Photo credit: The Associated Press, Ajit Solanki
An 8-year-old girl was kidnapped, drugged and raped in a Hindu temple in Kathua, Kashmir, for a week and brutally killed by a group of men. Gang rapes are not unusual in India. In 2012, the brutality of a gang rape against a graphic designer, Nirbhaya, in a moving bus in the capital city, New Delhi, unleashed one of the biggest protests in the country against sexual violence. Not only was the rape, against the 8-year-old belonging to the nomadic Muslim community of Kashmir, more heinous, but it was different from similar “ incidents”- as Prime Minister Narendra Modi- after weeks of silence chose to describe the ghoulish act.
This horrific rape in Kathua triggered an international outrage with even the Secretary General of United Nations, Antonio Guterres, demanding punishment for the guilty. PM Modi, who is likely to face protests during his upcoming foreign travel, promised justice to India’s daughters, but his wishy-washy construct of the “ incident” did not satisfy many.
The rape of this child was different as not only was it was premeditated – it was planned for weeks- but also perpetrated and master minded by those who had links with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and were keen to drive the Muslims nomads from their traditional grazing grounds. They were confident that they would succeed in their diabolical enterprise as they had a favourable administration in their city and the state.
Though this rape and murder took place in January this year, the wheels of probe moved slowly. If it hadn’t been for the doggedness and persistence of a couple of police officials of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the matter would have been passed off as an unexplained murder. When the Police filed the charge sheet in the case, India not just woke up to the sick minds of the rapists, but also those who agitated in their favour. Lawyers of Jammu bar council were at the forefront of the demonstration to support the rapists. Two state ministers of the BJP, which is a partner in the state government, led the protest against the charge sheet. The ministers were forced to resign from the government after the issue caused a national outrage and embarrassed Modi government. One of them candidly admitted that they took part in the protest only after being instructed by their party leadership.
The moot question is how could anyone support the perpetrators after chilling details of her captivity, rape and murder came out in the open? She was kidnapped when she was out grazing her horses and first raped by a juvenile, who was co-opted in this conspiracy by his mastermind Uncle. Later, she was drugged and kept in the sanctum sanctorum of the temple under a plastic sheet and was repeatedly raped by all kinds of people- including a serving police man. Later, her head was crushed by a rock and killed.
Bizarrely, the alleged rapists and murderers found extraordinary support in a society that seems split right at the centre. Nursing a grievance against the minority community due to deliberate misreading of history and the policies of previous secular governments, the support for violence is bordering on irrationality. The majoritarian zealots justify every act of violence as follows: “ what about an incident that took place in history against them”. This “whataboutery” has many vocal and strong proponents amongst those who are supporters of the Indian PM. They ridicule the protest against sexual violence by demanding that they were silent when a similar act had taken place against the Hindus of Kashmir or somewhere else. Candle march by Congress President, Rahul Gandhi, to Delhi’s India Gate was criticised by BJP leaders and their social media activists by claiming that the opposition leader was trying to politicise a criminal act.
This criticism of the anti-gender violence agitationists proved to be inadequate as reports began to occupy the headlines about another rape incident by a BJP legislator in the state of Uttar Pradesh. This rape was not directed at the minority community, but brought to the fore the wanton disregard the party members had for the rule of law. No police report was filed against the offending legislator months after the crime had committed despite the victim meeting the Chief Minister of the State, Yogi Adityanath, and petitioning the President of India. Worse, the brother of the legislator beat the alleged rape victim’s father to death. The deceased had in a video recording had claimed that he was beaten so brutally in front of the cops, who did nothing. Shockingly, the Chief of the State Police force addressed the accused rapist, “ Honourable” in a press briefing. The legislator would have continued to roam around freely had the State High Court not ordered the police to arrest the alleged rapist legislator immediately.
These recent incidents of violence and the protection that the accused have got from the police and the government have sullied the image of Prime Minister Modi who had launched a programme against female infanticide called “ Beti bachao, beti padhao” (protect your daughter and teach your daughter). Now his critics are claiming that the PM had presciently cautioned his countrymen that they should protect their daughters from harm.
In some of the localities of northern India, residents have begun to put public notices outside their colonies asking BJP politicians not to visit them as women also reside here.
A wave of protests have swept the country that endeavours to highlight the anti-women stand of the ruling party and its ideological mother ship, Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS), which wants women to only produce babies and work in the kitchen. Much of the violence against women gets legitimacy due to this attitude.
As the country heads to national elections in 2019- if it is not brought forward- the issue of women safety could have the same impact as it had in 2014 after the famous Nirbhaya case, when the then ruling party Congress lost.
Sanjay Kapoor is Independent Media’s stringer based in Delhi and he is the Editor of “Hard News” in India