Solidarity is always overwhelming. However, most solidarities have their own baggage with them; some we see clearly, sometimes we don’t.
It has been over two months that Asifa, an 8-year-old Bakarwaal girl who was brutally raped, held captive in a temple for a week, murdered and then thrown into the wild bushes of Kathua.
Protesting voices have been rocking university campuses, social media and the media alike for the past week. The delay with which the vast Indian middle class picked it up is self-explanatory but the intensity that has been surrounding the outrage is both welcome as well as questionable.
This can be broken down into following parts:
1. The Indian Media and its clever strategy to ignore the occupation
2. The general neo-liberal population and its jumping the bandwagon too late
3. The right-wing Hindutva groups including sitting ministers marching in support of the accused
Media picked up Asifa’s story as a regular rape act by a monstrous pervert man, only added the slight tinge to exclude the Kashmiriness of the victim. What the nationalist media has been cleverly able to do is that it took the focus away from the real context of the crime it happened in and its association with other human rights’ violations.
The context with which such acts are perpetuated to make the minority community feel threatened, how particular families are hand-picked and coerced, how a temple was used to send shivers across the Muslim households and how the girl wasn’t looked for even after a missing report was filed; all of it remains ignored.
Media easily generated a public opinion to concoct this particular rape with rapes elsewhere in India forgetting about the peculiarities. Rape has similarly been used by the state as a weapon of war. Sexual humiliation, torture, and assault have been perpetrated upon not just individual men, women, and children, but even entire villages.
The Population/Bollywood/Universities in India
An excerpt from Mona Bhan’s write-up (an Associate Professor of Anthropology): “Without doubts, the gut-wrenching violence against Asifa must be condemned unanimously. But the mainstream outrage in India is blindly equating it with the Nirbhaya case, without any acknowledgement of the larger political context of occupation in Kashmir, is a violent erasure of Kashmiri subjectivity, and of the lawlessness and impunity with which India has held on to Kashmir. It is convenient for Indian liberals to rally around gendered modes of violence and to claim Asifa as India’s daughter. And yet such selective outrage is dubious at best: it appropriates Kashmiri bodies to bolster ongoing political struggles in India against a fascist right-wing regime, while completely ignoring Kashmir’s troubled relationship with India.”
While most Indian’s are protesting on basic humanitarian grounds and rape being a heinous crime, a section of India’s civil society conditionalise their solidarity merely on the fact that Asifa was a child from the Bakarwal community. Apparently, a child rape victim’s background comes into play; as if being brutally raped wasn’t enough to deserve justice.
For example, Javed Akhtar, with over 4 million followers on twitter tweeted this, which was retweeted 11 thousand times by people, most of whom seem to agree with his views.
Who was Asifa ? She was an eight years old daughter of Bakerwals. Who are Bakerwals ? A nomad tribe who when spotted the Kargil intruders promptly informed the army .Who are the people who are trying to protect the rapists of this little girl . ? Now it is your turn to answer.
— Javed Akhtar (@Javedakhtarjadu) April 13, 2018
Another tweet by Rahul Pandtia:
1. #Asifa is a Gujjar-Bakerwal, a nomadic community, largely pro-India, anti-militancy. In 1965, a G-B man, Mohd. Din Jagir, spotted a few armed men in Tangmarg, Kashmir. They asked him to arrange Kashmiri clothing for them so that they could sneak in without arousing suspicion
— Rahul Pandita (@rahulpandita) April 12, 2018
2. But instead, Jagir returned and informed the Police. His info turned out to be crucial. The armed men were Pakistanis, who had infiltrated to launch Op. Gibraltar, a secret Pakistani mission to annex Kashmir. Thanks to Jagir, the mission ended up in failure.
— Rahul Pandita (@rahulpandita) April 12, 2018
The Right Wing Hindutva Groups Condoning the act
Another section of the society(although a minority), most of whom come from far right are protesting in support of the accused; this included a minister in the present J&K cabinet who now seems to have resigned.
Lawyers staged a massive protest in Jammu against the naming of the accused people in the charge sheet. 4 women in Kathua protested fast unto death to protest against “the plot” against the Hindu community.
Ather Zia, a Kashmiri scholar and activist, said, “The murder-gang rape of a minor child Asifa from Kathua is soul crushing. It must not be seen as a social-sexual crime but one that is deeply political and tied to the larger issue of the militarization, occupation and systematic use of rape as a weapon of war in the region.
The advocate for Asifa, Deepika Singh continues to be harassed to drop the case by the Bar Association of Kathua. In an unprecedented turn of events, the Bar has mobilized in favour of the rapists and have caused impediments in filing the charge sheet against the accused. The Hindu community, under the banner of Hindu Ekta Manch, continues to protest and strike demanding the rapist-murderers be released. While showing extraordinary strength in face of immense adversity, Mohammad Yusuf Pujwala Asifa’s father along with his family has fled the area due to threats. It must be noted that the Hindu community did not allow Asifa to be buried in the area even though the family lawfully own space for burial. In 1947 Jammu region became dominantly Hindu after a large scale Muslim massacre was carefully orchestrated during the partition. While this shameful history is carefully hidden from common view, Asifa’s case brings back the horrors of a communal past, and the potential for no doubt mindless but orchestrated violence that Indian settler colonialism is capable of bringing back or rather has brought back.”
Such a drift raises some evident questions –
a) Does the solidarity and stance for justice depend upon the background of the victim?
b) Does the support for the accused from right-wing groups increase with the increase in his nationalist beliefs?
c) Why don’t the victims of organised war crimes get an equal voice when the act is perpetuated the security forces?
d) Does a Kashmiri girl whose political beliefs or that of her community are not suited for Indian conscience, have lesser humanity than that of a pro-Indian?
Justice for Asifa, a campaign that was started by local Kashmiris soon after the horrific crime, has now got support from far and wide although justice still remains unserved.
Some posters from BlackSheep.Works‘ campaign:
As to why the same people, Bollywood stars, university students, student unions, etc. do not tweet, speak, protest over usual human rights violations taking place in Kashmir which include rape, human shields, killings, pellet guns and what not, no longer remains a mystery.
The primary reason is that the victims have already been demonised as Pak sponsored anti-national terrorists that it hardly ruffles any feathers in the Indian society. Instead, questions are raised and victims’ agony is joked about. For example, “What were Asiya and Neelofer doing in the fields when it was about to get dark?”, “Why did Kunan-Poshpora villages give shelter to militants the night before?” An average middle class Indian whose only source of information on Kashmir is his television screen is compelled to justify rapes and killings in his head, which, he otherwise would have condemned out of basic human instinct.
Another reason is the normalisation and numbness towards Kashmir’s sufferings, and this applies to us Kashmiris as well. The news of death is no longer new, counting dead has become a habit, pellets are the order of the day, Kunan-Poshpora, Mubina Ghani and Shopian rapes’ justices are still on the shelves. This piling up of monstrous crimes makes everything else seem normal.
Mainstream India(Bollywood) mocks the use of Human Shields in Kashmir and T-Shirts doing the same sell like hot cakes. The army receives an overwhelming moral support for any act they do in Kashmir as every single death is condoned in the media.
Asifa’s death has brought the demand for justice to the fore once again; however, whether this demand for justice covers all the victims irrespective of the nature of the accused remains to be seen.
This vicious narrative that has created is dangerous. The otherisation here makes one believe that one community is better than the other all in the names of skewed nationalism.
Will Kashmiri women who are raped and assaulted by the Indian state’s army garner similar solidarity in the future? Or will there be the usual silence that allows the sexual violence to continue to be used as a weapon of war?
I am highly sceptical of the outcomes.
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