Kathua Fallout

By Khursheed Wani

In January, when a former revenue officer, now running a private temple hatched a criminal conspiracy to dislodge a nomadic Muslim population from his neighbourhood in Kathua, he did not imagine the fallout of his horrendous plot. The act of kidnapping an 8-year-old girl, drugging her to submission into custody and raping her repeatedly inside a religious place has evoked global condemnation and unmasked many wolves roaming around in sheep’s clothing.

The complicity of ruling BJP in the horrific crime was exposed at a time when the party is gathering feathers to plunge into India’s next general elections. The global outrage over the rape and murder compelled the party to seek the resignation of two ministers Chowdary Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga who participated in a pro-rapist rally organized by Hindu Ekta Manch, a group floated with an aim of hoodwinking police investigations and passing off victim’s murder as an ordinary local crime. The expose took the humiliating turn for the BJP close on the heels of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to three countries including the UK where he attended CHOGM summit.

Four years ago, when Modi flew abroad, he was greeted by Indian diaspora with aplomb and hope. This time he was greeted with powerful protests. The Indian tricolour was taken down from the flag post by protesters who carried little Asifa’s portraits, instead, and cried for justice.

When Modi embarked on his journey to the foreign land, the international outrage was pouring in. United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres termed the gang rape as “horrific” incident and asked Delhi to ensure that the guilty are brought to justice. “I think we’ve seen the media reports of this horrific case, of the abuse and the murder of a young girl. We very much hope that the authorities will bring the perpetrators to justice so they can be held accountable for the murder of this young girl,” Guterres’ spokesperson StephaneDujjaric told reporters at a press briefing on April 13.

Guterres’ reaction came in the wake of massive coverage of the incident and its imminent fallout in the most influential publications across the world. One of the most incisive reports appeared in New York Times commenting on Modi’s India in the backdrop of Asifa’s rape and murder in Jammu. “Yet instead of uniting India in horror, the incident has deepened religious, political and ethical divides,” journalist Mitali Saran wrote. “It has also made clear that there is no automatic political cost to crime or falsehood if it furthers the hegemonic political narrative. The politicians involved were sacked only after a huge public outcry. Government ministers, officials, right-leaning media and right-wing supporters have been perfectly sanguine about using the dead child to polarize society with whataboutery, fake news and wild conspiracy theories.”

Saran drew a frightening prognosis of the prevailing scenario and cautioned of impending issues. “This battle for the soul and future of India is likely to get more violent in the lead-up to the national elections, scheduled for next year. MrModi’s BJP is braced for a desperate, ugly fight and has a long history of using religious polarization to electoral advantage,” she says.

The article was followed by similar write-ups in Washington Post by Anne Gowen and commentaries with visuals on prominent television networks like BBC, Aljazeera and others. A campaign was launched across the globe with people holding a placard: justice for Asifa. The campaign got support from far and wide of the world cutting across barriers of nationality, caste creed and colour.

The Chinese media also focused on the issue with its historical perspective. An article in South China Morning Post titled ‘murder of girl mired in politics of religion’ reads that day-to-day interactions between Hindus and Muslims have been largely peaceful but that polite distance has widened into a schism since 2014 when the Hindu nationalist BJP was swept into power. “India’s religious minorities, especially the Muslims who form 13 percent of the population, have felt increasingly isolated since then, as attacks by Hindu extremist groups have risen”.

With this realistic campaign across the world against the Kathua incident, Modi was compelled to break his silence in London. “When a young girl is raped, it is such a heart-wrenching incident,” Modi said at an event. “I believe that there cannot be a more wrong path to take. Rape is rape. With a daughter, this injustice, how can we tolerate it?”

But, the comment is seen as too little and too late. India’s noted journalist Karan Thapar described Modi’s delayed response as “moral leadership deficit”. In an article in The Indian ExpressThapar wrote, “Today, after the ghastly Surat, Unnao and Kathua rapes, India is a troubled country. In fact, I would go further. We face a moment of crisis, of grave self-doubt. We’re more than shaken and disgusted. “How could we have done this?” This is the question we keep asking but cannot answer. This is why we needed the prime minister to take a moral stand we could rally around. Eventually, he did but only in generic terms. The specific and horrific details of Kathua and Unnao were not mentioned. More importantly, by the time he spoke, it seemed it had been forced out of him. It didn’t feel like leadership. More like proof of his vacillation, even indifference.”

Asifa’s rape and murder was a conspiracy but it eventually exposed the deeper roots of the horrendous plot and the connect between Sanjhi Rams of Rasana and power corridors of Jammu and Delhi.

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