Two young people committed suicide in Kerala, allegedly after they were caught up in an elaborate web of conspiracy and fake news aimed at tarnishing the image of the ruling CPIM in Kerala ahead of elections in April.
While the details of the case are subject to much debate, the basic facts are not in dispute.
A young man, Manu Manoj, hailing from Nariampara in Idukki district in Kerala, was arrested late last month on the complaint of the family of a minor girl.
According to the complaint, the accused had sexually harassed the girl.
The news was given wide prominence by media outlets close to the opposition parties — and shared on their social media profiles — as Manu was a member of Democratic Youth Federation of India, a youth association affiliated to the ruling CPIM.
However, soon after Manu was arrested under the POCSO law on the complaint of the girl’s parents, the girl set fire to herself in an attempt to commit suicide.
Opposition-friendly media outlets painted the girl’s suicide attempt as an attempt on her part to escape from the suffering related to sexual harassment by a ‘DYFI leader’.
The girl succumbed to her injuries a few days later.
Upon receiving the news of the girl’s suicide, Manu too committed suicide earlier this month.
According to new reports, the whole incident may have been less of a case of sexual harassment and more a case of politics and fake news bringing to a premature end the lives of two young lovers.
According to several new accounts of the incident, including one from self-described journalist Martin Menachery, the girl and the boy — both of whom belong to Dalit communities — were deeply in love at the time their love affair was ‘discovered’ by their families.
This was followed an altercation, following which an understanding was reached that the couple would be allowed to marry each other once the girl achieved marriageable age in two years.
However, according to Menachery, some of the local level opposition leaders took the initiative to lodge a police complaint under POCSO sections.
Under this law, the parents or the guardian is empowered to file a case on behalf of the victim.
Upon learning about the police complaint, the girl allegedly tried to commit suicide, which resulted in her death a few days later.
Since Menachery leveled his allegations on Thursday, several photographs of the couple have also surfaced on social media that seem to lend credence to what Menachery said.
“I want to make it clear that I’m not a CPIM member or even a sympathizer of that party. I am a media person. I have posted all this after making deep inquiries to find the truth,” he said in a Facebook post that has since gone viral.
Menachery has also filed a police complaint against workers of political parties who have been using the girl’s identity in their campaign against the CPIM, alleging that doing so is against the law.
The case brings to the fore the increasing role played by misinformation and fake news in political campaigning in Kerala.
Nearly everyone in the state has a smartphone and is hooked on to various social networks, even though, in this case, it was sections of the legacy media that took the initiative to give a political tone to the incident.