Another day. Another rape. Another Nirbhaya. Another stream of hashtags.
An eight-year-old Kashmiri girl was kidnapped and repeatedly raped inside a Hindu temple for eight days. Later she was murdered, mutilated and dumped on the street.
Once again the news has set TV news channels on fire. In a country where a woman is raped every 15 minutes, what does it take for something to make it to the top of a news channels’ list? What decides if the news shall make it to the prime-time slot and what decides that another rape victim shall barely get a mention on the 6th page in a tiny column of a newspaper?
Religion, race and income status play a role. In the case of the eight-year-old girl, it seems to be the major factor.
She belonged to a Muslim tribe called the Bakarwals, a nomadic indigenous tribe, and the village where they lived had a majority of people believing in the Hindu faith
The Hindus wanted to instil fear in the hearts of the minority Muslims and chase them away from the area. Hence, they planned and organized a strategy that involved raping and murdering a minor. It bears repetition that the crime was a planned conspiracy, with the motive of terrorising the minority to chase them away.
One may ignore the religious aspect of the whole rape case, but two other stark realities enter the picture.
The first one is her burial. The child’s coffin was denied a proper burial in her father’s land. The Hindu community leaders once again threatened violence and refused to let her rest in peace.
The second one is the fact that the rape took place in January and today is April. It took three whole months for the police even to file a complaint, and take the case to the courts, simply because the lawyers are also associated with the political leaders involved in the rape case. The shocking thing is that protests are being held, but not against child abuse or hate crimes, but to protect the rapists.
A so-called organization called the Hindu Ekta Manch had in fact taken out rallies with 5000 people, carrying the Indian national flag with them. The idea was basically to win the support of people of the same faith.
According to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO Act) 2012, every suspect in a child sexual abuse case is not even allowed bail. That means even a suspected paedophile (not convicted) is denied the benefit of the doubt, simply because of the gravity of these crimes and the harms such person can cause while remaining on the loose.
However, in this case, and the Unnao rape case that is in the headlines lately, both suspects are associated with the political leaders of the ruling party, and both have not spent a day in prison despite the massive evidence and witnesses.
In any democracy, the blame game between political parties is business as usual. During the Nirbhaya rape case when the Congress party was in power, similar reactions from the opposition were witnessed.
Since the Bhartiya Janta Party (B.J.P) came to power through, India has become a playground for divisive politics, mob lynchings, and hate crimes more than ever. Polarization has become a normalized part of the public sphere.
And thus it is pertinent to recognize not just the massive problem of women and child sexual abuse in India, but also of divisive politics and hate crime.
Most people still struggle to see the difference and argue that we must rise above religion and the death of the girl is just a crime against humanity.
The power dynamics that structure our society have an impact on people’s lives and must be recognized.
In 2017 in the UK, Resham Khan and her cousin were victims of an acid attack. The crime itself was that of acid attack, but the motive was hate; hence it was recognised as a hate crime.
When people of colour, indigenous people, those with a different faith, race, gender, sexual orientation, cultures, abilities and income levels are attacked without provocation or motive, it is a hate crime.
Of course not every crime they encounter will be motivated by hate but those that come from extremist ideology and intolerance must be registered as such.
For those that still deny this as a hate crime, here is a reaction from a Hindu employee (now sacked due to his comment) of Kotak Mahindra Bank: Vishnu had written, “Good that she was killed at this age itself. Otherwise, she would have grown up and come back as a suicide bomber against India.”
To celebrate the brutal gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old child, if hate isn’t a motivator, what is?