India is being rocked by country-wide public protests over the rape of three females. Two of them, just 8 and 11 years of age, were also murdered in the most gruesome manner.
While these gory deeds could be treated as a law and order problem, the phenomenon of rape and violence against women needs to be addressed in a holistic way as it is both widespread and multi-dimensional with social, economic, historical and political aspects.
The public anger is directed against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi because the States in which these gruesome acts occurred have the BJP either as the sole ruling party or as a key partner in government.
The 17-year-old was raped in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP is all in all. The 8-year-old Asifa was raped and murdered in Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir, where the BJP is a key partner in a coalition government. The 11-year-old was raped and murdered in Gujarat where the BJP has a monopoly of power.
While rape and cum murder is not uncommon in the still feudal India, what outraged the public was the State’s stoic silence and the partisan nature of the deeds of the governments and their political supporters.
A 17-year-old girl was raped by a BJP State legislator, Kuldeep Sengar in Unnao in Utta Pradesh in mid-2017. In a lone fight against police indifference, the girl tried to commit suicide outside the residence of State Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. Her father was then beaten to death by the legislator’s brother and BJP cadres in the presence of the police.
After an uproar in civil society, Sengar’s brother was arrested and continued protests led to his arrest by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). But this took place only in April 2018.
In January 2018, a Muslim tribal child of 8 was abducted, raped, and murdered by a former government officer and a serving police officer with an intention to terrorize the nomadic Muslim Bakherwal community to vacate Kathua en masse.
Two ministers of the BJP in the Jammu and Kashmir government along with the Kathua BJP legislator, led a procession supporting the rapists. They made provocative speeches inciting violence against the nomads.
What outraged the public was the State’s stoic silence and the partisan nature of the deeds of the governments
Lawyers, many of them known to the ruling party members, blocked the court to prevent the police from filing the charge sheet
Even the UN, which usually turns a blind eye to atrocities in India, was stirred into action
Lawyers, many of them known to the ruling party members, blocked the court to prevent the police from filing the charge sheet against the rape accused saying that the police had a pro-Muslim mentality because Jammu and Kashmir is a Muslim-majority State. But the truth was that the chief investigating officer who cracked the case, was a Hindu, Ramesh Kumar Jalla.
The third incident came to light on Sunday when the raped and murdered body of a 11-year-old was found in a forest in Surat in Modi’s home State of Gujarat. The girl had been killed on April 5 even as anti-rape protests were on country-wide. Investigations into this have just begun.
When the Prime Minister Modi spoke, after an excruciatingly long period of silence, he did so casually at a function, and tweeted his comment. No executive or political action was announced or taken, though he dubbed the rape and murder as “shameful”. Clearly, he had placed his partisan interest before the national interest.
Deepa Narayan, author of a book on violence against women in India told The New York Times: “Modi is always a slow reactor. He waits for an issue to go away and when it doesn’t, and he’s in a corner, he speaks up and makes platitudes. I think the B.J.P. will suffer from this. They will pay a price for the impunity they’ve unleashed by not treating crimes as crimes but by politicizing them.”
Anguish of Ex-Civil Service Honchos
Reacting to the government’s callous indifference, 49 retired top officials, sent an open letter to Modi which said: “ The bestiality and the barbarity involved in the rape and murder of an eight year old child shows the depths of depravity that we have sunk to. In post-Independence India, this is our darkest hour. We see no light at the end of the tunnel and we hang our heads in shame.”
“Prime Minister, we write to you not just to express our rage over the agenda of division and hate your party and its innumerable, often untraceable offshoots that spring up from time to time, have insidiously introduced into the grammar of our politics, our social and cultural life and even our daily discourse.”
“It is that which provides the social sanction and legitimacy for the incidents in Kathua and Unnao.”
“In Kathua in Jammu, it is the culture of majoritarian belligerence and aggression promoted by the Sangh Parivar which emboldened rabid communal elements to pursue their perverse agenda.”
“ They knew that their behavior would be endorsed by the politically powerful and those who have made their careers by polarizing Hindus and Muslims across a sectarian divide.”
“In Unnao in Utar Pradesh it is the reliance on the worst kinds of patriarchal feudal mafia dons to capture votes and political power that gives such persons the freedom to rape and murder and extort as a way of asserting their own personal power.”
“But even more reprehensible than such abuse of power, it is the response of the State Government in hounding the victim of rape and her family instead of the alleged perpetrator that shows how perverted governance practices have become.”
“Given your supremacy within the party and the centralized control you and your Party President exercise, you more than anyone else, have to be held responsible for this terrifying state of affairs.”
“You have not condemned the communal pathology behind the act nor shown the resolve to change the social, political and administrative conditions under which such communal hate is bred.”
Even the UN, which usually turns a blind eye to atrocities in India, was stirred into action.
“We are deeply concerned about the prevalence of gender-based violence, including sexual violence against women and girls, which we are witnessing in India,” said Yuri Afanasiev, UN’s Resident Representative in India in a statement.
“ The cases reported are not isolated ones. There are many others which remain invisible, unheard and therefore, not counted due to everyday normalization of sexual and other forms of violence.”
“An unequivocal commitment by the leadership at the highest level to address sexual violence and to ensure accountability for such crimes is essential for justice to be delivered,” Afanasiev said.
According to the 2016 figures put out by the Indian National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), incidents of rape of children had increased by over 82% compared to 2015. It was for the first time that such a sharp increase in sexual assaults on children had been registered.
The NCRB data shows that while in 2015, 10,854 cases of rape were registered, 2016 saw 19,765 such cases being registered.
The numbers reported were the highest in Madhya Pradesh (2467), Maharashtra (2292), and Uttar Pradesh (2115), all States ruled by the BJP.