Fact: For generations, nomadic groups and their herds have wandered across the plains and hills of northern India. Fact: During the winter, they lease pastures from Hindu farmers for their animals to graze. Fact: In recent years, certain vested interests, posing as ‘Hindu’ leaders have been carrying out intimidation campaigns against the nomads in Jammu.
The girl was reported missing three months ago on Jan. 14 after she went out to graze horses. According to police, an unknown man took her and force-fed her with sleeping pills. She was then locked up in a deserted temple and two men repeatedly raped her. Her head was smashed in with stone and her remains were found in a forest on January 17.
Today is April 17. The protests are being heard loud and clear, but the crime is a most heinous one. The motive, we hear was to torture and rape a child to strike terror into the hearts of a nomadic tribe. It was a cold-blooded, mean, brutal, cowardly, and shameful act, ‘proudly’ being defended by certain members of the ruling political party, to which the Prime Minister of India belongs.
The dead girl’s mother Rafeesa Bano said her daughter was the “most innocent and wise of the entire clan.”
Once her daughter’s remains were found, local Hindus did not even allow the body to be buried in the village, she said. “We had to take her crumpled body to a distant location where she was laid to rest forever,” said a distraught Bano.
Communal tensions over the crime have forced hundreds of nomadic Muslim communities in the area to move to other parts of the state. One of them, Shafiq Ahmad, was quoted by a news organization saying that he now fears for the safety of his three children.
“We herd cattle from one place to another and have nothing to do with the politics of the place,” said Ahmad. “Our family comes first. The only reason we are being persecuted is because we are Muslims.”
“Rallies were held openly in support of the rapists, and participants carry the national flag in their hands as if they were supporting a national cause,” observers said. Hard-line Hindu groups have intensified campaigns against Muslims in Jammu region in preparation for the 2019 polls.
Former Union minister and dissident BJP veteran Yashwant Sinha also questioned the Prime Minister’s silence on the Unnao and Kathua gang rapes, speaking shortly before Narendra Modi referred to the two crimes at an event.
” The New York Times has published news on this (Kathua) and India is becoming known to the world as a rape headquarters. It’s the limit of evil; it seems like our society is filled with cruelty… and that humanity is dead within us.”
He added: “Our PM is silent. Even an expression of sympathy has not come. What is happening in Jammu (where an eight-year-old Muslim girl was gang-raped and killed in Kathua) is a matter of shame. There is an attempt to give it a communal colour and save the culprits.”
The Catholic bishops’ conference of India said on April 16 it has been “deplorable” that “certain sections of society” attempt to justify what has occurred.
“The very people who should uphold the rule of law have either become the alleged perpetrators or the defenders of the indefensible,” it said, alluding to leaders of the BJP, which is part of the ruling coalition in Jammu and Kashmir state.
Meanwhile, in Bhopal, Catholic Priests, nuns and lay Catholics were among thousands of people who joined a candlelight march in India to express solidarity with the nationwide outrage over gang rape and murders, especially of minor girls.
About 1,500 people including children and the elderly from various religions marched through Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh state, on April 16. Protests and marches increased across India after media highlighted at least four brutal rape cases of minors in Jammu and Kashmir, Gujarat, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh states this month.
Not just one child ….
In another case, the brutalized body of an 11-year-old girl was found in bushes in Gujarat’s Surat area on April 5. Investigations revealed the girl was tortured and sexually assaulted for more than a week. Her body bore 86 wounds.
In a shocking case, the Dalit father of a rape victim was beaten to death in police custody in Uttar Pradesh state. The 18-year-old victim attempted self-immolation at the residence of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on April 8.
She had complained that a legislator of the state’s ruling pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) raped her but police were not acting to punish the culprit. On April 5, police arrested her father and four days later he died in a government hospital.
Social media showed the severely wounded body of the father, saying the politically powerful brother of the accused and a gang attacked him in the police station in the presence of police officials. The case is now under investigation.
As the protests continued, media reported another case from Haryana, where police in Rohtak city found the decomposed body of a minor girl in a drain on April 15. The girl, who had a hand missing, was stuffed inside a bag. Police suspect she must have died at least five days earlier.
“Empathy doesn’t come easily to India’s prime minister. His silence after a number of Muslims were lynched by murderous vigilantes in the name of cow protection was broken only after ‘gau goondas’ attacked Dalits since Dalits are part of the ‘Hindu’ constituency that the Bharatiya Janata Party wants to consolidate. His more recent conspicuous silence was ended by a statement in a speech on April 13, the gist of which was later put out as two tweets by the prime minister’s Twitter account. Narendra Modi’s sensibilities didn’t allow him to specify the nature of the “recent incidents” to which he referred and of which, he declared, we, as a society, ought to be ashamed. We were left to infer that this careful euphemism referred to the rape of a young Dalit woman in Unnao and the death of her father in custody and the gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl in Kathua, Jammu,” wrote columnist Mukul Kesavan.
The impunity with which hard-line Hindu activists operate “clearly indicates the mind of the government,” said Uma Shankar Sharma, a Hindu scientist who joined the Bhopal protest. “This is the reason for the attacks on minorities, Dalits and women are on the rise in the country. There is no fear of the law among such groups,” he told ucanews.com.
His wife Uma Sharma, a social activist, said they “do not want see our country reduced to a land of beasts. Therefore, we have come to raise our voice against attacks on vulnerable groups.”
Kesavan, referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, writes, “ At the same time as he generalized India’s rape problem to skate over his party’s unwillingness to move against the accused in Unnao and Kathua, he also tried to minimize his own prolonged indifference to these atrocities. His first tweet referred to the incidents “…which have been in public discussion the past two days…” as if to suggest that these had just come to his notice. The rape in Unnao occurred in the summer of 2017.
The girl in Jammu was raped and killed in January this year. Her brutalization and death made the headlines last week because the Hindu Ekta Manch and Jammu’s high court bar association, urged on by two BJP state ministers, came out in defense of the rape accused.
The Hindu Ekta Manch had been agitating for the release of the special police officer arrested for her rape and murder since February. For a BJP prime minister to suggest that two grotesque crimes committed in two states governed singly or in coalition by his party were news to him amounts to either an abdication of responsibility or a form of deflection. The prime minister’s belated tweets were damage control dressed up as concern.
The prime minister said in his first tweet that “incidents like this, wherever they occur in the country shock our sense of humanity”.
He has this exactly the wrong way round: it is when we lose our sense of humanity, when we dehumanize others, that ‘incidents’ like this ‘occur’. The eight-year-old girl died because her killers, premeditatedly, in cold blood, decided that she wasn’t human.
The prime minister got one thing right; there are hundreds of millions of Indians who are shocked and ashamed by her death. His most urgent task is to address those of his supporters in Jammu and elsewhere, who aren’t.