Shaken to the core in Kathua

The chilling details of the Kathua rape are important, but so is the disturbing politics behind it

Updated - April 19, 2018 08:20 pm IST

Published - April 19, 2018 02:02 am IST

The tragic and gruesome rape and killing of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua, Jammu, with a blatantly communal agenda (as suggested by the details that have come to light in the charge sheet filed by the Jammu and Kashmir police), and the events following it, demonstrate a descent into the deepest levels of depravity. This is shocking even for India where a swiftly accumulating record of lynchings, rape and brutalisation on the grounds of caste and religion is being allowed to happen not only with impunity but also, and often, with support and protection from members of the political establishment.

Overcoming obstacles

In this case, a minor belonging to a marginalised community of Bakherwals, a nomadic tribe based in the Pir Panjal and Himalayan mountains, was abducted, raped and murdered in January this year. An investigation was launched and completed with the efforts of several courageous members of the legal community and law-enforcing agencies against heavy odds, and threats by and interference from ministers of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP); the People’s Democratic Party (PDP)-BJP combine is in power in the State. Even as the charge sheet detailing the pre-meditated crime was to be submitted before the chief judicial magistrate, lawyers of the State called a strike in defence of the accused. Members of the Bar Associations of Kathua and Jammu prevented the State police from filing the charge sheet and it could only be handed to the judicial magistrate at his home. Lawyers, actively helped by the right-wing Hindu Ekta Manch, carried out protests in support of special police officer Deepak Khajuria, one of the accused in the case. These protests, which went on for a month, in fact defiled the tricolour by using it to defend the men accused of rape and murder. Finally, eight people, including two special police officers, were arrested in connection with the crime.

Worse still, several members of the PDP-BJP coalition supported their conduct and sought to protect those responsible for this horrendous crime. They included two BJP Ministers who joined rallies in support of the Kathua accused, but who resigned in the wake of public outrage expressed through social media and street protests. Their resignation rather than dismissal or expulsion from the party leaves the door open for them to come back to the government.

A generic assurance

Last week, almost three months after the incident, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, broke his silence amid widespread national and international outrage, and assured the country that no culprit would be spared and that justice would be done. But this statement has little meaning and even less conviction as it was a generic statement of assurance blanking out the specifics of the Kathua or Unnao cases (in the latter, a BJP MLA is accused of rape). Contrast this with Mr. Modi’s statement in 2013, in the aftermath of the ghastly Nirbhaya rape case, when, as the prime ministerial candidate, he exhorted the people of Delhi not to forget her while casting their vote for the Delhi Assembly polls on December 4.

The response of the Prime Minister has been wholly inadequate and as always a case of too little too late. Nevertheless, the mainstream media applauded his belated intervention by giving him full credit for silencing his critics with the resignation of the two Ministers even though there has been little evidence, over nearly three months, of government action to prosecute the perpetrators or their supporters of violence. What is more, PDP legislators and senior party leaders in Srinagar “praised the role played by the BJP in the Kathua case”. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti thanked the Prime Minister for “defusing the situation” and claimed that the “unfortunate incident had united the nation”. Having taken no responsibility for the deplorable series of events herself, she now proclaims that the Kathua case has united the nation. Both responses should worry us for what it means for a democratic, just and egalitarian order.

Part of a pattern

Mr. Modi’s non-specific and banal avowal of justice for the victims appears to be an attempt to brush aside the communal nature of the crime which is writ large in the charge sheet of the Kathua case. Rape was part of a plan to scare and dislodge the Bakherwal community from the Rasana area in Jammu, by sections of the Hindu community. This becomes apparent when interests based on community or religion are invoked to support the perpetrators and intimidate the family of the victim to drop the case. It is not a coincidence that this pattern of communal violence, its valorisation and the total lack of justice for the victims was established in Gujarat in 2002. The Kathua case replicates the Gujarat model of using rape as a weapon of communal hate and ethnic cleansing to threaten and drive out, in this case, a Muslim tribal community.

The chilling details of the Kathua rape are important but the politics behind it is no less so. It is communal politics and the environment of impunity allowed by the ruling party and the public support they have garnered that should concern us. The culture of majoritarian hostility and incessant propaganda let loose by the Sangh Parivar has emboldened communal elements to pursue their politics of hate. Those involved in such crimes knew that their actions and behaviour would be condoned by the political leadership which has indeed let them off the hook by stating that the two leaders who joined the rallies in support of the accused were “misled and misguided” by a few people.

The most disturbing aspect is the fact that the perpetrators and their supporters passed off such reprehensible acts as ‘nationalism’ by packaging their immorality in the tiranga . It is not only the BJP’s rationalisations and whataboutery which has been evident from the responses of party leaders but also the climate of hate that provides the social sanction and legitimacy for such unspeakable crimes. The Prime Minister’s feeble response in the aftermath of these events does nothing to reassure communities that are repeatedly targeted under this government. It only reveals the disdain that BJP cadres have adopted for constitutional values and which the leadership seems to condone.

Zoya Hasan is Professor Emerita, Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, and Farida Abdulla Khan is retired Professor, Department of Educational Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia

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