THE disturbing details of the gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old shepherd girl from India-held Kashmir have drawn a chorus of outrage and condemnation in India and internationally. Asifa, who belonged to a Muslim nomadic tribe in Kathua, was abducted in early January, drugged for days in a temple, repeatedly raped, bludgeoned with a rock and strangled. A week later, her corpse was discovered in a forest. Even as this heinous crime shook humanity to the core, young Asifa Bano’s untimely death failed at first to elicit censure from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It was only after the insistence of opposition groups, including the Congress party, that Mr Modi issued a condemnation on Friday. A quick statement is not enough — especially when BJP legislators and Hindu right-wing lawyers and activists have obstructed the course of justice by preventing police investigations and court proceedings. Even with mounting evidence of culpability, BJP loyalists have protected the eight accused, including police officers and a former government employee. Despite tough anti-rape laws after the 2012 Delhi bus rape, the slow-paced response to sexual violence is a damning indictment of the BJP. Moreover, BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh is still reeling from the rape of a teenage girl by a party legislator. Shamefully, there has been little action since that case was filed.
Religious hatred and misogynistic practices aside, Asifa Bano’s murder can exploit communal fault lines, if justice is denied. Then, if violence and rape are politicised the hope for peace will further diminish in a conflict-ridden region. In this case, the tussle over land and water ended in a child’s gruesome death. Hindu right-wing activists threatened more violence if Asifa was buried in a graveyard purchased by the Gujjar community. Such cruelty beggars belief. In the words of journalist Barkha Dutt, these are “moments of acute national shame” for India. Mr Modi and his cabal should know child rape is not the trademark of a civilised democracy. Regardless of religion or caste, the guilty must not be spared.
Published in Dawn, April 15th, 2018