Will the Kathua Rape Mark the End of the Indifferent Hindu?


Will the Kathua Rape Mark the End of the Indifferent Hindu?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

It’s been an awkward time to be a peace-loving, secular Hindu. Sure, we got an extra day to get over our New Year party hangovers thanks to the Bhima-Koregaon Mumbai-bandh on January 2, but we could just barely ignore the reasons behind the Dalit protests. It was a grim start to a year that we hoped would be better.

We’d hoped for outings with our Muslim friends where we wouldn’t have to hurriedly gloss over political talks, or newspapers without headlines of Hindutva lynchings. Perhaps it was too much to ask that minorities would feel safe in our supposedly secular democracy, but couldn’t we go back to the good old days where tensions of caste, religion, and communalism, simmered under the surface instead of being acceptable dinner table conversation? After seeing Padmavat burnings, beef bans, and the horrific hacking of a Muslim man over “love jihad” by Shambhu Lal Regar, the bar had been set pretty low for tolerance in this country.

Little did we know, on January 18, 2018, it would sink even lower. And then continue to sink into a bottomless abyss, from where it would be difficult to rise.

As grisly details of the eight-year-old’s brutal, ritualised rape and murder come to light, statements like “New Nirbhaya” and “Beti Bachaao was a warning” have done the rounds as well. But the girl committed a much graver crime than simply being born a girl in this country. She was born a Muslim girl in Kashmir, an unfortunate innocent who became the tipping point in a decades-long socio-political war with shades of communalism. What else could have enabled the perpetrators to carry out such a heinous crime, and worse, succeed with impunity?

Rape has always been about power. But abducting, drugging, holding captive, and repeatedly gang-raping a child for days isn’t just about asserting dominance over one individual. It’s about making a very clear statement: You and your kind aren’t welcome here, so get off our turf.  

When moments of reckoning like these come into our lives, it’s vitally important that we understand that the incident is not that a few deranged individuals or outliers got together and decided to commit a hideous act against a girl. We’ve seen that before, a gut-wrenching, heartbreaking number of times. What tilts this horrific incident into the dark abyss is that everyone from the local police to card-carrying members of our ruling party are complicit in defending not the victim but the rapist.

For a moment, pause to think about what would have happened if the religions of Asifa and her assaulters were reversed. Pause also, to think that we are a country where the mere suggestion of consensual contact between Hindu women and Muslim men is labelled “love jihad”. Would an “Ekta Manch” be formed to carry out a defence of the accused? Unlikely, because justice by lynching was the order of the day over a large part of the last year. If the site of the grievous assault had been a mosque, instead of a mandir, would we have brought the same lackadaisical attitude to justice? The BJP and its supporters in the state have – for the first time – explicitly made clear that a Muslim child’s life, dignity, and rights under the law are negligible.

It’s been a confusing four years. We’ve been asked to question the strength of our beliefs and convictions as we’ve seen minorities’ growing unease in our country. Most of us have watched quietly as Hindutva groups are allowed to kill, burn, rape, and loot – all in our name. We may not have agreed, but we knew the whole time that we could eat our steak and have it too. It is the same knowledge that good, upstanding Germans had, when they stood by during the Holocaust.

There are even those who have defended the government’s silence on communal issues, comfortably saying that they should be given a chance – for development, for vikas. And there are those whose response was to disassociate themselves from right-wing Hinduism and the shit that has now hit the ceiling.

But we can’t really do that, you see. It is our shit.

If as moderate, secular Hindus we don’t want to be represented by the eight men who barbarically ended an innocent child’s life in the name of religion, we have no choice but to speak up and register our outrage. As long as we choose to look the other way, we are complicit.

In death, the Kathua girl has drawn a line in the sand for every Hindu. We need to choose our side. Will she finally mark the end of the indifferent hindu?

With inputs from Kahini Iyer