Delhi to Kathua Via Unnao
By: Malini Bhattacharya
Published On: April 19, 2018
The gangrape and murder of 8-year-old Asifa Bano, a Bakarwal Muslim girl from Kathua, Jammu has brought back certain repressed memories of the Delhi of 2012, when Jyoti (Nirbhaya) Singh, a paramedical student was gangraped in a moving bus and succumbed to her injuries days later at a Delhi hospital.
There were public protests in several big cities, with protesters calling for justice.
The Asifa case, too, is singular for its brutality. The girl was abducted at dusk on her way to fetch her family’s ponies from the grasslands where they grazed, drugged with sleeping pills, raped in turns at a temple by eight different men (including one man who traveled all the way to Kathua from Meerut specifically to “satisfy his lust”), then strangled to death.
For good measure, the rapists crushed Asifa’s head with a rock to make sure that no trace of life was left in her body when they finally left her bleeding and battered and naked body by the roadside.
Jammu lawyers have presented obstacles in filing the case chargesheet, with right wing Hindutva protesters sloganeering the accused’s “right to rape” Muslim women.
Asifa’s tragic tryst with destiny calls to mind the June, 2017 Unnao rape case, where a 16-year-old girl accused BJP MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar of raping her, and attempted suicide in front of chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s residence in a telling bid to seek justice.
The girl’s father had been beaten up by the alleged rapist’s brother and had succumbed to his injuries the day after.
A pattern seems to emerge if you pay attention to the victims and their intersectional identities, a pattern which won’t bear close inspection.
To mince words, both Asifa and the Unnao rape victims represent minority identity groups, so marginalized that there will be few voices rising in protest against the horrifying crimes done unto them.
Asifa is not only a child (and hence dependent and powerless) but also Kashmiri (Kashmir has been a conflict zone for decades), Muslim, and poor.
The Unnao victim is also a minor and low-income and lower-caste; her story was rebuffed and her FIR was refused to be lodged by local police because the rapist had political clout.
It cost the life of her father, just as it did Asifa Bano’s, for the nation to believe in the authenticity of her narrative. Back in 2012, Jyoti Singh too paid the price of an evening of frolic with a friend with such brutalization done to her body that she died in extreme pain, so much pain that collective national memory hasn’t yet forgotten.
It seems that you only have to be a woman in India to be at risk, and you have to implement lifestyle measures and live by certain rules cast in iron (no staying out late, or wearing clothes that show your skin, or drinking yourself into oblivion or smoking, or living alone, or not marrying past a certain age, or being friendly with male companions) to avoid rape.
If you do any of these things, or a combination of them, and if you have been violated, you will have to be represented by a mob of vigilantes who have made social justice their business, who are righteously angry on your behalf, who will march for you and chant slogans and carry placards and light candles for vigils after dark.
They will decry the crimes against you and against womanhood and make enough noise to be heard by politicians and keepers of law and the ruling classes so they take off the blinkers that do not let them see the suffering that affects one gender in the country they are meant to govern with egalitarianism and inclusivity.
Unless a production has been of sexual assault, authority figures will not take it seriously, not in good faith on the complainant’s report. Naturally, vigilante justice for victims and survivors of assault is carving a niche for itself in response to the stark need for it. Justice is not mobilized without preliminary mass display of outrage.
Amidst all the rancour in the aftermath of the Asifa case, an image has been in circulation since the Asifa case chargesheet has gone public. In it, two figures, one of a woman and one of a little girl in pigtails, are holding hands and marching into the distance.
There is a speech bubble over the younger girl’s head, and she’s asking the older woman how far Delhi is from Kathua. Labels show that the two figures are Nirbhaya and Asifa. They are holding each other up, as women must do in these dark ages.