In February 2015, at an event organised by the Christian community to celebrate the beatification of two Indians by Pope Francis, PM Modi addressed his citizens and gave a sweeping speech. He said, ‚ÄúMy government will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly. Mine will be a government that gives equal respect to all religions. India is the land of Buddha and Gandhi. Equal respect for all religions must be in the DNA of every Indian. We cannot accept violence against any religion on any pretext and I strongly condemn such violence. My government will act strongly in this regard.‚ÄĚ
Just a month later, talking about women safety in his much celebrated speech series Mann Ki Baat, he spoke, ‚Äúour heads hang in shame when we hear of instances of crime against women‚ÄĚ.
Almost three years later, we as a nation find ourselves at the precipice of true evil. Two gruesome crimes, both of which resonate exactly opposite to what our PM assured us of - the horrifying gang rape and murder of the eight-year-old Asifa Bano inside a temple premise of Kathua in J&K by Sanjhi Ram, former revenue official and suspected mastermind; his son Vishal Kumar, Ram‚Äôs 16-year-old nephew, his friend Parvesh Kumar and Special Police Officers (SPOs) of Hiranagar police station Deepak Khajuria and Surinder Kumar and the rape of an 18-year-old girl by the BJP MLA, Kuldeep Singh Sengar in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh.
The similarities in both these cases are agonizing. The rapists were all men in power, supported by other support groups in power. Both the girls belonged to a minority group with Asifa being a Bakarwal - A Sunni Muslim Nomadic tribe and the Unnao survivor being a Dalit. In both cases, their identity of being a ‚Äėwoman of minority‚Äô was used against them. In Kathua, it was used by the Hindu men to send out a strong message to the Bakarwal community urging them to leave their land whereas the Unnao survivor‚Äôs Dalit identity was used to question her and her family‚Äôs credibility. Both cases saw rape as a tool used by the powerful to ‚Äėsatisfy their lust‚Äô and teach minorities a lesson. Both seemed to not just get away with it but also be supported for it. Both these cases happened in politically vulnerable and communally-charged states. Both these cases rightly proved that our country‚Äôs leaders and supposed protectors are true bigots, religion-fueled hypocrisy is only masquerading to be secular. These cases proved that interests of the majority overpower the entire legal, judicial and social systems - rendering marginalized victims often helpless and powerless. Both cases re-iterated that to belong to a minority, to identify as a woman or worse to be a woman of minority will only push one to further marginalization and victimization. Both these cases force us to come to terms with one, long-ignored question. As long as caste, religion and identity dominate the political and social fabric of the nation, this is no country for minorities.
This is, indeed, a defining moment.
Time and again there have been incredulous crimes against religious minorities in India, that have only seemed to increase. Post Modi‚Äôs election, it wouldn‚Äôt be wrong to say that we are living in a political environment highly fueled by religious sentiments that have given rise to a form of Hindu right-wing extremism, as is clear in this case.
According to The Human Rights Watch Report, 2018 on the treatment of Dalit Groups, tribes and religious minorities, ‚ÄúMob attacks by extremist Hindu groups affiliated with the ruling BJP against minority communities, especially Muslims, continued throughout 2017. Instead of taking prompt legal action against the attackers, police frequently filed complaints against the victims under laws banning cow slaughter. As of November, there had been 38 such attacks, and 10 people killed during the year.‚ÄĚ Another report, titled ‚ÄėConstitutional and Legal Challenges Faced by Religious Minorities in India,‚Äô sponsored by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), by quoting India‚Äôs Home Ministry figures, said that ‚Äúin 2015, India experienced a 17 percent increase in communal violence, when compared to the previous year. In 2015, there were 751 reported incidents of communal violence, up from 644 in 2014.‚ÄĚ The cases of rape too seemed to have increased under Modi‚Äôs reign and have gone up by almost 10,000 according to the stats presented by the Delhi Police. Though there is no way to determine if this shows an increase in the number of rapes or in the number of cases being reported, the reality still remains grim. No substantial studies were found to determine the sexual crimes against women of minority.
But while the stats put things in perspective, what‚Äôs central to these cases is the harrowing reality of a heinous crime like rape being used to validate power and religious/casteist sentiment to spreading differences in states that are always boiling over with communal hatred. An eight-year-old, an eighteen-year-old and her father became victims of the gruesome crime of hate. While the sorry state of affairs in our country, disallows us to separate religious identity from almost everything, let us not forget that rape is rape. No religion, no reason, no sentiment and no amount of power justifies it. It is not a crime against a community, but a crime against humanity. Our strong communal sentiment has been failing us as a nation and will do so until we learn to separate caste, religion and identity from politics, crime and humanity.
As India gears up for one of the biggest Lok Sabha Elections next year, as the world sees a rise in Right-wing extremism, an entire generation that has grown up reading and hearing about rape, sexual violence communal violence and bigotry faces fear and confusion of what‚Äôs to come next. The ones from minority groups do not know who to place their trusts in as PM Modi refuses to speak on the cases and Rahul Gandhi doesn‚Äôt seem to have anything substantial to say. While the interest of parties on the fringes who might actually care about women and minority does not seem to matter.
Lawyers shout slogans of Jai Shree Ram at the temple premises at Kathua to stop the chargesheet from being filed against rapists who drugged, strangled and stoned Asifa to death, a rape survivor threatens to self-immolate outside the CM‚Äôs House in Lucknow to demand justice, Hindu groups protest to free the rapists in Kathua, while the accused BJP MLA Sengar is amused. He smiles because he knows he can still get away with it. Empathy is hard to muster in cases like these. Law was not created for us to extract communal revenge. It needs to be better than us, and society needs to be better than one single community. As the entire country fights over caste and religion, Asifa is denied a burial land, the Unnao survivor is denied a father who is beaten to death in Police custody. To serve majoritarian interests, a country denies justice to India‚Äôs daughters.
Yet again. Yet again. Yet again.
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