By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi
The brutal murder of the 8-year-old rape victim, Asifa Bano in Kathua—one of the administrative districts in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir—was breathtakingly dreadful. It is too horrifying a case to get down to the details. But what is more deplorable now is that the rape crime has turned into a communal and religious fight. It is communally angled as Hindu-Muslim issue with a dichotomous viewpoint of ‘us vs. them”. The proponents of the communalization of the Kathua case highlight that the suspects are Hindu, and the eight-year-old rape victim was a Muslim daughter. Thus, it has taken a nasty turn, dividing the country on the communal lines.
In fact, the little daughter of the nomadic Muslim Bakarwal-Gujjar parents, Asifa Bano was not incidentally raped and murdered. She was systematically victimized by a group of local criminals, including a retired government official, his son and juvenile nephew, to drive this tribe out of the area.
The nomadic Gujjar-Bakarwal community largely comprises of Muslims in Jammu’s Kathua district. Thus, they are a small minority in the area. The 15-page charge-sheet filed by the J&K Police in the chief judicial magistrate’s court reveals that the Kathua rape-and-murder case was a plot to dislodge Muslim Bakarwal community. It unravelled that Asifa’s kidnapping, rape and killing was all part of a planned chilling strategy to instil fear and drive out the nomadic tribe to which she belonged. She was first kidnapped, then drugged, held captive in a temple, and then brutally raped repeatedly and viciously and thus brutally murdered.
The two communities often get into spats over land, damage to crops by the livestock of the Muslim herders and allegations of cow slaughter levelled by Hindu residents in the Hiranagar area of the Kathua district. Therefore, regrettably enough, Asifa’s rape case was also being linked with the “cow slaughter”.
At the outset, no one paid much attention to the catastrophic tragedy of Asifa. Let alone the Prime Time TV shows of the country’s mainstream channels, even most English newspapers in J&K wholly ignored this story. They skipped reporting the incident with a pre-conceived notion that it would have been another casual rape and murder of a minor girl. But it was only an Urdu daily largely circulated in Jammu & Kashmir which first printed a photograph of Asifa with a news item on the eight-year-old Bakerwal girl’s shocking murder. Later, other media outlets joined this chorus to demand a probe into the murder.
Now, while Rahul Gandhi is taking forward his nationwide protest against the Kathua rape case, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also broken silence. Terming the Asifa rape-and-murder case an “incident that shakes our sensibilities,” he has assured the country that no culprit will be spared. PM Modi has vowed that “our daughters will definitely get justice”. But one wonders if the complete justice will be delivered to Asifa. And that is only possible when her rape criminals are hanged to death, as a national consensus is being evolved on this.
Harshly condemning this rape-and-murder case, almost all Indian communities are calling for a rising national consensus for exemplary punishment for the culprits. They are congregating to demonstrate that the public conscience of India still is alive. That people will unite and rise up for justice and to defeat the forces inimical to peace and security who are seeking to subdue the spirit of this nation.
Notably, while Union minister Maneka Gandhi has announced to bring an amendment in the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act on death penalty for rape of children below 12 years of age, J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has assured that that her government will bring a “new law” on the same lines. “The Ministry of Women and Child Development intends to bring an amendment in POCSO Act asking for death penalty for rape on children below 12 years of age,” Maneka has said in a video message.
Thus, the brutal rape and merciless murder of this minor Kashmiri Muslim girl —Asifa—has become an eye-opener now. But worryingly, many fail to take cognizance of the fact that this whole lamentable episode is being angled to Hindu-Muslim tussle by both communally inclined forces as well as the news agencies to further their ulterior motives. The deplorable fact that the 8-year old rape victim belonged to a minority Muslim family and that the culprits were Hindus is serious setback to the community leaders who believe that little has been done to allay the apprehension of Muslims. Inevitably, this has triggered a sort of ‘Muslim victimhood’ mentality across the country. More to the point, a section of the community watchers are flogging off the narrative that the innocent girl was victimized only because she was a ‘Muslim’s daughter’, besides belonging to the tribal community of Gujjar and Bakarwal.
The op-ed editors of Rising Kashmir, Shoeb Hamid and Daanish Bin Nabi have lamented: “We asked liberal and secular groups the question: How does the rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl fit into the new narrative? And as we mentioned earlier, they said “The word ‘Muslim’ can be omitted”. It is here that we differ: If the 8-year-old girl hadn’t been Muslim, she might not have been raped and murdered.”
But for the cognizant Indian citizens concerned with this ghastly development, it makes no difference—being Muslim or Hindu. What worries them is the height of brutality and insanity in the disguise of the false religious identity. What concerns them is the breaking of silence of all people for all victims of human rights violations rising above all divisions on the basis of religion.
Speaking to this writer, a Lucknow-based Muslim thinker and editor-in-chief of the Muslim Era, Yunus Mohani posed a hard-hitting question. He asked: “Is this the newfound narrative of ‘liberal and progressive’ India where journalists are looking to such heinous crimes of rape and murder through the prism of religion?”
Rana Safvi, an Indian historian and the author of ‘Where Stones Speak’ writes: “This rape and brutalisation of a girl has shaken me not just because she was a child. It has shaken me not because she was a Muslim, or because her religion is neither here nor there. It has shaken me because of the naked hatred that it represents. Hatred so vicious that the little girl’s rapists were so carried away by their hatred that they did not think twice before raping her inside a temple.”
When the most notorious rape case of Nirbhaya occurred, the common Indians didn’t bother about the rapists’ religion or caste and stood by the victim considering her as India’s daughter. Again, they have come all out to speak for another daughter of India. In the strongly-worded and well-spirited protests that they have held in several parts of the country, they averred that both the 8-year Muslim girl of Kathua and the 18-year old Hindu girl of Unnao were victims of the ‘inhuman’ men of the beastly nature and that they cannot be linked to any civilized society or religious community.
However, the fear that the case of Asifa might trigger a sense of communal polarization looms large in J&K. In fact, the Kathua case has highlighted an ideological divide between the two regions of the conflict zone, contrasting Kashmir—a Muslim majority fighting for an independent homeland with Jammu—a Hindu majority area fighting for its total integration with India. Thus, the social, political and cultural boundaries between the Hindu-majority Jammu and Muslim-dominated Kashmir have sharpened.
In fact, the brutal rape and murder of the 8-year-old Asifa Bano in Kathua was a premeditated crime to particularly target and terrorize the Bakarwal ethnic group. It was different from most rape cases in India, but quite identical to what the ISIS did with the young Yazdi girls in Iraq and Syria to terrorize the entire Yazdi community in their previously occupied territories. Thus, India witnessed first of its kind rape which was viciously planned as a tool of war to subjugate an ethnic group in Kashmir.
But while understanding the political implications of this rape, one must raise voice against every single incident of rape. When a Muslim rapist is arrested, should his co-religionists come in his support openly or tacitly? But the problem exponentially grows when the support is extended to the rapists not only by their family members, but by MLA& and his community leaders.
It is distressing to note that the political forces have played the communal card in Kathua. They had no qualms in blatantly pitching this case as “Hindu-Muslim”. An Indian novelist Anuradha Roy has candidly put it:
“Kashmir’s lawmakers marched to save the policemen from being charged with rape. Women too marched to defend the rapists: because they are Hindu and the child who was gang-raped and killed was the daughter of a Muslim goatherd. It is impossible, when this level of mental sickness and brutality coalesces, to do anything more than fall into the silence of absolute despair. Until, that is, an overwhelming rage sweeps away the despair.”