8 year old ASIFA, a little girl belonging to the Muslim Nomadic Tribe, Bakarwal, was brutally gangraped for 8 days by several men, before finally being killed with her head being smashed by a Stone. I have no interest in listing down the gruesome details of how the crime took place, however a single incident is enough to highlight the barbarity of the Rapists; the charge sheet submitted by the Police in the court says that as one of the accused rapists was about to kill Asifa & raised a stone to smash her head, another fellow rapist asked him to stop, so that he could rape her for one last time…
Looking at this case simply as a Rape & Murder case would not be wrong but would definitely be inadequate. Because then how would we make sense of the large crowds of ‘Locals’ of kathua gathering at the police station to prevent any action being taken against the accused? How would we make sense of the fact that the Lawyer community of Kathua region, represented by the Kathua Bar Association, gives a call for a ‘Strike’ to protest against the arrests of accused rapists in this case? What will explain the fact that the local ‘Civil Society’, represented by the People gathering outside the Kathua Police station, chose not to stand with the Victim of rape, but with those accused of Rape?
A much wider frame is needed to understand the answer to this question.
The state of Jammu & Kashmir is historically, geographically & now, Politically divided into 3 regions- Jammu region, Kashmir region & Ladakh region. The Jammu region has a predominance of Hindus & a Muslim minority. The Kashmir region has a predominance of Muslims & a Hindu minority. And the Ladakh region is equally split between the Shia Muslim dominated Kargil sector & the Buddhist dominated Leh sector.
The above demographics have played out politically ever since Jammu & Kashmir became a part of the Indian Union. The so-called ‘Hindu’ political parties & organizations have always had an appeal in the Jammu region. Historically, it was the ‘Praja Parishad’ which conducted various campaigns in the Jammu region, giving the slogan of- “Ek Desh mein 2 Vidhan, 2 Nishan, 2 Pradhaan, Nahi chalengey”( We cannot have a 2 Constitutions, 2 Prime Ministers & 2 Flags in a single Country) mobilizing public opinion against the Special Status of Jammu & Kashmir & Article 370 (reference- India after Gandhi, Guha). Later the Jan Sangh (which later transformed into the BJP) managed to conduct successful political campaigns in the Jammu region. Similarly, the Kashmir region was the main area from where ‘Sher-e-Kashmir’ Sheikh Abdullah, the founder of the National Conference drew his support. Later, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) founded by Mufti Mohammad Saaed, which is considered more radical on the issue of Autonomy of J&K from India, also developed its support from the Kashmir region. In comparison to Jammu & Kashmir, the Ladakh region is under-populated & thus rendered politically insignificant in determining the course which the state takes.
Politics between Jammu & Kashmir regions has always remained competitive, with Jammu region complaining that it constantly loses out to Kashmir when it comes to funding allocations from the Centre or pointing the fact that the Chief Minister of the state is always from the Kashmir region- from Sheikh Abdullah to the present CM Mehbooba Mufti. Many organizations have on multiple occasions gave the call to carve out an Independent & separate state of Jammu.
However, the Politics of Polarisation between Jammu & Kashmir regions has reached new heights in the past couple of years when the ‘Unlikely Alliance’ between PDP & BJP happened after the most recent state elections. The BJP had earlier accused PDP of being a Political Party practicing ‘Soft-Separatism’, whereas the PDP had seen the BJP as a rabid Hindutva party which should not be allowed to gain foothold in J & K. With the PDP sweeping Kashmir & BJP Jammu in the state elections, both had no other choice apart from each other, if they wished to form the Govt.
However, supporters of respective parties felt the need to consolidate their voter/supporter base in their respective regions, so that they could exert pressure on the Coalition state government, in order to fulfill the demands of their respective regions. The PDP lost it’s legitimacy amongst it’s support base in the Kashmir region, as it fumbled in the handling of the situation in the aftermath of the death of BURHAN WANI, a young Kashmiri militant, at the hands of the Indian security forces. From July 2016 onwards, Militancy returned to the Kashmir valley in a big way. On the other hand, the BJP was able to & continues to consolidate its Voter & Supporter base in Jammu region, under the overarching narrative of ‘Hindus under siege’ in a Muslim-majority J & K.
The Kathua case marks the culmination of the hardening of Hindu Jammu v/s. Muslim Kashmir narrative & identities. Though, the Hindu-ness of Jammu & the Muslim-ness of Kashmir was always self-evident, historically the conflict between Jammu v/s. Kashmir was a conflict between 2 Regions of the state. To explain the situation with more historical accuracy, the Cabinet of RAJA HARI SINGH, who ruled over J & K before it merged with the Indian Union, was packed with representatives belonging to Hindu DOGRA community, which was concentrated in the Jammu region. The transformation of J & K from a Monarchy to a Democracy under the Indian state, meant that the Dogras not only lost their privileged Political Status of belonging to Royal Nobility, but also the social status that came with such royalty. What was worse for the Dogras, who were also wealthy Zamindars under Raja Hari Singh, their economic dominance vanished after Sheikh Abdullah, Kashmir’s first elected leader, decided to pursue a dedicated LAND REFORMS Policy, which meant that the ownership of Land passed from the Dogra Zamindars to the actual tillers of the land, many of whom happened to be Muslim peasants. Indeed, the Land reforms undertaken in J &K are supposed to be the most whole-hearted effort across India, some historians rating them even better than Kerala’s or West Bengal’s land reforms. In reality, it was the former Dogra nobility who experienced a relative disempowerment, but as is often the case, the Identity or self perception of the dominant community automatically becomes the self perception of the whole society. The loss of power of the former Dogra nobility was automatically understood as the loss of power & pride of Jammu region.
With the intense rivalry between PDP & BJP, the issue no longer remained between Jammu v/s. Kashmir, it became a plain Hindu v/s Muslim issue. And when such sharp lines have been drawn between 2 communities, the settlement of Nomadic ‘Muslim’ Bakarwals in the Kathua region of Jammu, was seen as an act of transgression, an attempt to change the ‘Demography of Jammu region’.
They are a Muslim nomadic community, who practice ‘Transhumance’– the practice of seasonally migrating up & down the mountains depending on the seasons. The Bakarwals generally migrate up the mountains during the summers, when the ice has melted & there is enough grass available for their goats & sheep to graze upon. In short, constant movement not a permanent residence is the determining feature of their life.
A decade back, the Bakarwals were included in the list of Scheduled Tribes of J&K. This enabled to apply for rights over Forest Lands or Grazing lands, which are traditionally Government-owned or Community lands.
According to the social status determined by caste hierarchy, Nomadic Tribes rank low on the scale, just next to the scheduled castes. In a way, nomadic tribes are deemed unfit to have a permanent residence within the boundaries of the village. The nomads are condemned to a life of constant mobility by societal norms. Thus, even the perception that a Nomadic community might be making an attempt to stake a claim on a particular piece of land within the premises of a town/village, is offensive to dominant sections of local society. A similar trigger sparked the brutal gangrape & murder of 8 year old Asifa. The residents of Kathua feared that the Bakarwals are trying to permanently settle in kathua, by making a claim to the nearby Forest Land.
The deadly combination of Bakarwals being both nomads & muslims, exposed them to a double vulnerability- Of being an undesirable minority community & being of an undesirable Caste. In Asifa, an 8 year old girl, the rapists found the weakest link of this highly vulnerable social group.
RAPE! Patriarchy’s favourite tool…..
There is a reason why I call Rape as ‘Patriarchy’s favourite tool’. It’s because it serves dual purposes of Patriarchy, Number 1- to satisfy the sexual desire of the Rapist. And Number 2- To establish or Re-establish the dominance of the Patriarchy. Rape has often been used by men ‘to prove’ their superiority, not only over women but also to prove their superiority over other men. The implication being that if a Man is able to rape another Man’s Daughter/Wife/Sister etc, the second man isn’t strong-enough as he is not even able to protect a woman whom he is related to. In other words, Rape is supposed to disprove the Man-hood of your male enemy.
On many occasions, especially during Communal Riots in India, Rape has been used a medium to ‘send a message’ to the enemy. This is well captured in the documentary ‘Final Solution’ which shows how rape was systematically during the 2002 Gujarat Riots.
In this case, too, Asifa was raped to send a strong message to the Bakarwal community that they are Not welcome in Kathua. It becomes clear from this incident that, for Men, Women’s bodies are a battle ground on which Men fight their battles of superiority. Patriarchy does Not see Women as living human beings, but as ‘Objects’ which are to be used, manipulated, and as in this case-destroyed, in order to achieve their goal. If Patriarchy doesn’t even consider Women to be humans, then why are we surprised to see that in a Patriarchal Indian Society, Asifa was treated in such an inhuman manner?
WE NEED TO WAKE UP NOW!!
We all may have different opinions about which form of social inequality is the greatest of all. Some, especially those belonging to so-called lower castes may argue that CASTE is the biggest monster that haunts Indian Society. Others, especially some Women, might say that GENDER INEQUALITY is the biggest bane of our society, as it affects atleast 50% of our society. Still others, especially those belonging to Minority groups may argue that Indian Society has done the biggest injustice to India’s Minority communities, especially in the current context of increasing Majoritarianism. However, from the above text, we might discover that we all will most probably end up on the losing side if we continue to struggle for our own favourite causes, separately.
If today 8 year old ASIFA, who was a young Nomadic Muslim, is denied justice, what is the guarantee that the next rape victim will get justice, even if she doesn’t suffer from the handicap of belonging to either to a Nomadic Tribe or to a minority community??? Once Rape has been Normalised, women belonging to all social groups are more vulnerable.
We need to get out of our ghettoed mindsets, where we only care for our kind of people. One is reminded of the famous poem by Martin Niemöller, who was writing in the context of how NAZI GERMANY eliminated All of Hitler’s opponents, as they were not united, The poem goes as follows….
First, they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me…..
What we need now is Collective Action. And for that, we DO NOT need a perfect complete Comprehensive theory, which addresses all issues of Caste, Gender or Minority concerns. WE CANNOT WAIT for the ‘Perfect Theory’ or the ‘Perfect Organisation!’ We simply need to participate in each others’ rallies for justice. We need to listen to each others’ stories of oppression & injustice with Open Ears & Hearts. We need to help each other in each way possible.
We need to acknowledge that we are all in this together. And we need to understand a simple fact unless the numbers at our rallies grow, governments won’t bow down to our demands.
May Feminists join hands with the Dalit & Tribals in their struggle to demand their rightful share. May Non-Muslims join Muslims in large numbers when they demand Justice in cases of AKHLAQ-JUNAID-PEHLU. May Men join Feminists in large numbers in trying to create a society in which No Asifa will meet the same fate ever again.
(Anish Tore contributed to this article in his personal capacity. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Netive.in.)