Monday, April 16, 2018

The politics of Rape & Murder

Two recent incidents have shaken the conscience of the nation, and of course rightly. Nothing can be ghastlier than the kidnapping, sedating, raping, murdering and then throwing the corpse of an eight-year-old girl in the forest.

What makes the whole thing even more chilling and worthy of a unanimous national outrage and protest is the fact that the little girl, belonging to a nomadic Muslim clan in a legacy of confrontation with the local majority Hindu peoples, was allegedly raped in a Kali temple in the middle of a forest, where the little girl would graze cattle and play around with animals and birds. Driven by the urge to take revenge on the girl’s clan for having thrashed him earlier, Sanji Ram, a custodian of the Kali Temple, got the girl kidnapped on 10th January 2018. The body was discovered on 17th and the case transferred to the J&K Crime Branch on 22nd January, as the victim’s family raised doubts about the veracity of the investigations led by the local police. Their doubts were not wrong as it turned out that the accused Sanji Ram had bribed the local police.

The place where the crime happened – Kathua – is in J&K and it’s administered by a coalition of BJP and a local Kashmiri party PDP, led by Mehbooba Mufti, who’s also the CM of the state. Despite the political clout of the prime accused Sanji Ram, the state machinery did move on promptly, transferring the case immediately to the Crime Branch. Led ably by Ramesh Kumar Jalla, Senior Superintendent of Police, J&K Crime Branch, Jammu division, the crime branch did everything in their capacity to do a fair investigation. Accordingly, the chargesheet was prepared. Several lawyers in Kathua tried to prevent Mr. Jalla from filing the chargesheet at the chief metropolitan magistrate’s court on April 9, gheraoing the team for more than five hours. Earlier on March 4, two BJP ministers, Lal Singh and Prakash Chander, had participated in a rally demanding the probe be transferred to CBI, as the prime accused Sanji and his folks alleged the J&K police would frame them up wrongly. Needless to say, the prime accused and his folks enjoy a good rapport with the BJP ministers, to the point that they could get the ministers to rally for him. But despite that, Mr. Jalla has been quoted in a news article as saying that he faced no pressure while preparing the chargesheet. And despite the gherao, the chargesheet was indeed submitted on time.

So, till this point, the local BJP-PDP government can’t be accused of inaction, unlike another case where a minor girl has accused the sitting BJP MLA from Unnao in UP, Kuldeep Singh, of raping her last year. Not only didn’t the UP BJP government take any action against the MLA till recently, but the MLA and his accomplices have been also threatening the girl’s family constantly. Eventually they got the girl’s father framed in a false charge and arrested. Later he died suspiciously in police custody. Needless to say, he was tortured to death, with the MLA colluding with the local police.
This particular case is a brazen instance of states’ inaction and attempt to shield a rapist.

It’s a coincidence that the death of the girl’s father in Unnao happened around the same time as the two BJP ministers in the J&K government coming out publicly to defend the prime accused of the Kathua rape and murder case and several lawyers preventing Mr Jalla, the investigating officer of the of the Kathua case, to submit the chargesheet in Jammu. The timing was perfect and catalyzed the entire nation into a spontaneous outpouring of outrage and angst, and of course rightly. Rape is always one of the most loathsome and condemnable crimes which could be committed against humanity. It’s the worst form of violence against women. The Kathua case crossed all standards of crime in all aspects, from the goriness and grotesqueness to the total erosion of conscience and morality in the society. Its unthinkable that the human beings could stoop down to such level that could shame even a beast. The case is subjudice, but still, there’s enough reason to feel frustrated why the accused were not being arrested. The public outrage is understandable and it’s really good that the nation did come out of slumber, finally.

Now, around the same time few other equally horrific incidents happened at the other part of the country – in Assam and Bihar.

One of the reputed national dailies reported that a minor died in Assam’s Nagaon district after she was gang-raped by three – two of them juveniles – and set on fire. This was the second case of gang rape in Nagaon district in eight days, the daily said. It added, the police said the accused – Jakir Hussain, 21, and the two juveniles belonging to the same village of the victim – raped the girl when she was alone at home, doused her with kerosene and set her on fire.

Another reputed daily reported, a six-year-old girl was struggling for her life after being raped by a middle-aged man at a village in Rohtas, around 165km southwest of Patna. It added, police said the accused identified as Mohammad Meraz, 40, was the neighbour of the girl. He had taken the victim to an agriculture field when she was playing outside her residence on Tuesday evening and raped her.
In my opinion, all the four rape cases in Kathua, Unnao, Nagaon and Rohtas are equally horrific and can’t be categorized or compartmentalized into different grades of severity. Strangely the national media never picked up the later two cases and neither the national conscience aroused for them. Unnao and Kathua were in people’s minds, words, social media, candle light vigils and everywhere. But the other two were totally ignored.

I often wonder what we protest against, and why we do so. A girl gets raped in a horrific incident, and many are being killed almost every day. Statistics say that many of them don’t even get justice. So, why’s that, that the media and public cry only for a few? They say they are fighting for justice but then what about many thousand such cases where too the victims may not get justice, not just because of political collusion, but for many other reasons. Why are we not bothered about the stupendous amount of such incidence of rampant injustice? Why do we take to candle light vigils and protests only in selective cases? Isn’t it utter hypocrisy? What are we trying to achieve here? Getting justice to victims of rape or fighting against only those which are outcome of BJP’s collusion with fundamentalist or Hindu nationalist forces? Do we even know the breakup of such selective crimes against the thousands of other equally horrific crimes which are happening otherwise? Would taming BJP or kicking them out of power solve all such problems in India? Do we even know what all problems we are facing? Unless we are non-hypocritical about the problems, is there anything going to change?

I sought to ask my friends and acquaintances about this. And what I heard was equally interesting.
It’s not about actions taken in the other two cases, I was told. It’s more about the environment of polarization and hatred which got created. A mob, or those capable of bringing together a mob, have started thinking anything could be justified under the garb of fake nationalism if they were part of the so called nationalist party, was the main grudge. This nationalist party is of course BJP. In the same line, Washington Post wrote, “Hindu ‘nationalists’ defend accused rapists and shame India,” referring to lawyers preventing the investigating officer Mr. Jalla from submitting the chargesheet of the Kathua rape and murder case in Jammu and two BJP ministers rallying with the demand for transferring the investigation to the CBI, of course at the behest of the prime accused.

I wonder if the term “Hindu Nationalist” was at all needed. Doubtless, the Kathua rape case had a strong communal overtone, which, how much ever we might abhor, is also a reality. So is the tension between the Hindus and the Muslims, mainly Bangladeshi illegal immigrants, infiltrating into India through Assam and Bengal. The incident in Assam, the localites would know, does have a communal undercurrent, which is again a grim and sad reality. But then, would it ever be reported as “Hindu girl gang raped and set on fire by Islamists”?

Media in general, I understand, is often choosy and biased while selecting their priorities. They indulge in political partisanism instead of neutrality. They intend to control power at the behest of their political patrons. But then, how could the countrymen, whose conscience arouses from time to time, be selective and partisan?

Someone agrees to the media partisanism, but then it’s stressed that we should appreciate the nonviolence protest and pressurize the government to make more strict laws.  Somewhere we must speak up and let this – the recent cases at Kathua and Unnao – be that moment.
But still I don’t understand why someone would be selectively vocal and selectively silent about similarly heinous crimes. Doesn’t it mean bias?

I’m then asked if I’m implying that one should not protest for incident A if he is not for incident B. There could be lot of reason for that, I’m told. One is awareness – media and even the politics. Terming it bias would be shameful.

In reality though, I meant exactly the opposite. If one is protesting for A then I would expect him or her to protest for B also. If morality and principles are selective of based on politics, then isn’t it a very dangerous situation?

But then, I’m warned, I shouldn’t assume that people are aware of each incident. But I’ve a feeling even if people knew about the other cases, still the reaction might not have been as much. Rape is inhuman. Neither that should be politicized nor the protest. That’s totally understandable. But when I raise the questions about the stoic silence on the other cases, the response is that someone’s morality couldn’t be questioned in this context. The argument is turned towards the poison and polarization we are living with, with so much pain, where even a protest for rape is being questioned for morality.

It’s agreed that people should be angry on any rape case, I hear. But in the other two cases [in Assam and Bihar], the attempt to cover up by the ruling party is a problem. BJP is promoting communal rape, I’m reminded again and again. Rape cases are increasing. What is the government doing? Nothing. The bureaucrats are raping. What's the solution? We need a government that will stop this.
So, now the layers of onion have started to peel off. So, the protests are more against BJP for promoting “communal rape”.

One question came to my mind. Have we checked the data about rapes and crimes against women and children in India over the past 10 years? And, what is a communal rape? Rape is a rape, isn’t it? Are we saying a communal rape is more commendable than other types of rapes? If the protests are against the sudden increase in the rapes and crimes against women and children, then of course there’s a real problem at hand. So, I checked the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) site for the data and here is what I found.

The Crime Statistics 2016 is the most recent publication from the NCRB. Comparing the latest 2016 data with that of the previous years since 2008, it can be seen that there’s a drastic reduction in the rate of increase in the crimes against women and children, since 2014, since the recent NDA has come to power. Having said that, that’s nothing to be happy about. The spike in the crimes reported around 2013 might be due to more awareness, post Nirbhaya rape case, and media and public scrutiny. Since 2014, the reporting would have stabilized, and there has been a steady increase in the crimes since then. But doubtless, it can’t be said that the crimes have increased at significantly higher rates since 2014, compared to those in the past 10 years. It could be surely said of the current government that it has failed to reduce the crimes. But that’s an altogether different point.

The above two charts show the actual incidence of crimes in a few categories, like: Rape of girls below six years of age, Murder of girls below six years of age, Political and Communal murders, and finally Rape and Murder – the data for the last one is available only since 2014, again most likely an impact of the Nirbhaya Rape and Murder Case, which was perhaps the last such case to have shaken the country.

If we take the NCRB data as sacrosanct, there’s no way we could say that the current BJP government have done something which has suddenly increased the crimes against women, and child or for that matter of fact, the communal and political murders.

Talking about Politico-Communal Murders, there’s something more interesting when we see the states which has the maximum incidence of this.

Of the 6 top contributors for political and communal murders in 2016 only two – Rajasthan and Jharkhand – are administered by BJP. So, it can’t be asserted either that BJP has unleashed an epoch of political and communal murders, despite the many serious “communal” incidents by cow vigilantes across many states in the North India. Doesn’t it imply that just by going after BJP and accusing them of all the evils actually won’t solve most of the problems?

You don't need to compile any data, I was told. NCRB annual report, which is published by the government, it was pointed out sternly to me, clearly shows a sharp rise of 95% in violence against women and children over the years. Yes, that’s true. In fact, the reality is much grimmer than this. The reported incidence of crime against women has increased by 83% in ten years. That of crime against children has increased by more than four times during the same period. But, the data presented above doesn’t imply that the BJP’s communalism and the rise in fundamental and Hindu nationalist forces can be directly linked with that. As they say, the nonexistence of proof of anything is not the proof of its nonexistence. Going by that logic, yes, it can be always argued that there’s a lacuna of the right data and should that be available it could be proved that BJP is indeed responsible for the rise in crimes against women and children. But then, does that logic make sense?

Since I keep questioning the hue and cry raised by the civil society, I’m asked, what do I think should be done? How could I be a part of the solution?

It’s not that I’m not making any hue and cry. I make the maximum hue and cry in such cases and I've been doing it without any bias and prejudice. The problem is when the cries are selective. That's why the problem never gets solved. Government after governments comes and goes. But these problems remain because we never make a uniform hue and cry – we choose and select as per our convenience.
The problem is that people raise hue and cry in online and offline public fora individually. There is no mass movement, it’s argued, which could go after the dysfunctional system legally and politically, challenging the rise in violence. Rallies and campaigns, it’s asserted, are born when there is a total absence of legal and large scale political action. So indirectly, it’s being hinted that all the problem is due to political inaction of the power at the center. It’s as though, the two other cases of rapes in Assam and Bihar wouldn’t have happened, or for that matter, all the other heinous incidence of crimes against women and children would stop if and only if the BJP is tamed, or even better, replaced at the center by any one from the rest which, very surreptitiously, would be absolved of all their crimes in the past and would appear cleansed in milk.

Coming to the topic of past crimes of political parties, let’s see where everyone stands, in this context. It has been said that BJP has the maximum number of tinted MPs and MLAs accused of crimes against women and children. Is that’s true – they have 14 out of their total 1700+ MPs and MLAs in the center and states, which is 0.8%. Congress is marginally better – they have 0.6% tainted MPs and MLAs. Let’s see the top few tainted parties.

Seeing this, it’s good that TDP with the highest percentage of tainted elected leaders have deserted BJP. Interestingly, the second most tainted party seems to be BJD. So here too, it can’t be claimed that if not BJP then the “crime” scene would improve.

Finally, it’s pointed out that, in the context of the Kathua and Unnao incidents, there is suddenly a lot of postings, from the “right wing” in particular, about the other rapes, and the tenor is the same, that these things also happen, but Unnao and Kathua are being highlighted, as though it’s is a conspiracy. Next, as if to justify why the other rape cases don’t call for the similar outrage and angst, the following questions are raised about them:

1.       Did the confinement and rape happen in a place of worship?
2.       Was the victim kept in custody for 10 days in horrendous conditions?
3.       Do the accused include an MLA or a police officer or a retired revenue official?
4.       Was the family of the victim arrested? Was the father of the victim beaten to death in police custody – allegedly by the brother of the victim?
5.       Did the family of the victim leave their home because of threats from the perpetrators?
6.       Did the MLA, ministers, leaders come out on the streets supporting the alleged rapists?
7.       Did people called bandhs, and physically prevent the chargesheets to be filed in the court?
8.       Did the High Court haul up the state government for the complete butchery of the criminal justice system?
9.       Did the members of the ruling party trash its own police force and ask the intervention of central government as it feels it will be sympathetic to the criminals?
    Did the state have to wait for the CBI to come and arrest the accused?
   And lastly, did rats come out in the social media overtly and covertly supporting the actions – by sharing incorrect, manipulated or fake data?

I have a very simple view that any rape of a child and murder is as pathetic and heinous and horrendous as any other and it's sadistic to even compare or highlight the differences between them. That itself smacks of being partisan. Each is horrific. Period. And each needs attention and outrage and hue and cry to ensure that justice is meted out. Does it matter whether it's politically motivated or communally? I loathe both and have serious concern in categorizing and trying to say one is better or worse than the other. Any crime like this is a decay of the societal norms and principle and the basic cultural fabric of the people or country. Nirbhaya's case was neither political nor communal, but still as bad as what happened in Jammu and UP, and as bad as what happened in Assam and Bihar. Why should I even go into analyzing what happened after the rape? Just because the minor girl in Assam was not confined in a temple and raped, does it make that lesser heinous? What are we protesting? The crime, isn't it? Then, all are same, isn't it? Or are we saying we would decide on the severity of the crime based on the criminals? That's beyond my comprehension. And it's more concerning how people are trying to justify their silence in condemning the other rapes.

Now coming to the eleven questions raised, each could be answered. But then, what’s the point? What would we achieve out of that? Still, I would like to say in 2010, a minor girl named Sheelu was raped by Purushottam Dwivedi, the sitting MLA of Naraini constituency, belonging to then UP’s ruling Bahujan Samaj Party. Given that there are so many tainted elected members from so many parties, you would get many more cases.

Next, it’s also alleged that the “Hindu nationalists” and the “right wing fundamentalists” and “bhakts” are bombarding the social media with fake and manipulated data about rapes and murders, as though to dilute the gravity of the Kathua and Unnao incidents. I must say that both the incidents in Assam and Bihar appeared in reputed dailies and before the outburst and hue and cry about Kathua and Unnao. So, it’s not possible technically to have faked them with ulterior motives of exploiting them in the future.

The remaining points could be argued too. But then, what’s the point? Why should we even stoop down to that levels so as to alienate one crime against the other?

No comments: