About three months ago, eight-year old Asifa belonging to a nomadic Muslim community of the Bakharwal Gujjars in Jammu, was abducted and drugged, brutally gang-raped over and over and finally murdered by eight Hindu men in a remote Hindu temple in Kathua, Jammu. In case you are wondering why I have used the word Hindu repeatedly, it’s simply because that’s what this is about. A disgusting political and communal action intended to create communal tensions and drive the Bakharwals out of Jammu.
The ethnocentric right wing Hindutva forces’ (basically BJP’s) hatred towards the Muslim community and their acts of extermination in past is no news to us (when in doubt, always remember the Gujarat Riots of 2002). The eight year old girl was used by members of a Hindu political group in Kathua for the same reason: to remove the Muslims from the community. Those who have been following the news closely will also know that these Bakharwals have been facing the wrath of the local Hindu political forces in Jammu for years, now in the label of cow vigilantism. Right from the main accused Sanji Ram, who was the keys keeper of the temple in which Asifa was kept and raped, to the Hindu juvenile rapist who was involved in order to seek revenge for having been beaten up by the Bakharwals in the past- the rape of Asifa has a clear political agenda: to remove the Muslim nomads from Kathua.
Of course, like the thousands of other rape cases happening across India and especially in the highly conflicted area of J&K, Asifa’s news also couldn’t make it to the mainstream media because rape is so normalized now that the media don’t want to cover it unless it’s ‘sensational enough’. Last week when this incident caught the media and hence the nation’s attention, Indians all across the nation expressed their moral outrage –while some against this rape culture that has been so normalised in our day to day lives, many others including prominent BJP MLAs from Jammu like Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga expressed their outrage against the arresting of those dominant Hindu men who had been ‘wrongly framed in order to create communal tensions’. This behaviour of the Hindutva groups is not surprising. What came off as a shock for many was when the Jammu High Court Bar Association went into protest that the evidence provided was not sufficient enough to prove the accused guilty and that the case must be handled by the CBI. The lawyers, who are meant to safeguard the rights of the people and uphold the constitution, did not allow the charge sheet against the accused to be filed and only slowed the legal processing.
The more I learned about the case, the more grew the desire in me to castrate the eight rapists in public and gun them down and all those other Hindu fanatics who support the rapists. I honestly didn’t know how to react. So I cried, a lot. I cried because I felt helpless about not being able to do anything. What good does it really do to express your solidarity in a city protest or just pen down your thoughts (like what I am doing right now). Yes, when the Nirbhaya gang rape happened in 2012, the nation stood together against those rapists through the protests that happened across the nation and were able to successfully persuade the government in bringing justice to Nirbhaya. But that was just one time. What we need is not another Nirbhaya or Asifa to happen in the country so that we are able to persuade the government in punishing the rapists. What we need is a change. A change in this rape culture that we, as a woman, as a mother, as a daughter, as a husband, as a father, as an Indian, have actualised in our lives. And yes, this change is not a one-night revolution. But this revolution is not impossible to happen. This cultural transformation requires us as citizens to transcend all caste, class and religion barriers and come together to spread awareness about this rape culture we are living in. We should condemn forces, state institutions and officials that use rape as a tool to instill fear and achieve their communal ends. What we need in our society is a more brutal punishment for the rapist that will make a man- juvenile or not, stop and think before he even takes a second glance at a woman or girl in the wrong way. It is time all of us come out of this safe cocoon that we have woven around ourselves in the name of patriarchy or religion and come together to question the society we currently live in- to ensure that another Asifa or Nirbhaya does not happen in our name.