The nation is still reeling from the shock of two brutal rape cases that have made it to the headlines. Since the horrific Nirbhaya case in 2012, there hasn't been so much spontaneous outpouring of anger and grief across the country. In both cases, the role played by the BJP at the Centre has come under flak.
In Kathua, an eight-year-old girl belonging to a nomadic Muslim community, the Bakarwals, was abducted and raped over several days by a group of men who also killed her. The details of the chargesheet, put down clinically in black and white, are stomach-churning.
In Unnao, a seventeen-year-old who alleged that a BJP MLA had raped her, is grieving her father who died in police custody. The girl's family has said that UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath knew about the rape but had ignored their pleas for help. Even as people, ordinary people with no particular political affiliation, demand justice and take to the street in protest, there are attempts to change the narrative. Particularly in the Kathua case where the victim was Muslim.
Why 'communalise' rape?
Several propagators of Hindutva have asked why the media is communalising the Kathua rape. Why bring in religion at all into the equation?
For one, it wasn't the media which formed the Hindu Ekta Manch, the organisation which carried out a procession in support of the alleged rapists, brandishing the national flag at that. Second, the motive behind the ghastly crime was allegedly to teach the Bakarwals in the highly communally polarised state of Jammu Kashmir a "lesson". Third, the lawyers at the Jammu bar actually tried to prevent the police from filing the chargesheet in an unprecedented act of communal hate.
The strategy of using rape as a weapon is hardly new. Mass rape is common in conflict situations, be it war or riots. In patriarchal societies where women are considered to be the property of men, raping the enemy's women is supposed to "dishonour" the entire community. The 13th century Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan, is known to have advocated the rape of the enemy's women enthusiastically to his courtiers and army. In the Bosnian war, the Bosnian Serb forces employed mass rape as a method of "ethnic cleansing".
Other conflict situations such as the Rwandan genocide, the Bangladeshi Liberation War, Sri Lankan Civil war and so on, have all witnessed men employing rape as a tool to teach the enemy a "lesson". Dominant caste men rape Dalit women as a way to keep the community "in its place", too.
The fact that men from all religions have committed rape or that women from all religions have been raped, does not negate the communal colour to the Kathua incident. The eight-year-old was a victim to communal hate as well as misogyny - to deny this is to bury one's head in the sand like the proverbial ostrich.
Some of the shocking comments on social media - which range from lauding the girl's death to branding the Bakarwals as a community of liars and even asserting that this is an elaborate conspiracy involving the Rohingya - are all along communal lines, too.
Why no outrage about other incidents of rape?
With incidents of rape hitting the headlines almost every single day, we, as a nation, have reached saturation point. The outrage that Nirbhaya evoked in 2012 had hit a flatline - we didn't collectively outrage when a mother who'd just had a C-section surgery was raped when she was in the ICU, or when a 15-year-old cancer survivor was gangraped and then raped again when she asked for help from a passersby, or when a woman was raped in an autorickshaw and had to see her 9-month old baby being flung out of it by her rapists, or when a mentally ill woman was raped by a drunk man on the road, in broad daylight.
The horror stories are many. Too many.
What then is different this time around? What is different is the ruling party's connivance in both crimes and the open support given to the rape accused. Two BJP ministers were part of the march undertaken by the Hindu Ekta Manch in support of the rape accused in the Kathua case. While persons with links to other parties, including the Congress, are also said to have participated in the march, their actions did not receive endorsement from the leadership. To emphasise, the BJP is in coalition with the PDP in Jammu Kashmir and rules the state - to have two ministers participate in a march like this is unpardonable.
Yes, a minor was indeed allegedly raped in 2015 by an imam in a mosque in Moradabad but did any government official or law enforcement officer march in his defence? Did anyone wave a national flag for him? The anger that ordinary, decent human beings feel comes from the outrageous responses to the incident, other than the brutality of the crime itself.
In the Unnao case, where the survivor and rape accused are both Hindu, the Yogi Adityanath government has acted only due to pressure. Smug pictures of rape accused MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar in the CM's office have done little to boost the public's confidence that any kind of justice will be done to the survivor who'd attempted to kill herself outside the office. Meanwhile, the UP government has decided to withdraw a rape case against godman and former union minister Chinmayananda.
Why pin the blame on the BJP?
Incidents of gender-based violence are on the rise all over the country. A change in the government cannot lead to overnight gender equity. However, it's important to remember that one of the prime campaign points of the BJP in the 2014 General Elections was women's safety.
The BJP, which was in opposition at the time, had gone hammer and tongs at the UPA when the Nirbhaya protests took place.
Faced with similar outrage in 2018, the response of the BJP and Prime Minister Modi, in particular, have been woefully inadequate. From radio silence to shameful whataboutery, the ruling party has shown us clearly what its priorities are. The government's machinery has started moving only after a massive outcry and no, there's no new law which it has enacted. What's the point of a new one when the existing laws are treated with such disrespect anyway?
When PM Modi spoke at last, he did so by spouting the usual cliches, completely avoiding saying anything at all about his partymen and their actions. And now, the man has flown to Sweden for a five day Europe trip. True, the PM of a nation has several issues to take care of. But one wonders if ham-and-leave would be his response if any other crisis affected 50 percent of the population - a crisis where one half of the nation lives in constant fear, mentally calculating the threat to their life and dignity every minute of the day. Do we not matter?