By Sagarika Ghose/Times of India
How does her family remember their pretty eight year old girl? That she was rosy cheeked, her hair in a jolly little pigtail. Her huge eyes, luminous in their bright innocence. A demure, curious child, like so many eight year olds, a picture of girlhood in springtime, of running, skipping playfulness in the sunshine of her Ammi’s love.
What happened to this pretty child? On a chilly morning in January this year, while out grazing her family’s horses, she was kidnapped, drugged, raped repeatedly over a period of three days and strangled until she died of cardiac arrest.
What was the little girl’s crime? Why did her attackers hate her? Because her parents are humble Muslim Bakherwal nomads, who had set up homes in the Hindutva hotbed of Jammu. In a ferocious overthrow of the philosophy of the Upanishads, the Vedas, of generations of sages and rishis who located the essence of Hinduism in the individual conscience or “atma”, those accused of the rape and murder were defended by a “Hindutva” crowd chanting “Jai Shri Ram.” Where was their atma? Where was the spirit of ahimsa? The spirit of Shri Ram wept, cradled the dead child, the gods looked on helplessly as so called “devotees” smeared their holy Hindu names in blood, hatred and evil.
Once again India is convulsed with remorse and revulsion, haunted by the dead child’s memory. It’s a rewind to the Nirbhaya protests of 2012. Has nothing changed? Those candle-light vigils, the marches, the comprehensive changes in the law, why is it that once again a tiny girl, the most fragile of beings, whom even tough policemen could not help but describe as a “budding flower” in their chargesheet, lies mutilated and dead? Bollywood stars and public intellectuals, writers, poets, former bureaucrats, activists, students, today have one chant on their lips: Justice for India’s daughter
Why are we so moved to tears, so distraught, why are we all reeling at this rape and killing? After all, crimes against children are tragically common. A 2016 survey showed one in every two children across India is a victim of sexual abuse. According to the NCRB, rapes of the girl child spiked in 2016 increasing by 82 per cent from the previous year. Aren’t child rapes commonplace? Aren’t we numbed by now? Yet the eight year old’s torment is keeping us awake at night, we are bewildered, angry and tearful by turn, unable to come to terms with this particularly barbaric assault.
The sheer evil of the crime, as detailed in the police charge-sheet is astounding. First a ghastly plan hatched to murder the child in order to drive her Bakherwal parents from the area. Then the way she was lured into the trap, kidnapped, taken to a “devasthan”, (temple) drugged over a period of three days, repeatedly gangraped. A phone call was made to someone in Meerut, asking him to come and satisfy his lust with the unconscious child. Rituals were performed before the gangrape, a lakh of rupees paid to a policeman to hush up the case. Before she was finally killed a Special Police Officer allegedly raped her one last time.
A Hindu Ekta Manch was set up to defend those who assaulted her, lawyers in Jammu gathered in a mob to prevent the police from filing a charge-sheet, the rape accused were defended by a hate-filled mob chanting “Jai Shri Ram.” Two BJP state ministers in the PDP-BJP government of Jammu &Kashmir were seen addressing a crowd whose hatred had blinded them to the tiny broken body on whom bigots had unleashed their poison.
Did this raving demented crowd chanting “Jai Shri Ram” not even see her as a human being? Could her murderers not even see her as the child she was, as they performed their so-called pujas and lit their lamps before they raped her? Did this ritualized killing of a child in a “devasthan” (temple) become some sort of quasi religious ceremony? What religion in the world has designed special ceremonies as pre-rape rituals? This is what is terribly and grievously sinister about the Kathua rape case and why it is not simply yet another crime to be reported in single column in the inside pages of a newspaper.
Its not just the barbarity of the killing, its not just the inhuman nature of the assault, the single fact that is infuriating and enraging citizens is the fact that the rape accused are being defended in the manner they are, in the name of so-called “religious” and “nationalist” sentiments. It’s the defence of the rapists, by so-called guardians of the law, by politicians, by ministers, by representatives of civil society in Jammu, it is the shrieking red-eyed shielding of rapists which is wicked and repulsive and which should shame us all and make us hang our heads in shame.
Has the name of Lord Rama ever been invoked before to defend those who tore apart a child? Have lawyers ever tried to obstruct the course of justice in a rape case by waving the national flag? Has a social media troll army ever engaged in this kind of furious whataboutery in a rape case, tacitly suggesting that liberals are only agitated because the child was a Muslim, that liberals make a distinction between “good rapes” and “bad rapes”?
The Kathua rape and murder reveals just what a hate-filled communal cauldron India has become, how Hindu vs Muslim is now the hysterically dominant narrative, how an insane loathing of minorities is justified by pointing to a series of other rapes.
The eight year old was attacked and killed in January. Her story didn’t make it to the national headlines at the time because unlike the Nirbhaya case where a horrendous attack on a young woman took place in a moving bus in the heart of the national capital, the Kathua child was done to death in the remote fields of distant Kathua.
But in these last three months, a dark monstrous spectre has risen, the ugly face of a society ripped asunder by communal hatred has become clear, the deep divisions between Hindu and Muslim as exist today were never more glaring and its all too clear that the poison of communalism haunts even a child rape case.
What explains a self-styled right wing Hindu group like the Hindu Ekta Manch marching in support of the accused, waving the tricolor and chanting “Bharat mata ki jai” and “Jai Shri Ram” in defence of the accused? What explains the Jammu Bar Association from calling a bandh and attempting to stop the police from filing a charge-sheet? Why don’t the Hindutva-inclined lawyers and BJP politicians of Jammu trust the J&K police, the police of their own state, the state which they rule, and why are they calling for a CBI probe?
The same J&K police which is hailed as supremely courageous when they take on terrorists day after day, the J&K police which risks its lives caught in the cross-fire between militants and the forces, suddenly becomes incapable of investigation in the eyes of Hindu groups, simply because the accused are Hindus?
What if, hypothetically, the accused, instead of being Hindus, among them a Hindu police officer, was a Rohingya Muslim or a Kashmiri Muslim? Would the lawyers and politicians and civil society of Jammu marched on the street and attempted to protect and defend them in the same way? Or has the bottomless pit of hatred and prejudice created such a divide between “Hindu” Jammu and “Muslim” Kashmir that even the wrecked bloodied body of an eight year old child cannot bring people together to unitedly cry out for justice?
The reality of Jammu, always a Hindu bastion, nursing a sense of perpetual persecution at being part of a Muslim majority state, has once again revealed how the ghost of Mohammed Ali Jinnah who believed Hindus and Muslims can never live together, is laughing loud and long in Kashmir. It reveals how a combustible mix of violence and hatred has buried the Mahatma’s dream of Kashmir being the precious jewel in secular India’s crown.
Right wing apologists have not paused for breath. They are not willing to share a single word of grief or remorse over the eight year old’s death. The Prime Minister has broken his silence and made a general statement that justice will be delivered, but the ruling party has not expressed any condolences or sorrow or sympathy for the Bakherwal family. Instead social media armies scream about the media’s silence over the terrible rape in Assam and why “liberal” journalists are silent about the rape of a Hindu girl by a Muslim accused in Assam.
But did any ministers or Muslim politicians defend the rape accused in Assam? Was the tricolor unfurled and slogans raised defending the accused in Assam? Did political entities and religious groups take out marches and rallies in defence of the rape accused in Assam? No, instead Badruddin Ajmal, AIUDF MP and Muslim leader in Assam, roundly condemned the rape and the rape accused.
The reason why media and civil society is exploding with rage today is because of the manner in which the Kathua rapists and murders are being defended by members of the ruling party in Jammu. The reason why the filing of the charge-sheet has taken 3 months is because of the manner in which the rapists have been protected and shielded all this time. And what has been their cover? India’s brave tricolor and the holy name of Lord Rama. Oh what a shame, my countrymen and women!
Where is the strong condemnation of the rape by the local BJP unit in Jammu? Two BJP ministers in the Mehbooba Mufti government on camera seen addressing the vengeful mob. Instead, why didn’t they unite with Bakherwals to press for justice? That even the election agent of Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad supported the Jammu bandh and Congressmen are accused of being part of the Hindu Ekta manch protest only reveals how in a society divided by hate, its no longer a battle between BJP vs Congress but Hindu vs Muslim. Rahul Gandhi may take out a midnight candle light march in New Delhi, but what about his party’s Jammu unit on the ground? When will they take out a candle light march in Jammu?
Make no mistake, India today is a communal ticking bomb waiting to explode. We sit on a volcano of hate, with the blood-red lava leaking out in different parts of the country every now and then. And if while reading this article, you’re inclined to dismiss it as yet another lament from a bleeding-heart-libtard-sickular-liberal-feminist, then take a moment and read the chargesheet that the police have filed in the Kathua rape and murder case. It is a document that every Indian citizen should read for the inhumanity, the degradation, the moral collapse and unparalleled social transgression it reveals about the land of Mahatma Gandhi.