By Prerna Grewal:
“Yet another Naga girl was raped by a person of Bangladeshi origin in Dimapur” – Naga Students’ Federation (NSF)
“We are the sons of the soil. We can’t be Bangladeshis just because we are Bengali Muslims” – Nasiruddin (Brother of the alleged rapist, Syed Farid Khan)
Within the space of a few words, these two statements eloquently bring out the notions concerned with patriotism and patriarchy, which pervade the mindset of some people in our country today. The emphasis on the Bangladeshi origin of the alleged rapist in the first statement, highlights that the outrage was not just against the perpetrators of violence towards women, but also against violence by the “outsiders” upon “our women”. The statement further manifests the patriarchal notion which upholds women as the embodiment of the family’s and by extension, the nation’s honour.
Questions, therefore, arise:
How and why does the society distinguish between rape done by an “outsider” and rape done by one of “our own”. A crime is a crime irrespective of one’s background or nationality. The rape committed by an Indian would not be any less brutal or less heinous than that committed by an “immigrant Bangladeshi”.
The alleged rapist, Syed Farid Khan, was pulled out of the central jail in Dimapur by a mob, stripped naked, and dragged towards the clock tower to be hanged. However, because of incessant attacks on him throughout the way, he succumbed to his injuries before reaching the desired destination. Reportedly, the mob left the jail authorities helpless, and they were unable to prevent violence.
Syed Farid Khan, was initially reported to be a 35-year-old Bangladeshi immigrant who dealt in scrap and used motor cars. Recent reports, however, confirm this status to be untrue. The statement of Khan’s brother backed by the Assam chief minister, Tarun Gogoi, who said that Khan was a “genuine Indian citizen” confirm this.
The entire event has generated a plethora of responses: from lynching as a justified punishment, to condemnation of people taking the law in their own hands and resorting to brutal violence.
Here is an analysis of the different angles that have been generated so far:
The Xenophobia Angle:
Even though Syed Farid Khan’s status as a Bangladeshi immigrant has been reported to be false, the question still remains – was the mob’s action only a result of the provocation that arose out of the rising instances of violence against women, deferred judgments, the documentary “India’s Daughter” with its sexist remarks and its ban, or did his being a Bangladeshi Muslim also add to this violent incident?
Many people associate Bengali Muslims with IBI (a very popular acronym for Illegal Bangladeshi Immigrant), and needless to say, accord a ‘lowly’ status to them. In fact, over time, the meaning of IBI has moved beyond the literal and has incorporated other ‘lowly’ associations. As pointed out by Bonojit Hussain, these include “virulence, natural (almost genetic) proneness to criminality, uncivilized to the extent of being inhumanly dirty or unhygienic etc.” This discrimination has its roots buried deep within the history of partition of the subcontinent. Further, the Bengali Muslims become easiest targets of this discrimination, not because of certain differences, but because of their cultural practices, which are perceived as somewhat similar to those of Bangladeshis.
It is interesting that most of the so called ‘patriotic’ statements issued by the NSF and others, were taken off the internet right after the lynching and only their excerpts are available in the local newspapers.
While the Nagaland chief minister TR Zeliang blames social media for the hype and consequent chaos, it is worth considering why inflammatory comments were made by these groups. These comments had to be taken off the internet to prevent further speculation by the media and to avoid the accusations of inciting communal and xenophobic violence.
The Legal Angle
People, apart from being infuriated by the rising rates of violence against women, are also infuriated by the lack and deferment of justice. However, it is important to remember that the legal process works through deliberation and investigation. One cannot allow instincts and passions to overpower rationality. This violence in Nagaland engulfed the livelihood of several innocent people, as the mob in their surge of anger, apart from burning the alleged rapist’s shop, also set several neighbouring shops, houses, and a bus on fire. This again brings one back to the question – if xenophobia and communal factors were also significant contributors to the aggression that was unleashed, then we must introspect.
A civilized democracy with laws and procedures shouldn’t reduce itself to barbarism. Rather, having identified the issues behind the problem, we should work towards addressing them. For instance, for the improvement of the legal system, one can work towards introducing amendments in the existing laws and pass new laws according to the demands of the changing nature of crimes in our society. This will initially be time consuming, and is of course, easier said than done, but it is necessary. This may seem like nothing more than an idyllic suggestion, as of now, but even then, no one has the right to take matters in their own hands and resort to the most destructive forms of punishment.