'And when the baby girl who is buried alive will be questioned about;
For what offence was she killed?'
---Surah Al Takwir, Ch:81: 9-10)
Last month, the kidnapping, gang-rape and brutal killing of an eight-year old little girl in Kathua, in the Jammu region, caused a national outrage in India. And the country witnessed a series of popular protests against the rising tide of horrific incidents of violence against women and girl children in recent years. The government’s woeful record of abject failures in dealing with the question of safety and security of women and girl children was highlighted in these mass mobilizations. Across several cities and townships, public meetings called for ending the prevailing culture of impunity around sex and gender-related crimes. That the Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself was reminded on Indian women’s safety by well-meaning foreigners during his recent tour of Britain speak volumes about the national dishonour and humiliation these institutional failings represent for the people.
The Kathua incident came to national prominence for a number of reasons, including the debates surrounding safety of women and the concerns about growing marginalization of, and despair among, the Muslims in this era of Hindutwa chauvinism. For one, the victim was in her tender years, a girl child-all of eight years of age; belonging to a nomadic, tribal community of Muslims- one of the most marginalized sections of the people in the land. Second, the crime was perpetrated inside the village Temple, right in front of the deities the Hindus otherwise worship and they chose her as a soft target not just because of her identity as a girl-child, but also to send across a message of intimidation, fear and threat of violence and thereby expel her community of Muslims from the area. Third, to add insult to injury, the perpetrators got powerful political patronage in seeking impunity from prosecution for their despicable crime. In the cauldron of communal politics being practiced by the ruling ‘Hindutwa’ forces in India today, even ‘Hindu’ groups and their cabinet Ministers in the province chose to close ranks and come out openly in support of the perpetrators. The vultures had the gall to play 'patriotism' and 'Hindu pride' to cover their despicable crime and even abused the national flag so as to obstruct the legal proceedings in the courts, with the lawyers creating a ruckus in the hallowed precincts of the courts to prevent the police from filing criminal charges against the accused!
The fact that even an offence like rape and sexual assault is ought to be justified in the name of religious affiliation by a segment of the Hindus enjoying patronage of the ruling political elite indicates the dire state of affairs now in the country. Indeed what is happening today in India is not an aberration any more. Ever since Prime Minister Modi has come to power, the Hindutwa thugs under his ideological wings have been brazenly and wantonly indulging in the politics of hate and oppression against the beleaguered national minority. In the last three years alone, many Muslims, cattle-traders and other common youths, have been victims of brutal mob lynchings by Hindutwa marauders operating in the name of ‘Cow Protection’, ‘Love Jihad’, etc. Aggressive Hindutwa activism means enemies of the faith (read Muslims) can be killed on any pretext-mere suspicion of offence is enough to brutally lynch a hapless human soul! The deadly mix of criminals in politics coupled with the deepening crisis of judicial integrity mean the course of justice can mostly be obstructed in almost all issues- more so in matters where the 'Muslim' questions are under trial. More than ever before, India needs to have a public debate on the dignity and rights of its Muslim citizens and their entitlements as a community vis-a vis others in the country.
Through her harrowing experiences and untimely departure from our midst, the little girl of Kathua is pointing certain hard truths to the Indian State and our people. Our country is possibly the only liberal democracy in the world where hate crimes against the minority groups is not specifically recognized as a real issue and legally proscribed, despite the deaths of thousands in anti-Muslim and anti-Sikh pogroms. Beyond the capacity of the State to deal with, and respond to, horrific crimes- including sexual assault and rape as an instrument of religious domination and political warfare, the recurring institutional failings point to a searing problem: a political class willing to play the deadly game of 'divide the communities and rule over them'. Indeed it is the absence of the moral fiber or the sense of fairness and justice to the last man (or woman) that casts its long shadow on the quality of rule of law at various levels in our democracy. We can look the other way only if we do not want to accept this haunting reality that surrounds us.
Like the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) reminded long ago, just as 'a just government is a Divine blessing'; 'speaking truth to power' or raising one's voice against an unjust administration is also a critical obligation on the part of every citizen. The people of India needs to continue to insist upon the integrity of our value systems and the commitment of our rulers to constitutional ethos of the State so that the type of society we want can be built up. In a context of democracy and constitutional order, the special issues of children and women and minority groups require political accountability. Thoughtful people will also find much to ruminate on the Qur’anic wisdom “Surely, Allah commands you to make over the trusts (such as the affairs of the state) to those who are competent to it, and that when you judge between the people you should judge with justice. That which Allah exhorts you to do is best indeed. Allah is All-Hearing, All-Seeing”. (Surah Al Nisa, 4:58)
Speaking Truth to Power