The girl in the meadow in Kathua
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‘Her favourite thing was to play in the meadow.’
It was the last line of the The New York Times report on the gang rape and killing of the eight-year-old that haunted artist Orijit Sen late into Wednesday night. Sen was on a number of deadlines but the chargesheet details of the gruesome case came like a deluge.
“We are exposed to such a surfeit of words and images that we tend to become immune to them...but there was this photo of her looking straight at the camera...and her face kept playing on my mind,” says Sen, 55.
The more he saw the photograph, of the little girl in her purple tunic with yellow flowers, he thought he began to understand her; her fear, her absolute helplessness, her pain. The eight-year-old, as we know now, belonged to the nomadic Bakerwal Muslim community and was raped by eight men in a temple over three days, while starved and sedated. “It is a tragic story of yet another young girl, a child...who has been a victim of communal violence, of rape being used as a tool for subjugation,” he says.
The Goa-based graphic artist and designer, an alumnus of the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, has a history of protest art—it was his poster of bloodied chappals, with an iron rod by their side, that was widely appropriated for the #NotInMyName protests.
While Sen has gone from bloodied slippers to the image of a girl holding flowers, it is the thread of “humanizing the victim” that runs through. “I imagined her as she would be,” says Sen, “a girl playing in the meadow.”
Over the phone from Goa, Sen says he extended the flowers in her hand into her dress in a bid to “create a memory of her that celebrates her life”.
Sen posted his artwork on his Facebook page on Thursday morning. It has already been shared more than 3,000 times.
Protest marches are erupting across the country, but when the angry sloganeering ends, let the image of Sen’s happy girl picking flowers in the meadow remind you that something is rotten. We are not reproducing the photograph of the girl or Sen’s evocative illustration because of a new Delhi high court order barring media houses from doing so. But do this: Picture the happiest little girl you know.
She tweets at @aninditaghose