Being able to see both sides of a picture is important to writers like me, writers of non-fiction particularly. It is important to measure intent against action. It is important to balance outrage against insight. And it is important also to recognize that sometimes, a bad approach overshadows all good intentions.
Am still disturbed by news of how a charity is asking us to 'buy' little girls. Because if we don't 'buy' the girl, someone else will. And that someone else will probably sell them into slavery and prostitution.
Yes, yes, I know. The intention is supposed to be good. They are probably only trying to help. They probably want to save little girls from suffering unbearable, untellable traumas. And they are resorting to the tricks of the trade to do so - the language of the bazaar, the gimmicks of advertising.
If I know, why am I so offended?
I have spent the last few days thinking about this article. What exactly is the outrage about?
As the article says, there is something definitely creepy about 'disheveled Indian girl smiling bashfully as an unknown cameraperson pans up and down her body, lingering on her little hands, before finally settling on her face'.
I avoided seeing the actual video on the site for a few days. Just reading the language was off-putting enough. The site uses words like 'Innocent and Available... Experience the sensation of buying a girl'. But I made myself watch. Twice.
Nauseating is the word. I am trying to think of another word that might be more appropriate. And I don't know why. Maybe because we use words so generically these days. From jokes to bad theatrical performances to footage of human rights' abuses - everything is nauseating. Perhaps I should clarify that I did not exactly throw up. But I wanted to. When I saw pictures of distraught little girls with tags of $22 etc against their nervous bodies and the words 'purchased' written boldly, I found myself wanting to physically assault the person who came up with this idea.
Even an already sympathetic, already outraged and pretty tired journalist like me was disgusted by those visuals and those words. They did not help evoke any sympathy for the child - none that would not have been generated by an ordinary photo and an ordinary appeal. Dozens of NGOs have been using photos of children that melt tight fists and unseam the lightest of pockets. They have done so successfully without exhorting us to buy little girls like the one in the video.
Yes, I am afraid for the kid in the video, and all kids who might be sold for any reason whatsoever. And yes, I'd buy a damn pencil box if I was persuaded that it would stop the sale of a child. But I'm damned if I will contribute to an organisation or a campaign that uses, or pretends to use, the methods of child pornography to make an appeal. Who does such a video appeal to anyway? Why would anyone go to a website called The Girl Store? Why would anyone continue to watch visuals after the first few seconds? Who, except child pornography enthusiasts (or those who have been forewarned by outraged feminist magazines)? And does the person who made that website seriously think that people trawling the net for child pornography will suddenly be transformed by the words 'buy her life back'?
And just for the record, especially for the semi-literates who wrote content for that website, girls in India are rarely 'sold' into marriages. Even poor families often 'buy' into marriages. Which means they rarely benefit financially from the girl's wedding, even if they are poor. At best, they abandon the girl to her admittedly rotten fate. At worst, they cough up thousands of rupees to get rid of her in the time-honoured way - marriage. The problem is not so much poverty or illiteracy (girl children are rarely killed, bought or sold within illiterate and extremely poor tribal communities). The problem is the attitude that a little girl (or a boy) is a commodity that can be traded at certain times (of stress, of need). Which is the same idea this idiotic website is actually helping to promote.
Hence, the outrage. Hence, the nausea. Now somebody go shut down that store.