Asifa and Unnao. Two names that are juxtaposed in the Indian media today. Two names that may or may not reveal anything to people the world over. But two names that reveal the disgusting socio-political, religiously perverted society that India has devolved into.
In the years that have followed the rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey, Delhi’s ‘braveheart’ who resisted and fought her attackers to death, has anything changed? There was outrage and public outpouring of grief and demands for justice back then. There was an examination of how and why such incidents occurred. Yet little if anything did change. In actual fact, statistics show that instances of crime against women increased! Naysayers can argue increased reportage but the fact remains that a largely indolent but frighteningly nationalist government, an increasingly patriarchal society and a lack of punitive measures has stealthily given rise to a culture that allows its womenfolk to be routinely harassed, attacked and sexually assaulted.
Yet Asifa was only a little girl. An eight year old child who was abducted, drugged and raped by a gang of men for days, till finally being killed by a blow to the head by a rock. Were they a paedophile ring targeting children? Vile as that maybe, the truth is even more chilling. Asifa was targeted because she was a Muslim girl belonging to a nomadic tribe that had the temerity to graze their flock in a Hindu area. This was an organised crime spearheaded by the custodian of a Hindu temple and involving lawmakers and law enforcers. Shockingly, when an attempt was made to register a case against them, a Hindu nationalist mob including government officials, lawyers and women protested in favour of the arrested men.
In a country that has become inured to violence, this was an eye opener.
The Unnao rape case occurred in June 2017. A seventeen year old girl was lured to the house of a MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly) of Uttar Pradesh, by a woman on the pretext of securing her employment. There, she was sexually assaulted by the MLA. Despite repeated attempts to register a case against him, it was not till she threatened to immolate herself in front of the Chief Minister’s house nearly ten months later, was any attention given to her pleas. Meanwhile, her father having been threatened and beaten up by the MLA’s brother and other assorted goons, died in police custody the following day.
Asifa and Unnao. Two names that have become inextricably linked within the Indian consciousness. Two names that have once again led to nationwide protests demanding justice, a change in laws and culpability for criminals of all ilk and provenance.
Yet this is a malaise that has deep roots.
Power, Patriarchy and Religion. A malevolent triptych that holds an entire nation to ransom.
In a country that began its life promising to be secular, promising to house and respect all religions and faiths, India has seen some of the worst sectarian violence in its seventy odd years of Independence. Whether it is Hindus vs Muslims, Hindus vs Sikhs or even Hindus vs Hindu Dalits (the lowest caste), theistic fervour has given India the dubious distinction of being the fourth-worst country for religious violence, trailing only behind Syria, Nigeria and Iraq. In an increasingly nationalistic atmosphere that celebrates Hinduism and marginalises all other faiths, a Saffron Reich of zealots are police stating their way into people’s lives.
Those in command have risen through the ranks on the back of proselytising the youth to their agenda. Fanaticism is bred and encouraged. Bigotry, extremism and partisanship are the cornerstones of a government drunk on its own power and ideology. It is no wonder that in this atmosphere hostility and discrimination towards minority religions is alive and well.
Yet, a religion that ostensibly worships the feminine ‘Shakti’ (energy) as a Devi in her many avatars, has zero respect for the women or girls of its land. When an eight month old baby is raped by her twenty eight year old cousin in the Indian capital of New Delhi, does Hindutva proclaim him a criminal or turn a blind eye as it always does? When rape is viewed as consensual sex, does Hindutva hang its head in shame or turn its face the other way? When a girl is said to be tempting a boy by virtue of her femininity, does Hindutva defend her as a Devi, or let her be mauled by its minions?
Let me be clear: I am a Hindu by birth and by upbringing. To me, being Hindu has never meant kowtowing to rules created by a patriarchal priesthood that tells me what to eat, when to eat, what to wear or who to worship. These man made rules do not govern me. For me Hinduism has always meant being inclusive, respectful and considerate towards all. I do not recognise or associate with this brand of Hinduism that is a weapon in the hands of the powerful and the corrupt.
Ultimately, no amount of slogan shouting or banner holding can even begin to address the root of the problem. A country that is steeped in religion, tradition and dogma is held with a leash to its collar by ruthless demagogues.
What hope can the women of this land have?