There Should Be No Place For Communalism in Discussions About the Hyderabad Assault and Murder

Social Commentary

There Should Be No Place For Communalism in Discussions About the Hyderabad Assault and Murder

Illustration: Siddhakanksha Mishra

The abduction, assault, and gruesome murder of a 26-year-old veterinarian in Hyderabad is the most talked-about news story in the country right now. But less than 72 hours ago, the victim was a virtual unknown. She lived with her family in a metropolitan city, she worked during the day, and rode about town on a scooter; an ordinary, working, middle-class Indian woman. There was nothing extraordinary in her life, until the story took a dark turn on Wednesday night.News outlets have covered the sequence of events in harrowing detail: She was returning home from an appointment at 8:30 pm; she found her scooter with a punctured tyre in the parking lot; some men offered to help her fix it, but made her uncomfortable; she called her sister to express her fears; was told to wait at a nearby toll booth, and then, she was gone. Her family filed a complaint with Hyderabad Police, but their daughter would not return home. Her dead body was found the next morning, some distance away from the toll booth parking lot, severely charred and burned, with evidence of physical and sexual assault littering the crime scene.

This hair-raising, stomach-churning case has vaulted into national attention, with some drawing parallels between this case and the horrifying New Delhi gang rape case in 2012. Indeed, there are many similarities between the two. Both showed us that even in India’s bigger, supposedly progressive cities, women are under perennial threat. Both involve a group of assailants acting out their crimes under the cover of darkness. Both attacks sparked off a nationwide outrage, but that is where the likenesses between the two cease.

There is one vital difference in the outrage over the Hyderabad attack and the outrage that followed the 2012 Nirbhaya case. In Nirbhaya’s time, her rapists were unanimously condemned for the brutality of their crime. In this instance, there is a certain section of people – mostly on Twitter and WhatsApp (where else) – who are keen to demonise the victim’s attackers not for their unforgivable actions, but for the religious identity of one of the four assailants. The fact that one of the accused, Mohammed Pasha, is Muslim, has caused the hashtag #Balatkari_Mohammed_Nikla (The rapist is Mohammed) to trend on Twitter.

But increased awareness of the sexual violence taking place in this country has not played a role in abating it in any significant manner.

When Pasha was arrested by Hyderabad Police earlier today, BJP leader Raja Singh posted a video saying, “Mujhe ummeed thi ki ‘Mohammed’ jaisa hi vyakti aisa ganda kaam kar sakta hai,” doubling down on the dog-whistling stance he took in an earlier tweet. There are others who share Raja’s opinion, and are using Pasha’s crime as an opportunity to let their prejudices out in the open. Offensive, discriminatory slurs show that there are some in India who have an even lower opinion of Muslims than Donald Trump has of Mexicans. Of course, this line of thinking cannot function without its adherents donning blinders to facts – and the fact that the other three suspects arrested soon after Pasha were all Hindu has flown right over their heads. To these people, Pasha isn’t a threat to society because he could be a kidnapper, a rapist, and a murderer; he’s a threat chiefly because he is Muslim.

It’s telling that most reports announcing the arrest of the four suspects don’t mention the names Chinnthakunta Chennakesavulu, Jollu Naveen, and Jollu Siva, but they do prominently feature terms like “Prime Suspect Mohammed Pasha”. It fits the false narrative that some right-wingers are trying to manufacture out of the tragedy. Of course, the narrative is total bullshit, but it’s distracting bullshit, and this line of thinking is gathering steam. This diverts us from the real problem – how unsafe India is for women like this unfortunate victim.

She was not assaulted and murdered simply because she was unfortunate enough to cross paths with Pasha; she was let down by a dysfunctional society, just like Nirbhaya before her. In December 2012, the Nirbhaya case was supposed to have been a crossing of the Rubicon. Candle light marches were held, along with public demonstrations. Rape laws were amended to include capital punishments. And this was followed by an increase in the number of reported cases of rape and sexual assault in India.

nirbhaya_rape_case

Reddy’s case and the horrifying 2012 Delhi gang rape showed us that even in India’s bigger, supposedly progressive cities, women are under perennial threat.

Saumya Khandelwal /Hindustan Times / Getty Images

But increased awareness of the sexual violence taking place in this country has not played a role in abating it in any significant manner. Perhaps the most depressing thing about this case is that despite all the uproar and media attention, it’s not that extraordinary after all. In the 48 hours since the story broke, there has also been a wave of reporting about other, equally horrific assaults taking place across the country (another morbid similarity between now and 2012). Even as we were busy demanding justice for what happened in Hyderabad, a minor girl was gang raped in Ranchi, and another was raped and killed in Tamil Nadu.

It’s a grim reminder that in India, rape is a bigger problem than religion. There are enough news stories in the media that pose a threat to the peaceful coexistence of India’s many faiths. But the tragic story of the Hyderabad victim and other women and girls like her should not become one of them.

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