargav’s advances, but he then blackmailed her saying he had explicit videos of her. On the other hand, multiple reports said that Bhargav and the victim, who had earlier appeared to be on friendly terms, would address each other as brother and sister. “He might have groomed the child, telling her this is something siblings do. Nobody is talking about the idea of sexual grooming,” Chinmayi said. Sexual grooming is when abusers carefully establish a trusting, emotional bond with a child with the intent of sexual abuse. 

Another concern in Bhargav’s case has been that he has been seen working with several teenage girls in his videos. Amid voyeuristic curiosity from many people who wanted to figure out which of the girls seen in Bhargav’s videos was the Vizag victim, some of these girls have had to clarify that the case isn’t related to them. 

Read: Actor Nithya clarifies she isn't the victim after 'Fun Bucket' Bhargav's arrest under POCSO

“This could also be a case of casting couch (sexual harassment), if he grew close to her by promising offers in the media,” Chinmayi said, adding that our conversations need to focus on the accused man and his actions, the possible abuse of power and the systemic issues that enable this, instead of obsessing over what the girl and her mother should or shouldn’t have done. 

While Chinmayi has been initiating some of these conversations through her social media, some of the responses that she has received have also been bizarre and upsetting, she said. The police complaint in the case was filed after the family came to know that the survivor is four months pregnant. While the Andhra Prabha report blamed the mother for not noticing sooner that her daughter was pregnant, Chinmayi said an Instagram user responded to her posts on the issue by questioning why the girl hadn’t spoken about the rape until she was four months pregnant. Others have suggested that the sexual relations between an adult man and a 14-year-old girl could have been “consensual”. 

“The girl is only 14. She may not even have had regular periods otherwise. She may not have known indications of pregnancy, when to be worried. And at 14 years, she cannot consent to sex. All of this is also sex education,” Chinmayi said. Many people are now blaming the victim and her mother for being unaware of what was happening, but the only way anyone can know about these things is when we create an environment wherechildren feel free to talk about sex and sexuality, she said, rather than calling for increased policing and scrutiny on children. Recalling the disappointing coverage of the Me Too movement in Tamil Nadu’s media, Chinmayi says Telugu states’ media also needs to reevaluate its coverage of child sexual abuse and other forms of violence against women and oppressed communities, to initiate sensitive conversations around them. 

Read:  1 year of 'Me Too': How TN lost the opportunity to stand up to misogyny



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