Murder of Morality


Co-Written by OS Rajaraman & Bonny John

Most of India is still under the delusional impression that it’s a democracy. The bureaucrats, police officers and politicians who are part of the nation state wear uniforms/badges of nationalism which sub verses justice in a democracy. Democracy is no longer of equals. It has in fact reduced to become a power equation between the majoritarian demands and the people who enact the subscript as a process of social engineering.

On the inauguration of the National Tribal Carnival 2016, Modi praised the tribal and nomadic communities of India as ideals of community living and also complemented them for their role in India’s forest conservation. This statement by Mr.Modi is nothing but rhetoric for political manoeuvring of communities which have lived in decades of oppression. The tribal people and nomad community have always remained in the receiving end of India’s majoritarian democracy, whether it is development induced displacement, habitat rights, right to livelihood or right to their own knowledge systems.

As a Nation, we today stand stunned and in deep disappointment  on the recent events that has unfolded in the Kathua region of Jammu and Kashmir where an 8 year old child belonging to a nomadic community has been brutally raped, murdered and thrown away into the forests. As one goes through the media reports, on the cold blooded murder of Asifa Bano, on this brutal act of violence which needs to be understood at many levels. It’s not only about rape which is an inexcusable crime but it also needs to be seen on the wider context of the nature of society that India is slowly confronting. And one feels Asifa Bano’s case is just the beginning of it- the new India, Modi and his regime are ushering to make.

The terrifying details that have come out of the police charge sheet including the fact that one of the accused, a police officer had asked his co-conspirators to hold off killing the child so that he could rape her once more shows that it was not a random act of crime but one which had a deliberate message that has to be decoded. The conspirators were so inhumane, that even at the moment of grief, when her body was being forced upon; she was not allowed her right to resist as she was heavily sedated. Yet, one can imagine the suffering, the pain, and the loud cries that Asifa would have attempted to make in order to resist her from being sexually mentally and physically exploited. This specific act of violence in a way symbolizes not only the superiority of the male dominance asserted over a child as young as 8 years, but also shows the conquest over her being, a nomadic Muslim. The forcible insertion of genitals here has been used as a weapon in order to instil fear so that the Bakarwal community evict themselves out of the Kathua region.

The reports clearly show that the prime conspirator Sanji Ram, a former revenue officer and the care taker of Devisthan (a small temple in the region), where Asifa Bano was kept for seven days has had a long history of problems with the Bakarwal community and has attempted to motivate the members of his own community not to provide the Bakarwals with land for grazing or any other assistance. Further, Sanji Ram has also attempted to block the sale of land of one Harnam Singh to a Bakarwal which failed after the appeal to the High Court.

There are many incidents of brutal attack on the Bakarwal community, since the BJP government has come into power in 2014 with the coalition of PDP in Jammu and Kashmir. One such incident that one recollects is that of a Bakarwal family while migrating from Reasi to Kishetwar in Jammu was allegedly attacked by the so called cow vigilantes while they were ferrying their cows in trucks. The charges read that the Bakarwals who were attacked failed to produce the permission required for transporting the animal. This incident in a way shows that the large Hindu majority which lives in Jammu has no understanding of the nomadic way of life and their centrality to livestock. In fact to a certain extent, when a goat or a sheep goes missing the Bakarwals without any instance of hesitation, traverses back the same route in order to locate their misplaced cattle.

The Forest Rights Act of 2006 was a redressal to the historical injustice committed against the tribes and the nomadic communities who primarily depend upon the forest and its resources as a part of their life, lifestyle, livelihood and lifecycle. Owing to the special position of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the India Constitution, Forest Rights Act 2006 could not be extended to the state of J&K. Nevertheless there have been large outcries and protests by the tribal communities and the nomadic groups of J&K to either extend and implement the Forest Rights Act or to come up with a legislation of its own, whereby land rights and special concession are given to the tribes and the nomadic groups who have been depended on the vast lands and forests for centuries.

The BJP which has been campaigning for the abolition of the Article 370, seems to hide under it when it comes to the rights of tribals and nomadic communities in J&K, in order to deprive them of their entitlements for an ugly sectarian and communal politics. Lal Singh, the former Forest Minister of the state who was forcibly made to resign after his participation in the events organized by the Hindu Ekta Manch, in support of the accused, in the rape and murder of Asifa Bano, while in power, had taken drastic measures for emptying the Gujjar and Bakarwal settlements and further restricted their access to the forests. One becomes doubly sure that this was part of a deliberative plan when one listens to the RSS ideologue and Senior BJP leader, Ram Madhav, when he asked the Mehbooba Mufti’s government to withdraw the Tribal directive that was recently issued to secure the tribal and nomad communities from encroachment charges and eviction till a permanent settlement was located for them.

Asifa’s rape and spine chilling murder is a result of asserting domination over the minority groups of Jammu and Kashmir at three levels – socio-cultural, economic and political. It not only affects the conscience of the society at large, but goes on to show how mechanically cruel the very structure of Nation- State represents. There is a desperate need to rescue justice from this combination of majoritarian and religiously fanatic democracy, otherwise we can timidly accept what Ashish Nandy, one of India’s leading social scientists once lamented just months after Gujarat riots – “Our state’s political soul has been won over by Gandhi’s Killers”.

(OS Rajaraman, is an independent researcher with Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences, Orissa and Bonny John is working with Kudali intergenerational learning centre, Badampet, Telengana)



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