While West Bengal indulged in exorbitant revelries during Durga Puja, a festival essentially celebrating the prowess of the almighty goddess, a ten-year-old Muslim girl was brutally gang-raped and murdered on the night of Maha Navami (October 7, 2019) at Ghatpar, Shorugram – a village near Falakata in West Bengal.
She was a student of Class Five, belonging to a poor and rummaged Muslim household, who had borrowed a meagre sum of ₹4 from her father to visit the nearby pandal to take part in the festivities. Eye-witnesses have claimed that she was proud she had participated in the aarti dance competition and bagged a prize.
But her ailing father, a landless labourer who is stricken with poverty, could not see the pride in his daughter’s eyes. She never returned home. Assuming that she stayed at her aunt’s place which was situated close to the pandal, her parents waited for the morning to arrive. The morning had an atrocious story which unfolded – her debilitated lifeless body, stained with blood and muck was discovered in a paddy field, 200 kilometres away from the pandal.
On October 8, Goddess Durga was fated for visarjan (immersion). Meanwhile, the women of Bengal continued to suffer a terrible fate at the hands of patriarchy. The ironic bit being, none of us are aware of it.
Through the recent years, Durga Puja has been associated with nari shakti (the power of women) and trends have also emerged to make the festival more inclusive and secular. This year, a Muslim girl being worshipped during kumari puja (a ceremony celebrating virginity by venerating pre-pubescent girls) at a pandal in Bidhannagar, Salt Lake on Maha Ashtami hit the headlines to project the exemplary inclusiveness of the festival.
Yet, the horrific tale of another Muslim kumari (young girl) suffering such a dreadful fate eluded most media houses and likewise the audience in middle-class and upper-class households.
Elevating the woman to the position of a goddess is clearly doing no good to the society because in reality, they are treated as nothing less than flesh, bones and a vagina without soul. They are lusted after and ravished, yet their own sexuality is curbed and they become objects to be consumed.
The logic of worshipping a pre-pubescent girl during kumari puja as a symbol of ‘purity’ is in itself patriarchal manipulation which implies sexual stimulation makes a woman less ‘pure’ in some form. By this logic, why must a ten-year-old be raped? What could have stimulated the accused to have committed the heinous act of raping and murdering a pre-pubescent girl?
The events which followed the discovery of the gruesome sight of the gang-raped ten-year-old was still more terrible. The police, who seem to be stirred only by hegemonic upper-caste and upper-class incidences of crime, spurned it as a mere case of murder. Only after the villagers protested in massive numbers did the police lodge the FIR and admit to the girl being gang-raped. Two have been arrested while two remain absconding.
The villagers are not too hopeful for justice being meted out; they see no ray of hope from the police. All of them echo that their financial incapability is the sole reason why justice will not favour them!
But, the father with an ailing heart, is determined to obtain justice. He is urging all to raise their voices against his daughter’s murder. I don’t see the hands that were lifted in unison for Asifa in Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir, to be making any noise about this incident. Why, though?
Is it the media that has not taken heed of the incident? Is it because the marginalised identity of the victim holds no relevance as political biggies are not accused in this case? Are rape cases in India only sensationalised if it can turn into a political gimmick for either of the partisan groups?
We, as a society, should be ashamed that our festival which celebrates a goddess, could not ensure a safe space for a little girl who innocently participated in its fervour. We eat myriad kinds of food and appreciate artwork in the different pandals, we direct lakhs towards building idols of a woman, while a Durga in flesh and blood is raped and murdered in a lesser known part of the state.
Our goddess has died a thousand deaths. Our religions hang their heads in shame. We have been unable to defeat the Mahishasura of patriarchy which has haunted us for the past centuries. Our collective hypocrisy is mocking us with such monstrous incidences of rape; meanwhile the drum rolls when the goddess is immersed.
When will we wake up to reality? When will we shun our religious disguise and raise our voice against the silenced pangs of humanity? When will these criminals be brought to justice, or will they ever be?