Kathua, the case of misplaced outrage.
On the morning of 18th January, Mian Altaf, an influential Gujjar leader in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, waved an Urdu newspaper that had printed a photograph of Asifa Bano with a news item of the eight year old’s gory gang-rape. No one paid much attention to the story.
It was only recently that the groundswell of outrage against the rape grew and protests erupted on social media. The fact that it has taken so long for Asifa to get national attention highlights how difficult the fight for justice still remains for rape victims when the accused enjoy political power or patronage.
The girl from the Gujjar-Bakarwal community in Rasana was abducted in January, held captive in a local temple, drugged, raped repeatedly by at least three men, and then strangled. Her body was found in the forests on January 17th, a week after she went missing.
The charge sheet of the case names eight accusers and puts 60-year-old Sanji Ram, custodian of the temple, as the mastermind behind this rape. It goes on to say that Ram had hatched the plan to terrorise and dislodge the Muslim nomads from the Hindu-majority area where the girl lived. Asifa’s house is now locked. Nobody seems to know where the family that belongs to the nomadic Muslim tribe has gone. Seems like Sanji Ram’s purpose has been served.
Soon after the first arrests were made, hundreds of people, under the aegis of Hindu Ekta Manch, rallied in defense of the accused, thereby revealing the volatile religious fault lines. Those defending the accused include Lal Singh and Prakash Chandar Ganga, both of whom are Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ministers in the Mehbooba Mufti government. Along with them, The Jammu Bar Association on Wednesday protested against the crime branch probe as they thought it was ‘targeting the Dogra community’ in the state. To ensure neutrality in view of the Hindu-Muslim polarisation, the state government has appointed two Sikh special public prosecutors for this case.
It is ironic that slogans like ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ are being used in such rallies, even as Gujjars and Bakarwals have in the last 29 years of political turmoil in the Valley remained loyal to New Delhi, only to be refused cremation in their own land. The locals of Rasana did not even allow the Asifa’s family to bury her bruised body. It had to be buried in a neighbouring village where her relatives live.
In these contexts, like every rape, this case is heavily political. Sanji Ram decided (allegedly) to kill Asifa in order to instill fear in her community, who he feared would over number Hindus in the area. The Hindu Ekta Manch and Bar Council came out in protests because the accused were Hindus. This case has gathered celebrity attention, but those ‘placards’ are apolitical in nature. They ignore the politics of region and religion. They reduce the identity of Asifa to a young girl, instead of a Bakarwal Muslim girl who belongs to a marginalised nomadic tribe and is hence more vulnerable, especially when she is in a Hindu majoritarian area of Jammu and Kashmir. Yes, a rape is a rape, it is a grave problem, but to solve any problem, we have to acknowledge its various facets. By ignoring the communal angle of this tragedy we are being dishonest.
We must politicise it because, guess what, it is political.
In a U-turn, the Jammu Bar Association has announced its decision to organise a candle light march for the eight-year-old girl. Dear Bar Council, we don’t want your mild candle light marches, we want the rage full fire to burn in your chest against something as heinous as rape. You questioned the work of your own colleagues and pitted the national flag against the dead girl’s shroud. Your hypocrisy and fundamentalism will not be absolved with a symbolic protest. We don’t need your obligatory march, we need your apology.
Unnao, the story of a feisty survivor and her complicit neighbours.
In June 2017, a 17-year-old girl from Unnao alleged that she was gang-raped for more than a week by Kuldeep Singh Sengar, a BJP Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA), and his accomplices. However, when they tried to file the First Person Report (FIR), the case registered by the Unnao police did not name the MLA.
The survivor’s family eventually approached the chief judicial magistrate to finally get an FIR lodged against the MLA. Even then the Unnao police took no action in the case. On April 3rd, the survivor’s father was thrashed by Sengar’s brother and his men. The police did file an FIR but didn’t name the MLA’s brother despite video evidence. Instead on the same day, the police arrested the survivor’s father himself and booked him under the Arms Act. A few days later he died in police custody. The post-mortem report listed multiple injuries on his body.
It was only after the survivor tried to immolate herself outside Adityanath’s residence on 8th April that the administration and the media took notice of the case. “I was raped. I have been running pillar to post for the last one year but no one is listening to me. I want to see all of them arrested, otherwise, I will kill myself,” The Indian Express quoted the survivor.
On 12th April, the Uttar Pradesh government registered a case against the MLA for kidnapping, rape, and under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO). On 14th April the arrest was made.
All this while the survivor and her family are living in a government guest house as they fear for their safety. It has been almost a year since the survivor and her family are fighting for justice. They didn’t give up. We cannot even imagine the amount of pressure she must be subjected to, we cannot even imagine her trauma after the death of her father, and we cannot even fathom the strength of her bravery. She didn’t give up and we, as fellow humans, should be grateful for her courage, for it shows us how to fight against all odds.
She shared the location with her rapist, everyone in the area knew what had happened, everyone saw how her father was assaulted, but no one said anything. People like Sengar seek their impunity from our compliance. He was a bahubali leader who won four times. Who elected him four times? Us, the people. According to reports, Senger earned his social standing by giving away freebies in his constituency. Next time when someone like him offers us gifts or favours, will we accept them with wide smiles and marigold garlands? Will we ask him tough questions when he comes to our threshold with folded hands?
Despite the bad history of Senger, the Modi government accepted him in his party. Yogi Aadityanath’s administration who claims to curb the Jungle Raj didn’t give to hoots about the victim until she caught media attention. Next time when we vote I hope we remember what people like Senger do. Next time when we see someone struggling against the powerful, I hope we extend our solidarity. I hope we become more brave, more political, and most of all, I hope we stay angry, very angry.
Feature Image Credits: NDTV and ANI