After Kathua and Unnao, time's up
If the horror of the crimes fail to make people revisit the toxicity of their political ideology or push us to stand together, we should admit that the eight-year-old girl’s blood is on our hands and she has been killed by politics
There are tipping points everywhere on the cusp of change in history. All massive overhauls are preceded by mass movements and by horrendous crimes. In the past few days, another such tipping point has been reached with the news of two incidents of rape — one in Jammu and Kashmir’s (J&K) Kathua and another in Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao. It’s a rare sight to see people holding candlelight vigils on streets because, as shameful as the fact may be, sexual violence against women is fairly common. What has shocked people the most about these two incidents is that they have been carried out by chauvinist, nationalist forces under a tacit understanding that they will be let off. And that is why in both the incidents, the people involved in the crime have operated with impunity under the Right-wing’s and the tricolour’s canopy.
In UP, the state administration worked hand in glove with the accused (BJP MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar) to hound the victim’s family. And in Kathua, an eight-year-old was abducted, drugged and raped before being killed to drive away the nomadic Muslim community that had settled there. The murder was then followed by a protest march, where people carried a national flag and showed solidarity with the accused in the presence of two Cabinet ministers from J&K. The Kathua case especially managed to shake the conscience of the nation because it is not just another rape case in the long list of incidents of sexual violence against women, but because it was politically motivated where the accused watched, sought out and kidnapped a little girl and used rape as a tool to spread communal hatred.
Even as the country and its children were out on streets, demanding greater safety and justice for the victims, the person who took over the throne with the promise of ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’ chose to observe a long-drawn silence. His supporters said that the Prime Minister cannot be held responsible for everything that happens in any part of the country — Pehlu Khan, the Dalits who were flogged in Una, Mohammad Akhlaq, Junaid and many others who have been at the receiving end of hate crimes perpetrated by BJP’s foot soldiers — and in a way, the statement that came from Narendra Modi bore testimony to that fact. It had no mention of the word ‘rape’ or its synonyms and placed the entire blame on society.
Ideologies are spawned by and for people. They are created on the basis of an inexplicable faith that it will have takers and it becomes a success when it resonates with a group. But then, if you look at history, it is the followers who have been responsible for making ideologies obsolete. With this incident, I think the time has come for Hindutva’s takers to evaluate their ideology and pick a side. The PM may not have been present in either Unnao or Kathua to give a go-ahead, but he is responsible for doing little to change the impression that the self-proclaimed saffron army can operate with impunity. A leader who has been elected to the constitutional post that Modi holds has a responsibility to address people’s concerns, including those who did not vote for him.
Had the public’s response not been frenzied, the two incidents would have probably gone unnoticed. The Kathua rape incident, anyway, started eliciting outrage after a chargesheet was filed two months after the incident took place and the story was circulated on social media. It has also gained more traction than the Unnao incident probably because the pictures that accompanied the story: a little girl with big eyes and a pair of pigtails and the gory details of how she was confined in a Devisthan, drugged, raped several times before being bludgeoned to death.
Some people have also taken a strong exception to the fact that pictures of her mutilated, dead body were circulated on the Internet. There is no reason that a society that still subscribes to patriarchal mindset and is hence, complicit in the acts of violence committed against women, needs to be protected from such gory details and visuals. Every society has its own standards of what would be considered horrendous. With a population of 1.3 billion, India has a pretty high threshold. Tragedies don’t melts our hearts everyday because they are commonplace. The fact that our consciousness is so sedated that only jarring and gory details of a crime will make us look out of our cosy corners leaves one with little choice. It’s important that such incidents make us realise that life cannot and should not go on as usual.
We all need to share the blame for what these girls had to endure in Unnao and Kathua. It makes one realise that six years after a 23-year-old woman’s gangrape shook the nation and led to major changes in the legislative framework, little has changed on the ground. In order to accord justice, many are demanding death sentence for the perpetrators, some are advocating barbaric punishments in line with the barbarity of the crime. It might serve as a deterrent, yes. However, it will do little to change the society’s mindset that continues to look at women’s bodies as battlefields. Justice cannot be done nor it will bring closure. The law should take its course but all it can do is set an example, assure people that the rule of law prevails. The real course correction needs to happen in our mindsets.
The ball now is in the courts of those who have been, so far, ardently supporting the Hindutva politics. If the horror of the crime fails to make them revisit the toxicity of this ideology or push us to stand together, we should admit that the eight-year-old girl’s blood is on our hands and she has been killed by politics.
Four years ago, a strong, decisive leader took over the reins of the country. He rode on a wave that promised change and a viable alternative to a government that was widely perceived to be not responsive to the country’s needs. And a change was ushered. It has happened by and by but with the execution of the Kathua rape and murder, hate and bigotry have permeated the very fabric of the country and also enjoy sanction from the government.
The biggest challenge that the country faces now has little to do with getting the victims justice. Our challenge would be to fight the poison spread in the veins of our society. How do we reverse what has been done already? If we choose to stay silent today, if we get a good night’s sleep, we will never be able to wash the blood off our hands.