The Hindu ~ Friday April 13, 2018
No place for young girls
By Brinda Karat
In Kathua and Unnao, the common feature is the blatant support given by BJP leaders to those accused of rape
The child was just eight years old. The beautiful image showing her wide-eyed innocence, a semblance of a smile caught by the camera, is widely shared on the Internet. She looks even younger in the photograph. She belonged to the Bakherwal nomadic community, and went missing on January 10 from the camp site in Rasana village in Kathua, Jammu where she stayed with her family.
Her father registered the missing child case with the police on January 12. Her battered body was found on January 17. Six men were arrested, among them a special police officer, a retired revenue official and his family members; later two policemen were arrested for connivance and destruction of evidence. Three months later, on April 9, the Crime Branch of the Jammu and Kashmir Police, which took over the investigation, filed a chargesheet in court. Its contents have been widely reported.
Can any human being remain untouched, unmoved by the horrors the child had to face, depicted so graphically in the chargesheet? Is there anyone who will not be shaken with rage and anger against the extreme brutalities committed by the accused? They are accused of abducting her, sedating her, raping her in turn, inviting an associate from Meerut to "satisfy his lust," postponing the moment of her death because one of them "wanted to rape her" again.
But there are such people who are not only unmoved but who are straining every nerve and it would seem muscle to sabotage and prevent the processes of justice. These are not ordinary men. They are men who are Ministers in the State government, they are men who lead organisations, they are men who wear the black robes of lawyers, those who are supposed to serve the ends of justice.
For two months, ever since the arrests were made the area has been witness to mobilisations and agitations. These have been organised by the Hindu Ekta Manch, a platform set up by affiliates of the Sangh Parivar. What is their agitation about? One may have thought they were agitated because the horrific crime took place in the prayer room of the local temple. Were these men on the streets because they wanted more stringent punishment against those who defiled a temple prayer room with their dastardly acts?
Far from it. The Hindu Ekta Manch has been pursuing just one aim, to prove that the investigation is wrong, the arrests are wrong because all those arrested happen to be Hindus whereas the child victim belonged to a Muslim family.
It is not just the fringe elements involved. Two Ministers of the coalition government belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Forests Minister Lal Singh and Industries Minister Chander Parkash Ganga, had joined an agitation against the arrests. Lawyers, or a section of them, went on strike to prevent the police officials from filing the chargesheet. Yet none of them have been arrested. They have the patronage of their leaders in the BJP.
This blatant communalisation of cases of sexual assault has very serious implications for India. Imagine if ‘Nirbhaya' had happened to be Muslim, would the streets of Delhi have been filled not with young people demanding justice, but with Hindu Ekta Manch supporters protesting against the arrest of Hindus?
In Kathua, it is not only the processes of justice post the rape and murder which are being communalised and sought to be subverted. But shamefully, according to the chargesheet, communal considerations determined the selection of the victim too.
A deliberate plan?
The rape was a deliberate plan to terrorise the Bakherwal community to leave the area. The Bakherwals and the Gujjars, recognised as Scheduled Tribes, are Muslim by belief. The child was raped, going by the chargesheet, because she was a Muslim.
While the Gujjar communities do own land and a substantial section are involved in the dairy industry, the Bakherwals are a nomadic tribe who migrate along with their herds of animals to the Valley and Ladakh in summer and return to the forests of Jammu in winter. They have been camping in these forests for decades.
The resurgence of Hindutva ideologies and politics in Jammu led to a campaign against the presence of the Bakherwals and Gujjars and any permanent settlement for them, it was said, would alter the demography of the region to benefit Muslims. This utterly warped understanding of citizenship rights also led to another hypocrisy. Whereas in every other case the Sangh Parivar has been campaigning for the abolition of Article 370, in the case of the Bakherwal and Gujjar communities the Sangh Parivar has taken shelter under Article 370 to deprive these communities of their rights on forest land under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006. Thus whereas under the FRA the rights of the Bakherwals on forest land would have to be recognised, Article 370 prevents its automatic applicability in Jammu and Kashmir.
The Mehbooba Mufti government has rightly been criticised for not acting swiftly enough. Nor did she take any action against the Ministers of her coalition cabinet in spite of their objectionable role in supporting the wholly unjust communally triggered demonstration against justice for the child. Ms. Mufti has now publicly stated that her government will ensure that the case is followed up and that the guilty brought to book. One can only hope that considerations of power do not interfere with this public commitment. She should also ensure that the Bakherwal communities are given the land, implementing the spirit of the FRA.
As far as her Sangh Parivar partners are concerned, she should know that they have double standards as far as women's security is concerned. A communal reading of women's "izzat" is a potent weapon in the armoury of the Sangh Parivar. A typical method of the RSS mobilisations to further communal divisions is to use cases where the perpetrator of the crime happens to be a Muslim and the victim a Hindu, and to mobilise against the entire Muslim community. Where there are no such cases, rumours are spread. The dreadful communal violence in Muzaffarnagar started on a rumour deliberately spread of Hindu girls being harassed by boys who were Muslim. In Jamshedpur the same thing happened although there was no such case, as the police later confirmed. But in the large majority of cases, where the perpetrator and the victim belong to the same religion, what then is the role of the Sangh Parivar?
Over in Unnao
What is happening right now in Unnao in Uttar Pradesh? A 17-year-old had tried to file a case of rape against an MLA who belongs to the ruling BJP government. The alleged rape took place last June, but in spite of all her efforts, the police refused to file an FIR against the MLA. She was forced to stage a protest before the Chief Minister's house, but even that made no difference. On the contrary, the girl and her family were harassed. Her father died in police custody.
What would that young woman have faced traumatised, humiliated and then to see her own father being arrested and killed because she had dared to make a complaint against a powerful man, backed by the Chief Minister. This is enough to discourage any complaints of sexual harassment against men with powerful connections. It was only after mounting public outrage that the MLA's brother has been arrested for her father's death and an FIR filed against the MLA. However, he has still not been arrested and has the freedom to make outrageous and defamatory statements against the girl and her family.
In the Kathua and Unnao cases, the common feature is the blatant support given by BJP leaders and their Sangh Parivar partners to those accused of rape. India has seen the results of the marauding violence of "gau rakshaks". Now a new brand of politics has appeared of "rapist rakshaks". When Union Minister V.K. Singh tweets on the Kathua rape victim that "we failed her as humans", he should clarify that the "we" in his tweet means all his colleagues in Jammu and U.P., who are even today standing not with the victim but with the accused whether they can be considered human is an open question.
The Beti Bachao Beti Padhao campaign and the Prime Minister's words on "women's empowerment" get exposed as mere rhetoric when perpetrators of such horrific crimes are protected by those in power and he remains silent.
*Brinda Karat is a member of the CPI(M) Polit Bureau and a former Rajya Sabha MP
Wednesday April 11 , 2018
Hindu ‘nationalists' defend accused rapists and shame India
by Barkha Dutt
An Indian social activist holds a placard in February 2017 during a protest against a rape at Hauz Khas village in New Delhi. (Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images)
Dear India: Where are our candlelight marches, our outrage and our mass protests? Why have we been so muted in our response to the reported gang rapes of two girls, an 8-year-old child and a teenager? And no, our lazy tweets and our commiserating hashtags do not count.
This week, two cases of rape and murder one of a shepherd girl in Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir, the other in Unnao, in India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh have been moments of acute national shame. They have proved how the powerful conspire to enable and protect sexual abusers. Worse, they have exposed the ugliest underbelly of India. Political and societal responses to these charges of rape have revealed entrenched misogyny, religious hatred and a shameful class bias. They have held up a mirror to the worst in us.
We must confront this: The India we thought had changed has not changed at all. In 2012, a massive popular uprising against the gang rape of a medical student in Delhi, dubbed the "Nirbhaya" (fearless) case, led to a tough new set of anti-rape laws. It was considered an inflection point in our conversation about gender. Now we know that not much is better or different. Not our politicians, not our hate-mongers and sadly not even we, the people.
For the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the government of Narendra Modi, the cases have been especially embarrassing, given the prime minister's oft-quoted slogan of "Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao" ("Save our Girls; Educate our Girls"). In the Unnao case, one of the accused rapists is a legislator of the BJP. The victim tried to commit suicide outside the house of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, a saffron-robed monk once billed as a possible successor to Modi. She alleged inaction by the state administration on her complaint, which she had filed last year. Instead, her father was arrested and died in police custody. The hospital report confirmed that he suffered 18 assault injuries, and he is on tape, not long before he died, naming the man whose goons beat him up: the brother of the lawmaker accused of the rape.
In the Kathua case, you cannot read the police charge sheet without feeling nauseous. It details how a little child from the Bakherwal nomadic community had taken her family's horses to graze in a nearby forest and never returned. The charges say she was repeatedly drugged, taken hostage and hidden inside a temple. One of the accused rapists (eight men have been arrested in connection with the case, including local police officers) was reportedly " invited" from Meerut, hundreds of miles away, to participate. The child was strangled with her own scarf; a stone was then slammed on her head to "make sure that the victim [was] dead," according to the charges.
There is a photograph of her, smiling, wide-eyed and full of hope, in anticipation of a life yet to come. And there is a second photograph of her defaced body abandoned in the forest. You cannot look at the two pictures together without looking away almost instantly. The police say the rape and murder were part of a plot to " dislodge" the shepherd community, which is Muslim, from the village. The case quickly took a hideous communal twist, with a self-appointed Hindu group (named the Hindu Ekta Manch, or Forum for Hindu Unity) staging marches in defense of the accused rapists, sounding nationalist slogans and waving the national flag defiling all that the flag stands for. Two BJP ministers in the Jammu and Kashmir government also criticized the police's investigation. Some local Congress leaders also criticized the police action. Worse, a mob of lawyers blocked law enforcement officials when they arrived at court to file the charges, again seeking refuge behind the flag and slogans. Their demand was to take the case away from the state police and hand it over to a central agency. This was a hideous sectarian politicization of a child's rape.
The silence of the top women ministers in the Modi cabinet on both the Kathua and the Unnao cases has been disturbing, and only undermines their track record as trailblazers. Women hold key portfolios of defense, foreign affairs, and information and broadcasting, among others. But what good are these path-breaking positions of authority if the women don't speak for female victims of violence and abuse? Not that men shouldn't lead by example. In 2012, the Nirbhaya gang rape in Delhi raised similar questions about whether it made any difference that a female politician governed Delhi and that the then-ruling party the Congress was helmed by a woman.
Finally, we must reflect on our own responses. Sure, Indians are angry. We are tweeting furiously and writing posts on Facebook. But our class bias, especially in the media, has been unveiled. The Delhi rape of 2012 was close to the bone; it could have been any one of us or those who watched and read us. So the coverage that case got was instantaneous and intense. It has taken months for these cases to get to prime time. And even so, how many of us will move beyond our keyboards and spill over onto the streets as we did for Nirbhaya?
Kathua and Unnao are now known not just nationally but internationally. And yet, some will complain about this column appearing in a "foreign" newspaper. How "anti-national," I will be told on social media by people missing the irony. These Hindu "nationalists" who spoke for accused rapists have shamed India, our constitution and, of course, Hinduism.
Friday April 13 , 2018
In India, Modi government fumbles its response to gang-rape cases
by Barkha Dutt
Supporters of India's main opposition Congress party participate in a candlelight vigil in Ahmedabad on Friday to protest the rapes of an 8-year-old girl and teenager. (Amit Dave/Reuters)
On Friday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi finally spoke out on the two gang rapes gripping India this week one of an 8-year-old and the other of a teenager. Millions of Indians have been shocked and saddened that the men accused of raping the children were being protected instead of prosecuted. Modi unequivocally promised that no one would be spared. On the same evening, a legislator accused in one of the rape complaints in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh, was arrested. In the other case in Kathua, Jammu and Kashmir, two state ministers of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were sacked for defending the suspected rapists. One of the ministers was on tape exhorting a mob to demand justice not for the little shepherd girl who was kidnapped, raped and then strangled inside a temple – but for the men who did this to her.
Despite the fact that one of the cases is three months old and the other happened almost a year ago, protests over the cases reached critical mass only this week. Modi's intervention, though woefully delayed, is welcome. But that his words have come so late remains bewildering. When Modi finally spoke, the moment appeared as having been forced by a furious public. His diffidence was compounded by coarse "whataboutery" by many right-wing supporters on social media, as well as the initial silence of all the women ministers in his cabinet.
In delaying his response, Modi was repeating the serious political mistakes of the Congress party. Modi's predecessor Manmohan Singh was always mocked for being the silent prime minister. The Congress leader governed India for 10 years and handled the scandals of his second term with reticent helplessness. That said, he could not have been more different from the current prime minister. Modi has been the master of the message, a superb orator with a keen instinct for the image and the narrative. One of the reasons for his historic win was that he made the Congress look like stragglers in a new age of political communication. And unlike the incumbents he defeated, Modi was sure-footed and agile. If Manmohan Singh was reserved, Modi, too, does especially not like the English-language media. He sees us as hostile to him and has often pushed back against opinions of liberal journalists. However, Modi has almost always used his sharp political acumen to bypass the mainstream press and talk directly to the people as needed.
Until Friday, as the rage kept mounting, there was no such straight talk. Meanwhile the Congress, perhaps having finally learned from its decimation in the 2014 elections, is borrowing from Modi's playbook.
Late Thursday evening, Congress President Rahul Gandhi suddenly announced that he would lead a midnight street vigil to demand justice for the victims of Kathua and Unnao. Gandhi has also had to learn the hard way that in the information age, ivory tower politics and long silences are destined to fail. Modi's success has forced Gandhi to change. And like the prime minister, he has also understood that you don't actually have to talk to established reporters to make your point you can seize the moment and script your own story. Indeed Thursday, Gandhi was at Delhi's India Gate, with his sister and other party workers ensuring that the media remained focused on his march for the women. In contrast, the BJP was left to explain why its party men were marching for rapists and murders. That same day, the prime minister was on a day-long fast to "protest" the opposition's stalling of Parliament; in a first for a politician who usually grabs the headlines, it barely made any impact. By focusing on an unrelated issue, rather than the gruesome rapes of two young girls, the BJP government grossly miscalculated what people care more about.
In many ways, Kathua and Unnao have been the Modi government's "Nirbhaya" moment. In 2012, the grotesque gang rape of a 23-year-old medical student (she came to be known as "Nirbhaya" or "Fearless") in the capital brought thousands of citizens onto the streets. The Congress administration mishandled the mass protests, with the police even firing tear gas to bring the crowds under control. Like the BJP now, the Congress then misread the public mood and the depth of the disgust, even among those who may have been its supporters.
In 2012, there was enormous debate on the absence of requisite sensitivity from the Congress government, in which women held powerful positions ( the Delhi chief minister and the Congress president then were both women). Today the otherwise self-assured female ministers in the BJP government have not taken the lead in speaking. Ironically, the ‘silent" Manmohan Singh did deliver a special televised national address to appeal for calm from the student protesters. This week, Modi chose to make his comments as part of a larger address at a public event unconnected to the rapes.
Many of Modi's supporters have angrily asked journalists why the prime minister of a country should comment on every rape, in a country where more than 34,000 rape cases were registered in 2016. They entirely miss the point. Of course every rape is an unspeakable act against humanity; but the Kathua rape case and Nirbhaya before it, are now both national symbols and rallying points. It is impossible to look at the smiling photo of that little girl who was killed in Kathua and not shudder at the thought of what happened to her. Or how you may feel if it happened to your own child.
What set the Kathua and Unnao cases apart is not only the brazen defense of the accused perpetrators including from some functionaries of India's ruling party , but the cover of nationalism and Hinduism to do so.
The prime minister's words may have contained the damage for now. But the delay was not just poor messaging to victims of sexual violence. It was bad politics too.
Wednesday April 11 , 2018
An 8-year-old's rape and murder inflames tensions between Hindus and Muslims in India
by Marwa Eltagouri
Protests erupt in Kashmir over rape and murder of 8-year-old in northern India
: The rape and murder of 8-year-old Asifa Bano in Kathua, India, inflamed tensions between Hindus and Muslims and lead to violent April 11 protests in Kashmir. (Reuters)
She was an 8-year-old girl who, while grazing her horses in a meadow in northern India in January, followed a man into the forest. Days later, Asifa Bano's small, lifeless body was recovered there.
Police say that Asifa was given sedatives and, for three days, raped several times by different men. Asifa's strangled body was eventually found Jan. 17. Police say she would have been killed sooner had one man not insisted on waiting so that he could rape her a final time.
To ensure she was dead, Asifa's killers hit her twice on the head with a stone, according to charging documents filed by police in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and published by the Indian news website Firstpost.
In the months since, Asifa's death has brought anguish to Kathua, the small town where she was killed. But it has also brought division. Asifa's case is the latest example of India's religious friction: As some denounce sexual violence and demand justice for Asifa's family, others demand justice for the men accused.
The eight men accused in connection to the rape and murder are Hindu. Asifa was a Muslim nomad, part of the Bakarwal tribe. Asifa's father, Mohammad Yusuf Pujwala, told the New York Times that he believes his daughter was killed by the Hindu men for the sole purpose of driving her people away. To add to the volatility of Asifa's case, police say she was killed in a Hindu temple, and that the temple's custodian plotted her death as a way to torment the Bakarwals.
Asifa was the pawn. "A child of only 8 years of age who ... became a soft target," police said.
Anti-Muslim demonstrators burn tires and shout slogans during a protest Wednesday in Kathua, India, in support of an investigation into the rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl. (Mukesh Gupta/Reuters)
On Monday, a chaotic scene unfolded outside a courthouse in Jammu and Kashmir, as a mob of Hindu attorneys tried to physically stop police from filing charges against the men accused. The attorneys in a statement argued for a federal investigation, stating that the government had failed to "understand the sentiments of the people." Police still managed to complete the paperwork and charged the men, who include four policemen and a retired government official.
Protests have now spread across much of Kathua. Hindu activists argue that some of the police officers who worked on the case are, like Asifa, Muslims and cannot be trusted, according to the Times. Dozens of Hindu women have helped block a highway and organize a hunger strike.
"They are against our religion," Bimla Devi, a protester, told the New York Times. She said that if the accused men weren't freed, "we will burn ourselves."
The lawyers, along with a group affiliated with India's ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, fight on the basis of religious prejudice, even though BJP supporters are vocal opponents of sexual violence. After the brutal gang rape and murder of a medical student in New Delhi in 2012, the government promised to introduce legal reforms and support services to help victims of sexual violence. To an extent, it did for example, the government amended the law to prosecute children older than 16 as adults in rape and murder cases. (Not much more has changed for rape victims, however, according to a November report by Human Rights Watch).
Notable BJP members have asked the case be moved out of the state police's jurisdiction and into that of the Central Bureau of Investigation, claiming the agency would act neutrally. The bureau, however, reports to the BJP-led government in New Delhi.
Asifa's case has shaken the state's Legislative Assembly. Weeks after her body was found, lawmakers still questioned the police's behavior in the days after Asifa disappeared: Police waited two days to file a report after Asifa disappeared, for example, and did not alert newspapers until days after she was killed, according to the Asia Times.
"The screams and cries of the girl were heard by neighbors. Why was there such a delay by police?" lawmaker Shamima Firdous said a few weeks after Asifa's body was found, according to the Asia Times.
Talib Hussain, a Bakarwal social activist working on behalf of Asifa's family, told the New York Times that Bakarwal nomads for generations have leased land from Hindu farmers so their animals can graze during the winter. In recent years, however, Hindus in the Kathua area have campaigned against the nomads. Believed to be at the campaign's helm is the accused custodian, Sanji Ram.
"His poison has been spreading," Hussain told the Times. "When I was young, I remember the fear Sanji Ram's name invoked in Muslim women. If they wanted to scare each other, they would take Sanji Ram's name, since he was known to misbehave with Bakarwal women."
Hussain could not be immediately reached for comment by The Washington Post.
Feelings of suspicion and animosity between the two communities run so deep that when Asifa didn't return from the meadow, her parents instantly feared she'd encountered danger. And when the Bakarwal nomads retrieved Asifa's body for her burial, "some baton-wielding goons appeared at the graveyard asking us not to bury her there," Hussain told the Asia Times.
The "goons," he said, feared that if Asifa was buried on their land, it would forever belong to Muslims.
Marwa Eltagouri is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post. She previously worked as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, where she covered crime, immigration and neighborhood change.