By Farhana Latief
It has been three months since the minor Bakarwal child was kidnapped, tortured, raped and murdered in her hometown of the Kathua district of Jammu and Kashmir. The crime was mainly reported initially by the local media of Jammu and Kashmir and a couple of Indian mainstream media outlets like NDTV, until international media reported the gruesome details of the crime against her.
The silence on the issue of the victim’s rape and murder by Indian civil society including the Indian mainstream media is not unprecedented. Their silence on issues of violence concerning J&K is conscious and historical too. Indian media’s complicity is a chosen one, to side with [its] state’s commissions and omissions in Kashmir. Hence, every news is filtered and picked only after due caution. Be it the killings of Kashmiris in protests or egregious aggressions by state forces in many forms, the Indian media and the civil society maintains “undignified criminal silence” about it.
Undignified Criminal Silence: Evidence from the Past
The silence of Indian civil society on issues pertaining to Kashmir is an old nationalist tradition. This is true about the cases which involve gendered violence against men and women. The case of the Handwara girl in 2016 is a recent example. Handwara is one of the most militarized region, owing its closeness to the Line of Control in Kashmir. The military personnel stationed in Handwara chowk attempted sexual assault on the minor girl. The girl screamed for public attention. Police detained her, prevented her from speaking about the facts of the incident and falsely recorded her video in custody and released it to public. The outrage in the town was met with the killing of five protestors by the state forces (Killings in Handwara 2016). There was hardly any civil society voice from India condemning this. The silence was in the “National Interest”.
No Kashmiri can ever forget the tragedy of the Shopian double rape and murder case. It exposes the hypocrisy of Indian media and Indian civil society , in and out. The two women went missing after they had gone to their orchard in later part of the day only to return in the form of bruised and violated bodies. The site where the bodies were recovered from had been searched multiple times by family with the help of police. People alleged the role of armed forces stationed nearby to orchard for rape and murder. The case witnessed forceful hushing up by the state. This case was not safe enough for Indian civil society to outrage on rigged investigation. Social media existed but the case witnessed no social media condemnation by Indian civil society. More or less all Indian media outlets seemingly reported the Shopian double rape and murder case more from the police press notes as compared to how local media reported it.
There have been innumerable crimes against women in Kashmir which did not fetch enough attention from the Indian civil society. Kunan Poshpora continues to haunt the self-righteous Indian civil society. But the “surprising response” of India’s civil society to Asifa’s rape and murder is not that surprising either, after deliberate slumber at all other times. So what makes Indian civil society speak in the case of Asifa after almost four months of the incident ? Multiple reasons actually.
India chose to Respond in the “National Interest” !
Indian media found it safe to talk about the issue when they saw the state of J&K pursuing the case to the extent of filing a charge sheet. But, to speak of an issue after three months of the incident, required an entry point. The Jammu lawyer’s protest and their use of Hindu slogans served it right there. That is when Barkha Dutt suddenly realized that Asifa too needed justice. That too, after a news report appeared in International media. And civil society of India immediately responded with coming out on social media once Dutt made the case for the same.
Barkha Dutt wrote in Washington post that “Indian flag was used for saving the accused, and that is not what the flag stands for”. Dutt’s concern for the misuse of flag shows that her response was to secure India’s international image. She also goes on to state that Indians have always stood for the women who have been victims of sexual violence. But, what she is not telling her readers is that Indians have stood by their “own women” and never for the people of Jammu And Kashmir.
Another article in Scroll says “Rarely before has India so clearly faced its darkest side and refused to recognise it” Really ? So have “India and Indians” recognized the Shopian double Rape and Murder case? Have they sought punishment for rapes in Kunan Poshpora and raised their voices for the victims of a repressive approach in Kashmir?
Selectively speaking on this issue served another purpose to the suddenly woke Indian civil society. It gave them an opportunity to speak against the powerful right wing political opponent collectively. This they did by evoking public sentiment against BJP by combining a rape case in Uttar Pradesh of India and Asifa’s rape, torture and murder in Kathua. This ensured depriving the case of Asifa a specific context of conflict, militarization in Line of Control areas of Jammu and Kashmir and communal hatred against Muslims. This is India at its best skills to nationalize an issue which was first sanitized to become a “safe gender issue” to talk about without any repercussions on their nationalist image and make it part of anti-Hindutva narrative and gain the political points against Modi’s government.
The breaking of traditional silence by the “concerned citizens of India” is nothing but a show of hypocrisy by those Indians who have always justified the crimes of its state by maintaining criminal silence in Jammu and Kashmir.
The gendered nature of the Kathua kid’s case might have allowed them to raise their voices in convenient ways, but it also reveals how the Indian masses are ready to show sympathy with only a certain kind of victims of violence while they never question the violence inflicted on the people of Jammu and Kashmir who demand their political rights. This convenient concern also has allowed Indians to not pay attention to the context of the crime, the context of conflict, the restrictions on the movement of the gujjar bakarwals in their own land due to militarization and so on.
It took India and Indian civil society three months to calculate costs and benefits to come out and speak on delivery of justice.
(Thanks to Sushmita Verma, a Researcher based in Mumbai, for her valuable inputs for the article)
—The author is a Research Student at Jawaharlal Nehru University. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org