By Prasanth R / The Dawn News/ April 13, 2018
In the first fortnight of April, developments around two incidents of violence against women – the rape and murder of an eight-year-old in the State of Jammu and Kashmir and the rape of a 17-year-old in the State of Uttar Pradesh – have led to an uproar in India. Protests are building up on the ground and on social media, especially over the involvement of the ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in both the incidents.
Even in the State of Jammu and Kashmir, where human rights violations have become a regular affair, the incident of rape and murder in Kathua stands out for its gruesomeness and inhumanity. The roots of the incident lie in a plan hatched by a retired government official, along with a police officer, to terrorize the pastoral Muslim Bakherwal community into leaving the locality. Their target was an eight-year old girl, who used to graze horses in the area. The accomplices of the official, Sanji Ram, which include a juvenile, bought sedatives, kidnapped her and kept her confined in a temple, and after three days of raping her multiple times, strangulated her.
These incidents took place in January and since then, various groups associated with the right wing have been trying to block a proper investigation. An organisation, Hindu Ekta Manch (Hindu Unity Forum), was set up and has been holding campaigns alleging that the suspects are being persecuted because they are Hindus. Successive rallies have seen intense attempts at right-wing mobilisation on the issue. Two ministers from the BJP, which is a member of the ruling coalition in the State, have attended events in support of the suspects. The Jammu High Court Bar Association has continuously agitated to ensure no charges are filed in the case and allegations continue to be thrown brazenly that the suspects are being targeted because the investigating team was headed by a Muslim officer.
These attempts to spread communal tension have remained largely unchecked whereas suppression of human rights continues in the Kashmir valley, where the draconian Armed Forces Special Prevention Act remains in place. The act permits armed forces personnel to use lethal force in case of law and order problems, and protects the soldiers from prosecution.
Victim attempts suicide in Uttar Pradesh
The case of a 17-year-old, who was raped in 2017 in Uttar Pradesh, captured national attention only when she attempted suicide outside the home of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on April 8. The main accused in the case is Kuldeep Sengar, a provincial legislator, who like the Chief Minister, belongs to the BJP, which is power both in the Centre and the State. A few days before the suicide attempt, an altercation had broken out between the victim’s family and the legislator’s supporters, during which her father was badly beaten up. Both sides filed complaints with the police but while the legislator’s supporters, including his brother, were left untouched, the girl’s father was arrested. On April 9, the victim’s father died at hospital of injuries, which the police claim, were from the fight some days ago. At the same time, a video that went viral showed him alleging that the Sengar’s brother and associates beat him up in the presence of the police. The rising outrage led to the legislator’s associates getting arrested but Sengar himself roamed free.
On April 11, nearly 10 months after the incident occurred, the State government handed over the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). It was only on April 13 that the legislator, Sengar, was detained even as the High Court of the State ordered that he be arrested. It is worth noting that the victim had written several letters to the Chief Minister’s office over the year demanding that charges be framed against the legislator.
The impunity with which the legislator’s supporters behaved is not surprising in a State where law and order has seen a terrible decline since Adityanath’s right-wing government took over. The first few months of his government were notably marked by the formation of ‘anti-Romeo squads’, which in the name of protection of women, indulged in large-scale vigilantism and moral policing until public pressure forced their dissolution. The recent incident in India’s most populous State yet again exposes the hollow nature of the promises of the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister of ensuring greater safety for women in the country.
As of April 13, there has been no response from the Prime Minister, who is otherwise known to tweet extensively on a range of global and national issues.
However, protests are on in earnest, although not at the scale of those that followed the rape and subsequent death of a young woman ‘Nirbhaya’ in 2012. These protests sparked off a massive movement around women’s rights in India. After the recent events, students and women’s organisations, as well as opposition parties, have been mobilising in condemnation of official inaction, as well as the blatant communalisation that is being witnessed. The following days will see serious questions asked of India’s polity and society on issues of both women’s rights and safety and the question of confronting rabid commmunalism.