Brutality too has no borders and the mental setup that leads to acts of savagery does not belong to any religion. This became evident from the two rather three horrible examples from far away Kasur in Punjab province of Pakistan, Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir and Panipat in Haryana. While in Kasur an eight-year-old girl Zainab was raped and murdered sending shock waves across Pakistan and neighboring countries, in our own state an equally horrendous case of Ashifa came to the fore. She also was of same age and both disappeared on January 10. On almost similar lines a Dalit girl, a class 7 student, was found dead on the outskirts of Panipat district’s Urlana village on January 15. Police said that the 11-year-old was first murdered and then gang raped allegedly by two of her neighbours.
These three incidents showed a pattern in the thought process that did not differentiate the so-called human beings. The impact of the treatment meted out to them was huge and the outrage was genuine and forceful. When Zainab’s pictures started trending on the social media her piercing eyes demanded justice and made the viewer guilty. As the cry for justice was growing louder in Pakistan and even in sections in India, Ashifa’s tragedy unfolded closer to home here.
In Haryana too there were protests and the way the Dalit girl had been treated drew attention of many. However, in her case the arrests took place the following day though that did not bring her honour and life back. But the complicity with which such cases have been treated in India in the recent past raises a more critical question. What was seen in the case of Nirbhaya in December 2013 was unprecedented and it shook the “conscience” of the country forcing a complete revamp of anti-rape laws. Those did not stop the repetition of such horrific incidents but the message was clear. It did unite India against the violence that was targeted at women. But it did not bring a complete transformation. That is also because when the victim was from a minority community the law did not take its “right” course.
Ashifa’s case in our own state raised more than one question. While such cases are not common, the reaction by a particular section to her tragedy was also uncommon. The way it saw an ideological divide in political terms was more disturbing. What came to be seen at play was a division not only in terms of whether to condemn it or not but also with respect to ruling the state.
Ashifa was a small girl who belonged to nomadic family. She was whisked away by a goon whose father was close to a political party. That is perhaps the reason that Police did not act even after the family lodged a report and made no effort to trace her. The Police Inspector was suspended only after there was uproar in the Assembly. Had the Assembly not been in session, in all likelihood the case might have been hushed up under political pressure. Except for usual statements that show concern, not much was done initially and the case was later handed over to Crime Branch again after disruption in the Assembly.
“From Kasur to Panipat to Kathua there is no difference in the nature of the crime.But
the approach with which the problem was dealt with has surely made it different ”
What unfortunately came to fore was another grim reality. This case of murder and rape was seen through the prism of religion. There was no visible outrage in Jammu. When Rising Kashmir contacted almost all right-wing parties of which one is the part of coalition their reaction smacked of indifference. Imagine what happens when there is an allegation of “Love Jihad”. Ashifa was innocent and not even knowing yet what her religion was but the way her tragedy was ignored as one perhaps associated with one community is evidence of a disturbing reality through which the state passes. On the top of it when a social activist and lawyer Talib Hussain was leading the campaign for justice he was arrested by the government. Not allowing her body to be buried in the local grave yard by the right wing activists was another example of where the state was heading.
Laxity shown by the administration, particularly police, also is demonstrative of the fact that Jammu is ruled by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and whatever they want to be done they could easily do so. There is no concept of the governance of the state as one when it comes to Jammu. Coalition governments are not stitched up on the basis of regions and for the regions but they are made with the view of having one government. Same was the case with the Civil Society of Jammu, Jammu Chamber of Commerce and other bodies which take no time in joining a political issue. For them Ashifa’s was not a human issue. Ironically the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry too remained silent, perhaps to keep the Jammu counterparts happy as ultimately the convergence over economic interest is the key to their unity.
One cannot afford to look at such an incident in isolation but the magnitude of this brutality does force to treat it separately. Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed a steep rise in incidents of violence against women. In 2016, National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) revealed that J & K had higher rate of crime against women against All India rate. It was 57 against 53.9. Chairperson of State Commission for Women (SCW) Nayeema Mehjoor told Rising Kashmir’s Newsroon Trial on November 22 that the crime against women had gone up in two years. She said the Commission received 3000 complaints. Notwithstanding the fact that there are many laws in place but the state of mind that is responsible for such state of affairs cannot be tackled through laws only.
Society at large has a responsibility to rise against this menace. The tendency that this is routine gives a cover to these occurrences. Particularly with regard to Kashmir, being in a denial mode has been the primary factor for the impunity with which the women have been facing tough time. For example, the harassment at workplace is a common thing and this has unfortunately been accepted as a norm. Besides the social taboo, the complicity with which the authorities deal with such situations has made it a routine. A holistic approach is must to deal with it.
From Kasur to Panipat to Kathua there is no difference in the nature of the crime. But the approach with which the problem was dealt with has surely made it different. Ideally the punishment should not vary and only the pressure from the society can help in achieving that goal. In case of Ashifa, however, our challenge is manifold. How to ensure to make people believe that she also was a human being and deserved same tool of justice? But then the fact is that state is deeply divided on communal lines and unfortunately the state apparatus has adopted that colour. Administration in Jammu division must shun this approach and behave in such a crisis purely with a humanitarian yardstick.