The rape and murder of eight-year-old Asifa in Kathua is one of the most macabre, gruesome crimes in a long list of atrocities against women in India. Such incidents have become a daily nightmare, and some reactions make us wonder if we are descending into an archaic tribalism.
It is shocking that some found a chance to play politics and inject religion into this crime that stirred the nation’s psyche. The PM was right when he said the incident had shamed the whole country. After Modi proclaimed that none would be spared, two BJP ministers in the J&K government (both recent Congress defectors), who’d defended the accused, lost their jobs.
The rape of a young girl in Unnao, UP, allegedly by a BJP MLA, and the murder of the girl’s father in police custody, hit the headlines simultaneously. It seemed that only criminals could make it big in life, and that such success was merely licence to further their profession. The BJP again took tough measures: the accused was expelled from the party and is now in CBI custody. The PM spoke out at the earliest opportunity, so that there would be no scope for politics in such a heinous crime; it has now become routine to draw Modi’s name even into incidents which are simply local in nature.
There are conflicting reports about the Kathua crime. Initially, it was attributed to the girl’s relatives. Then, it was reported that she had been held captive by a priest at a religious site, and that local policemen were involved. The post-mortem report did not reveal rape. Many plots and theories have been spun into the crime since it occurred in January. Religious outfits sprang into action to protect the accused. There were suggestions that the combative politics of the ruling coalition, social distress and the communal divide also came into play. It was alleged that Muslim officers from Kashmir tried to frame Hindus for the crime. Kathua locals and a section of the J&K Bar Association also jumped into the fray, provoking a warning from the SC.
It is unacceptable and unjustified to condone the heartless, satanic act with a veil of religious anarchism. The most appalling audacity is to give it the colour of Hinduism. This is the most cultured, peace-loving and tolerant of religions, and it places the dignity of women on the highest pedestal. Like the misguided cow vigilantes, those who rape and murder a child in the name of religion should be dealt with harshly. The Congress in Jammu, with an eye on the votebank, also took a wishy-washy stance. As far as ensuring justice for Asifa is concerned, no religious considerations should stand in the way. “The daughters of Kathua and Unnao will get justice at any cost,” declared the PM in response to a nationwide outcry. With the general election only a year away, political parties will naturally try to get as much mileage as possible out of this. But the sabka saath sabka vikas promise of the Modi government is to deliver justice for all.
Is there any aspect of the Kathua crime that needs reappraisal? It is as clear as day that the perpetrators deserve no mercy. It would be unimaginable even in the Stone Age for somebody to get away with such a beastly act. In 21st-century India, such criminals should be ostracised and socially shamed. They should not be allowed to walk free by donning the façade of religion.
This should also not be allowed to strain relations between the BJP and the PDP. A crime against humanity cannot be an issue on which parties stand separate.
There is a context to this. The BJP was voted into power in 2014 when atrocities against women, lawlessness and corruption had become a way of life under the UPA. Narendra Modi had made beti bachao, beti padhao a major plank of his campaign. Since then, the Modi government has initiated more schemes and done more than any other government in the past to empower women. The Opposition’s approach is to paint the Modi government as being no different from previous ones. This was articulated by Rahul Gandhi when he led a midnight march to the India Gate on April 13. The concern was less about the plight of the victims of Unnao and Kathua than it was about scoring brownie points.
It will take time for the whole truth to come out. Social media is full of stories pointing at the Congress having had a hand in creating the mayhem surrounding the Kathua crime. There are people who vouch that the priest, temple and Hindu angle are later interpolations to a straightforward crime episode. The girl was orphaned and living with her aunt, and the simmering feeling in the region against the Rohingyas, who were settled there by Ghulam Nabi Azad when he was CM, also had its role to play. The two controversial leaders, Lal Singh and Chandar Prakash Ganga, were in the Congress before they joined the BJP. They are said to be loyal to Azad, and nobody knows how they suddenly became Hindutva votaries. Is Azad planning to re-enter the arena in Jammu? The crime apart, the politics being played out in its name needs to be keenly watched. But it will be too late when the full inquiry reveals the real culprits.
(The writer was editor of Organiser, and is a member of the BJP’s national committees on publications.)