Sunday, April 15, 2018

Justice for Asifa means Justice for India

In January this year, an eight year old girl, Asifa Bano, who belonged to a Muslim nomad community, was kidnapped, raped for several days in a temple and killed by a group of Hindu men in Kathua district of Jammu and Kashmir. Please click here for an account from a journalist who met her parents days after the horrific crime was committed. Investigators believe that the accused men committed this crime to force Asifa's community out of the area they were living in. What makes the situation even worse is that Hindu right-wing groups including government officials protested the arrest of the perpetrators (For more information, please click for an article by BBC here)

United Nations Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights recognizes rape as a weapon of war (more information, please click here for an article on their website) and this crime fits this definition amidst the prevailing situation in Jammu and Kashmir. Rape is a heinous crime and no form of or motivation for it is better or worse. Every single time, it is a show of power from one human being to another based on gender, age, religion, ethnicity, race, socio-economic status, and/or nationality. This story reveals the intersectionality of vulnerabilities Asifa represented, she was a young relatively poor girl who belonged to a minority religion. None of these attributes she could have controlled. She was also a strong girl who supported her parents by taking care of the cattle everyday and dealt with micro-aggressions of one of the perpetrators. It must have taken a lot of courage for her to go back to the forest each day to do what she was asked by her parents. However, no matter how strong an individual is, it is hard to win if the oppressors have the support of the system. 

While India has been a strong example of unity in diversity for hundreds of years, it has also witnessed violence based on gender, religion and caste over and over again. One of the worst incidents of communal riots happened under the Congress government in 1984 after the assassination of then Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi (Congress party), by two of her Sikh bodyguards. Her supporters killed about 3,000 innocent Sikhs and there wasn't much done by the law enforcement to stop the dreadful atrocities. Please click here for an article from BBC regarding the tragic consequences of that massacre.

Similarly, misogyny is not new to the country. In 2012, I wrote an article on this blog about another disgraceful assault on a 23 year old woman in my hometown, Delhi and how Indian culture is partially responsible for the disrespect and crimes against women in the country. You can read that article here. Please click here for a couple of other horrendous stories by The Wire. These stories are just the tip of the iceberg of the problem in India, where girls are worshipped as goddesses! There are legal bodies in place like the National Commission of Women (For more information, please click here) but they are too far away from stopping crime against women especially in small towns and villages. Until a woman's vagina is connected to the honor of the clan and a woman is expected to be a sacred, sacrificing goddess who should simultaneously be ready to serve as a slave, not much will change. A change of mentality needs to take place in addition to the legal reforms for a substantial change to happen. 

What happened in Kathua reminded me of the 2002 riots in Gujarat (If you don't know or need a reminder, please click here for an article by New York Times). Mr. Narendra Modi was ruling Gujarat then and is ruling India now and his party is sharing the power in Jammu and Kashmir currently. In 2002, many women and girls were raped and killed. In total over 1,000 people were killed and 150,000 people (mostly Muslim) were displaced. This was done as a revenge of the killing of 59 Hindus by Muslims. The difference between the actions of the two religious groups was that the attack by Hindus was supported by the government structure. 

Under the current government, crimes  and oppression against minority groups have significantly increased in India. Please click here for an article by Human Rights Watch on how the system is being modified and utilized to commit atrocities against minorities in the 'New India'. Burning of places of worship, lynching, rapes and threats have increased like never before. In 2017, a fifteen year old Muslim boy was stabbed to death on a train as he was returning from Eid shopping (For more information, please click here for a news story from Indian Express). In 2015, a fifty year  Muslim man was killed and his son was brutally injured  because a mob decided to punish them for allegedly eating beef (for more information, please click here for an India Express article). I can go on and on with stories of recent oppression on the minorities.

Clearly, this is not the first time we have felt immense pain because of the oppression on a vulnerable person/group in India. However, Asifa's painful story takes this persecution to another level. This time, a temple is used for days to violate and kill a human being, that too a minor girl.  And when the perpetrators are arrested, politicians, police officers and others come on the road with Indian flag to protest. The Prime Minister of the country takes days before he makes a general statement about the crime. While Asifa's and her family's pain is above and beyond any religion, it is really hard to ignore and minimize the fact that a temple's perceived holiness is allowed to be exploited as a refuge for raping the young child repeatedly and the national flag is used to validate the actions by government officials! This is shameful and unacceptable!

The saving grace is that few Hindu extremists attacking  minority groups do not represent the millions of peaceful Hindus, who, as a matter of fact, are openly condemning this oppression. Majority of the people  protesting on the streets against the injustice are Hindus along with people from different religions. When such people come together, they are first Indians with humanity as their primary religion! I pray they prevail and with them India prevails!  

I pray for peace, consolation and justice for the family of Asifa. I pray their grieving process is not combined with fear. I also hope and pray that other people in their community are not afraid for their own well-being and of their children. I pray that the sanctity of the temple returns and sustains. I pray for victory for the millions of Indians who are fighting for justice in the country. I pray that the pride of the country, the Indian flag, is raised only to glorify mother India! I pray that India becomes a stronger example of unity, spirituality, harmony, and peace!

P.S. As I was about to publish this post, I read the latest update on the case: the villagers refused land for Asifa's burial and she is now buried about 8 km away from the village she last lived in (For more information, please click here for a Hindustan Times article). I pray that Asifa rests in peace, Amen.

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