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Abstract

In 2012 when Nirbhaya had been raped brutally in a moving bus in Delhi, the massive protest that went for several days could awake the then government which then constituted the Justice Verma Committee and made amendments in the criminal laws relating to rape. However, in January 2018, the socio-political situation is completely altered. Ironically, a Hindutva government is ruling the secular India, so, when an 8-year-old Asifa Bano is grotesquely raped and murdered in Kathua, the dynamics of the situation have completely altered. People on social media this time fiercely debated if this minor deserved to be raped because she belongs to a Muslim nomadic community while the corporate-owned media spilled venom while propounding false theories. Attepts have been made to subvert the process of trial by the group of fanatics who shielded the murderers and justified the rape as a nationalist act while swaying the national flag. They demanded acquittal of the accused persons. Supreme Court intervened to direct in-camera proceedings of the trial and transfer the matter to a different location. Otherwise, the silence of the chauvinist authoritarian state screamed loudly to give up only when pressurized by the outrage. The trial is still on yet this case depicts the rise in larger culture of hate, communal polarization and violence in which a child is brutally targeted. This essay examines these socio-cultural changes that have been taking place where the rights of those at margins are further being pushed because of the apathetic biased attitude of the totalitarian fascist regime which while imposing the ideology of hate is giving rise to the culture of impunity while dismantling the legal system. It ruminates on the socio-legal context relating to violence where the body of a minor is brutally targeted to divide the otherwise layered hierarchical society into Us versus Them’ while paving the way for the majoritarian hegemony andothering’ non-Hindus.This is having adverse impact on the situation of women. The impact of miniscule transformations made in law immediately post-Nirbhaya incident got subverted by the rise of patriarchal orthodox elements which are forcefully trying to impose the repulsive communal agenda. The need is therefore to reimagine the gender just society while focusing on the current socio-political context.

The Moment of Shame

For past few years, it appears that the violence against girls and women have been emerging to an extent that it seems to be a normal phenomenon. However, with the shift in discourse of violence against women immediately post-Nirbhaya[1], the rhetoric of women’s safety and security was highlighted and it was anticipated that the situation pertaining to gender equality may transform for better. However, this had not happened. Rather shockingly, a storm broke up when the chilling news of brutal gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old in Kathua district in Kashmir appeared.

Kashmir, an exquisite place, frequently appears in the news headlines because of its politically sensitive situation for all wrong reasons[2]. However, this time AsifaBano, a minor daughter of Mohd Yusuf Pujwala, hailing from a Muslim nomad Bakerwal shepherd community was abducted on 10th January 2018, grotesquely gang raped and murdered by several Hindu men. On the fateful day, she was grazing her horses in Rassana village near Kathua, when a man beckoned her into a forest. She followed. The horses returned but she did not.

As per the charge-sheet, she was grabbed by the neck and sedatives were forced into her mouth. She was then dragged into the temple, Devisthan (Devi implies Goddess and Sthan means place, literally it translates to place of worship of Goddess). Her body was kept hidden behind the table under the mats. For next three days, she was continuously being sedated empty stomach in an unconscious state, tortured and was repeatedly raped brutally multiple times. One of the accused men was called from Meerut to `satisfy his lust’. Later, she was strangled to death and then hit on the head twice with a stone to ensure that she dies. One of the men, allegedly insisted on raping her last time. Days later, her crumpled mutilated body drenched and smeared with blood was found in forest, a few kilometers away from the village. Her legs were broken and her body bore numerous scars. The post-mortem report bluntly reported the cause of her death as asphyxia due to cardio-pulmonary arrest.

Innocent picture of the young child with bright shining eyes and a smile on her face appeared in media and was circulated widely, though later it was removed after the court’s order. The second picture that was circulated was of her defaced body abandoned in forest. For the culprits, she was a “soft target”. The volatility of the situation is that the girl was raped inside the temple and the plotter of the crime was the custodian of the temple.

Initially, police hesitated to file FIR and the father of the girl was made to run from pillar to post. One of the officers remarked that, “she must have eloped with a boy”. It took two days to register the FIR. After the protest by Bakerwal community, two policemenwere assigned to search for her. Later eight Hindu men were arrested, four of them were police officers. One is the retired sixty-year-old ex-bureaucrat, Sanji Ram, the care taker of the temple who is alleged to be the mastermind of this heinous act. The body of Asifa was brutally raped by his son, his nephews one of whom is juvenile and others who brutally murdered her later.

It appears that this is an isolated horrific incident perpetrated against a minor by ruthless men. But in the days that followed, it became evident that the deeply disturbing act has been committed by the so-called Hindu nationalists. Motive of this barbaric crime as reported was to terrorize the poor Muslim nomad tribe to teach them a lesson because the dominant Hindu majority wanted to drive them away. It has been described that “the Muslim nomads were trying to alter the demographics of Jammu”. “They are encroaching our forests and water resources,” it has been stated to justify this heinous act.

Investigation revealed that the act was systematically pre-plannedfor months and was rooted in hatred. Attempts were made to destroy the evidences. Clothes which the victim was wearing were washed to remove the stains of blood and semen. It emerged that the local policemen were bribed to cover up the incident. District hospital took more than two months to give the post-mortem report. Medical superintendent who gave the preliminary report confirming rape was transferred. A writ petition was filed by the victim’s family before the Jammu High court seeking fair investigation. The case was transferred to the Crime Branch. At every hearing, the Crime Branch submitted a status report of its investigations.Based on the available evidence, the Court ordered arrest of the accused persons.

Despite the court-monitored probe, sections of lawyers and political parties opposed it ardently.Mob of Hindu men under the banner of Hindu Ekta Manch led by BJP men, physically blocked police from entering into the court to file charge-sheet against the accused persons. This mob consistof ministers including two BJP leaders, supporters of other political parties and lawyers who felt embolden to shout and march in support of perpetrators of the crime.

When the investigators retreated later in the evening to complete paper work, the Magistrate showed his reluctance to accept the charge-sheet. Members of local Bar Association called for strike. Dozens of men and women forcefully shut down the town and blocked the highway while brandishing the national flagin favour of arrested men.They demanded charges to be withdrawn and obstructed the process of law.  Anyone who spoke for the child was labelled as Pakistani agent and a conspirator who is upsetting peaceful atmosphere of Jammu. Nomads demanding justice were beaten up by the police. Police escorted the pro-rape rallies. The MPs of the area gave inciting venomous speech and warned the police against arresting any person. Several of speeches included the threatening warning such as “have you forgotten 1947?” while referring to massacre in Jammu.

One of thoselawyers alleged that the “government has failed to understand the sentiments of the people”. The president of Jammu Bar Associationstated, “The youth of Jammu, who are carrying the Tri-colour today, can pick up AK-47s and bombs if the state does not listen to their demands”. Several members insisted that CBI could handle the investigation. They alleged that the police officers working on the case are Muslims who cannot be trusted. Issues as Rohingya settlers in Jammu, jihadis, mistrust of the “pro-Kashmir” government and “neglect for Jammu”, among many others have found themselves intertwined with this brutal rape of the minor.

Another horrendous aspect is that after rape and murder of Asifa, the entire village colluded to disallow the burial of her body in the small plot of land owned by her father. Her coffin therefore has to be carried far away in the forest in order to bury her mutilated body. Several months later, the father of the victim pleaded, he may not get justice as his family as well as the community is beingboycotted and tortured. He sought the help of National Human Rights Commission.

In this case, different arms of the government and political groups collude to subvert the investigation. Police officers who initially investigated the crime destroyed the crucial evidences. Two officials including a sub-inspector have been charge-sheeted for the offence of destroying evidences. The matter went to the Supreme Court which then directed for in-camera proceedings of the trial and transferred the case from Kashmir to Pathankot in Punjab for fair trial.

At the national level, the ruling right-wing leaders maintained silence thus promoting the culture of impunity. Women associates of the BJP failed to raise any hue or cry and rather sided their own party members. Fierce debate on the social media focus on the issue if this childdeserved to be raped while the corporate owned channels spilled venom while propounding false theories. The shocking misogynist debate range from lauding the girl’s death to branding Bakerwal community as liars and went to the extent of bringing in communal arguments to fuel sectarian hate. The brutality of crime clubbed with the outrageous response generated outrage and further aggravated the divide between those who called themselves as staunch supporters of BJP-led government and thosedissenting but dubbed as `anti-nationalists’. The political and social response reveals deeply embedded misogyny, communal hatred and a shameful caste as well as class bias.

Reasoning Out Violence: The Dark Aspects

The ghastly rape and murder of the minor reflect on the ugly truths of deeply communal, patriarchal society. It is about the manifestation of the fascist ideology born out of religious jingoism which is being fueled purposefully in order to impose violent Hindutva ideology on the secularnation. The matter symbolizes the embedded culture of violence that is conveyed by the patterns of impunity showed in protecting and hailing the perpetrators as celebrities while using the national symbols. This barbaric act has not only subverted the legal system rather it shows the manner in which the political beliefs are being deployed to propagate the culture of impunity. The case also highlights the fact that reactions to such atrocious violence does not simply stem from the brutality of the act but is conditioned by the horrifying reality of mapping communal, caste and social identities of the victims and perpetrators.

The act is pre-planned conspiracy hatched by several Hindu men. Claims have been made that Bakerwals in Jammu have been facing opposition from the local Dogra Hindus who fear that the Muslim-majority Kashmir is aiming to change the demography of Hindu-majority Jammu by resettling Muslims here. As per one of the versions, the purpose was not just to satisfy lust or exhibit power but it is <a href="https://www.india.com/news/india/kathua-rape-murder-case-motive-of-crime-to-drive-away-bakarwal-community-from-area-2995875/">retaliation and revenge’</a> against the nomad community to evict themto prevent geographic changes in the region’. The object was to strike fear and terror among the community which count for less than 8 percent population in and around Jammu and to drive them out. According to a report, Bakerwal nomads have been leasing land from Hindu farmers for generations so that their animals could graze during winters. Lately, the Hindus of Kathua have campaigned against nomads and it is believed that Sanji Ram, the mastermind of the crime, is at the helm of this drive to throw them out of the settlements in Rassana, Kootah and Dhamyal. He continuously instigated the members of his community to not to provide them land for grazing or to provide any form of assistance.

Otherhypotheses stated that the nomad community demanded implementation of the Forest Right Act which would give them the right to use forest area. This was not appreciated by BJP. The state forest minister, Lal Singh cited Article 370 of the constitution which gives the state the right to reject the central laws to block implementation of Forest Act. It is because of this reason of land and demography that hatred continued to run deep. Settling of several Rohingya Muslim families in Jammu further fueled this concern. It has also been alleged that nomads were involved in cow slaughter</a>’ anddrug trafficking’ which was turning children into drug addicts.

Some assumed that the dispute dates back to 2008 when 800 canals of land were transferred to Amarnath Shrine Board which created a split between the Muslim majority Kashmir and Hindu dominated region around Jammu. Region’s politics changed drastically after BJP gained political strength there. The hate tirade took an ugly turn when it was suspected that a paid advertisement campaign was being spearheaded through local newspapers where the leaders of organisationsas Chamber of Commerce and Industry and National Panthers Party. For instance, one of the slogans circulated read, “Rohingyas are ticking bomb, evict them to save Jammu”. Utter hostility and resentment consumed the life of a child.

Another theory assumed that the vast chunk of custodial land was the major reason for the dispute between the two communities. During partition, hundreds of Muslims were either killed in riots or migrated to Pakistan. They left behind swathes of land known as evacuee’s property or custodian property which was taken subsequently by the Government in 1949. In Kathua, a Hindu dominated region, almost 90 percent of land is evacuee property and is occupied by Hindus. Over past few years, tension has been built up over this land. Hindus suspect that Muslim nomads will grab the land.Perhaps, for this reason they have not allowed the burial of the girl there. Suspicion and animosity have been identified as the reason behind the incident. It has also been said that in towns and villages acrossPakistan border, tension between Hindus and sections of Bakerwal is running high. The misplaced anxieties against Muslim community is also perpetuated by unsubstantiated theories of ‘Muslim nomads harbouring militants’ while branding them as pro-Pakistanis.

Reasons may be many but the fact remains that the body of eight-year-old is brutalized and mutilated inhumanely as a weapon of the animosity by several men. A child’s body became an object and a site of contestation in the process because the chauvinist majoritarian community asserts its dominance by creating atmosphere of fear and terror. In this assertion of power, cowardly a minor is assaulted in order to torment her father and her community. To commit such a horrendous act, political power, communal hatred, muscle,money, media,corruption, lies, all were utilized against an 8-year-old. Shamelessly and blatantly, the ghastly crime is justified and rather glorified as a nationalist act even by those who are supposed to be the keepers of law while undermining democracy. State became a complicit in process when the members of the ruling party participated in the protest march. Rather the totalitarian state maintained silence over the exploitation of child’s body as a potent tool to wage war against so-called enemies of the perceived Hindu nation. Ethics, dignity, rule of laws, all are ignored to defend horrifying actions.

These are Not Normal Times

Asifa’s horrendous ordeal has shaken the conscience of the nation. The act is not an isolated incidentbut here a little girl has been victimized to achieve vested interests. It depicts the deeply proliferated culture of violence and ideology of hatred that is consuming the nation. Nirbhaya’srape or even other such incidents happenedearlier too were ghastly crimes but those were neither pre-planned nor organized. Religion as a dimension was not so brazenly deployed to identify the victim earlier excepts in cases where mass rapes have taken place during riots or partition. No attempts were made to impede the investigation previously in such a shocking manner.

Rape in no way could be defended or the national flag could be used to demand the release of rapists. Yet, here the tricolor has been used to openly shield the perpetrators. In the garb of nationalism, what is depicted is the dehumanizing socially unacceptable behavior. Rarely, fake news industry has been utilized to generate false propaganda and to concoct lies. In fact, bigotry and sexism replaced the spirit of activism depicted immediately after Nirbhaya’s rape.Rape, here, became an instrument to prove one’s nationalism and to offensively assert dominance.Depravity and horror lie in the fact that the perpetrators are projected as celebrities.

Kathua incident happened because the chauvinist hyper masculine nationalism being intentionally displayed every day on streets, throughmedia and elsewhere that has been fuelling the culture of intolerance and hatred against sections of society. This has not happened earlier. Ironical is that these are the people who may have united against Nirbhaya’s rapists a few years back to seek justice. Yet, within a gap of several years, the scenario has changed drastically. One of the unabashed aspects is that intentionally, discourse on rape is shaped around the parameters as religionof the rapist as well as the victim rather than focusing on the discussionsurrounding prevention, punishing the offenders or providing relief to victim. False rhetoric of whataboutery is being used to shield the culprits and hypocritic arguments are given to justify ruthless violence by those who enjoy patriarchal privileges. Attempts have been made to crush dissent that resist such heinous action. Rape anddeath threats, abusive language and similar tactics have been deployed by the army of trolls in order to suppress nonconforming voices.

Usual Violence Unusual Situation

Violence against women has been normalized over years, so is state sponsored communal pogroms and riots. Oppression of Dalits, Adivasis or minorities is a quotidian act and recently lynching is being perpetrated by unruly mobs without any fear of the rule of law. Rapes of children is also not uncommon. But what is unusual is the socio-political context in which Asifa was raped that adds significantly to the crime committed by the state as a part of nation building. Asifa belongs to tribal nomad community which exists at the margin. Besides her religion, her socio-economic status further made her vulnerable besides her gender which added patriarchy and misogyny as other dimensions. Further, Kashmir is the most densely and deadly militarized region where lawlessness is prevalent and where pathological impunity is being granted to the security forces. Imposition of the Armed Force Special Power Act besides recent celebration of military power as most disciplined invincible ruthless authority fueled the nationalist agenda. Since the right-wing forces gained the power, laws are blatantly violated every day and military is used against common people in the deadly manner[3]. Violence by the nation state thus became evident when the state grants impunity to the security forces in addition to multiple structural oppression and intersections that further enhanced the vulnerability of the situation. Even in Asifa’s matter, the perpetrators include the police officers who are supposed to fight militancy. Tragically, they were unforgivably involved in ruthlessly waging war against an eight-year-old. Thus, the nation state here has been involved in committing the heinous act against an innocent vulnerable child which added to the vulnerability of the situation.

Crime Against Girls and Women is Increasing

Not only in Kathua, increasing incidences of young girls being targeted in several other places is being reported across the country. In Unnao, a 15-year-old girl has been abducted and raped by a 50-year-old MP in June 2017. Police colluded with the rapist to shield him while the father of the girl was taken into custody and was thrashed by the brother of accused. In April 2018, victim tried to immolate herself in the front of the residence of the Chief Minister. Similar such cases of young girls being attacked lately have also been reported from Mandsaur, Raipur, Chennai, Patna, Pune, Sabarkantha in Gujarat and more recently a 15-year-old Dalit girl has been burned alive in Agra. The situation is ugly and pathetic that unruly mob is deliberately attacking young girls but the same group of people could not dare to think of voicing concerns in the Muzaffarpur shelter home case or in other cases where young girls have been raped and murdered brazenly.

In a country where 99 percent of violence against women cases go unreported, the statistics by the National Crime Record Bureau for the year 2016 shows that the incidents of rapes of children have increased by 82 percent compared to those reported in the previous year. In 2015, 10,854 cases of rape under Section 376 IPC and under sections 4 and 6 of the Protection of Children against Sexual Offences were registered across the country, 2016 reported 19,765 such cases. It is for the first time that a sharp increase in sexual assaults on children has been registered. Thomas Reuter Foundation in its report named India as the most dangerous country in the world for women which was rejected and critiqued.Yet, the fact remains that closing the eyes to reality is not going to help.

Further, conviction rate remained abysmally low in cases pertaining to crime against women. In 2015, out of 24,486 persons tried for rape, only 7,185 were convicted, 16,849 were acquitted and 452 were discharged by the courts. Rather, several regressive judgements have been passed recently. Additionally, Nirbhaya funds created in 2013 to provide assistance to the victims of sexual assault as well as to launch schemes to prevent crime remain under-utilized.This indicates the apathy of the government to address the situation of women. Also, after outrage in such incidents, when the government was accused of apathy, it seeks refuge while passing an ordinance to amend POCSO Act to grant death penalty to the rapists, yet the rate of crime has not declined. Rather the magnitude of lawlessness and the brutalities against girls and women is increasing. This situation gave rise to several questions as to why young girls are being attacked lately and what could be the reason behind the increasing culture of violence and impunity.

Rape is an Assertion of Power by Men

Rape is an age-old ubiquitous form of violence which is continuously being used in a patriarchal society whereby men foresee rape as a tool to control, oppress, subjugate and conquer the women. Susan Brownmiller in her famous work titled “Against Our Will” has noted that,

“Man’s discovery that his genitalia could serve as a weapon to generate fear must rank as one of the most important discoveries in prehistoric times, along with the use of fire and the first crude stone axe. From prehistoric times to the present, rape has played a crucial function. It is nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear. …That some men rape provides a sufficient threat to keep all women in a constant state of intimidation…” (Brownmiller, p 14-15).

Looking from this perspective, it may be said that rape is a weapon of force and an act of dominance where a man asserts his power against the will of a woman in order to control and overpower her. It is a triumph of manhood and is easier to commit in situations where the aggressor has an advantage which persists due to structural domination such as feudalism, slavery, war or in custody where the victim could hardly resist and is overawed by the power and authority of the rapist. More than an act of sex, it is an act of power and conquest where aggression is utilized by men to create terror and instill fear. Rape is,therefore, a primeval act of subjugation where the rapist asserts his power with the urge to dominate. Similarly, inKathua, toxic hyper-masculinity utilized the body of a young girl as a weapon to suppress and to humiliate the vulnerable minority community and to create fear and terror among the nomads. Brutal act, here is used to depict majoritarian supremacy, with the intention to perpetuate the agenda of fascism.

During war or riots, rape has been used as a weapon of war to instill fear among the enemies since ages. Brownmillerquoted Nietzsche when he stated that “Man should be trained for war and woman for the recreation of the warrior” (p 48) While describing the Nazi rule,she derived an analogy between the Jews and women and saw a relation between the male authority and Aryan supremacy. She opined,

“Rape is a quintessential act by which a male demonstrates to a female that she is conquered – vanquished – by his superior strength and power, it was perfectly logical within the framework of fascism that rape would be employed by the German soldier as he strove to prove himself a worthy Superman”.(p. 49)

Notion that women are the prizes or objects that can be claimed as a reward for military conquest exists world over. Rape in such situation is embodied in the belief of male supremacy and dominance over women and leads to the culture of impunity. Likewise, in India, historians and academicians have documented the manner in which rape has been used as an instrument during wars to destruct enemies in pre-colonial era, during the colonial regime, at the partition and later during riots. But the horror of Kathua lies in the fact that cowardly an 8-year-old is brutalized to promote the fascist agenda. Rape, murder and even later the torture of the family of the victim, all tactics are being deployed to assault and weaken the `perceived enemy’ of the Hindutva nation.

Targeting Young Girls During War and Riots

The State of World’s Children Report 1996 by UNICEF described that in Bosnia since the fighting began in 1992, more than 20,000 girls and women were raped. Teenage girls were particularly targeted in genocides and ethnic cleansing in Herzegovina, Croatia, Rwanda and Guatemala where they were impregnated and have been forced to bear the enemy’s child. Analystsopined that the girls were targeted in war because sexual violation erodes the fabric of community in a way few weapons can. Females are seen as vessels or containers through which a community can be destroyed through dilution, destruction and disappearance of an ethnic group because no man would accept a woman who is contaminated. Specific intention behind the forced impregnation is to damage the reproductive system to prevent births of those who are undesirable’ and to ensure that women are ostracized and alienated from their own community and therefore lose her roleas a potential procreator. Rationale is to wipe outundesirable’ and to introduce `desirable’ blood line. Harm is inflicted because women are viewed as repositories of community cultural values.

Rape damages are deemed as devastating because of strong reaction to the violation as pain stamped on families. It serves as a permanent reminder of the brutality of the war. Similarly, in Kathua, the culprits used this blatant supposition to terrorize the nomads while brutalizing an 8-year-old. The gravity of Asifa’s case is no less than the genocideas MacKinnon has describe it, where the identity of a girl is shattered not only because she is a female but because she belongs to thecommunity that is perceived as threat to the Hindutvaimagination. The purpose is to defeat and destroy the minority community, to demoralize and intimidate them by shattering their identity and pride. Rape here is used as a tool to exercise power over the opponent or the enemy and to advance a violent, inhuman ideology while targeting body of a child.

Culture of Rape and Honour in India

Any debate on violence women face is incomplete without considering the socio-legal as well as cultural aspects and the treacherous history been operating to dictate the prevalent norms. Ancient Indian traditions are captured in several literature such as Dharamshastras, smritis and most importantly, the Laws of Manu as detailed in Manusmriti.All these texts are composed by elderly males and are biased in favour of upper caste Brahmins.  As per Brahmanical philosophy, the body of a woman is treated as a property of a man, so, any act of violation of her bodily integrity is seen as social crime against her modesty, honour, izzat and chastity, all of which seemingly are preserved in her vagina. Strict norms relating to purity and pollution are the part of this misogynist culture and various practices have been observed to control female sexuality.

In fact, during the pre-colonial period, it has been documented that upon defeat by enemies, when their capture is inevitable, women self-immolated themselves to commit mass suicide by jumping into the fire to escape rape, slavery and possibly to protect the contamination of bloodline. Slightly different from Sati, Jauhar is an intolerable aftermath of warfare and an embodiment of the military notion. It is a self-sacrifice committed to save integrity and honourof family as well as community because as per imbibed patriarchal notion, the dignity lies in chastity of a woman[4]. Valiant women who self-destruct themselves to avoid conversion or abduction were valorized as martyrs and were accorded high social status. The practice of sati was banned in 1829.Following the outrage after the sati of Roop Kanwar in 1988, the Sati Prevention Act was further strengthened. Yet, the Sati DharmRakhsa Samiti then resisted against interventions being made and attempts have been made to revive this practice recently. The Hindutva alliance is reviving these ideas of women’s honour and Kathua incident could be a repercussion of this horrific belief.

Britishers fomented the communal division with the systematic political discrimination in order to maintain imperial domination. Behind the mask of benevolent civilizing mission, the colonizers stagnated the socio-economic development of the country.More specifically, the native women suffered the most because of internal fission being intensified in the already divided society. Victorian morality reiterated the upper caste traditions while drafting the laws.Efforts have been made to preserve Brahmanical notions while overlooking other alternative traditions. In contrast, the discourse by anti-colonial nationalists focused on developing the idea of pure womanhood that opposed Westernization and highlighted the idea of women’s honour. While codifying the laws, the Britishers created the culture of impunity and placed heavy burden on women seeking judicial remedy in the colonial courts. Women complainants have been portrayed untrustworthy, incredibleand dubious. The compromised legal system proposed by Macaulay accommodated colonial hierarchy and was grounded on regressive patriarchal understanding. This legacy continued to dominate in the post-independent India and imposes rule of men rather than the rule of law.

Partition of India caused one of the great brutal convulsions of the history where the aftermaths have been felt as `division of hearts’. Women’s bodies were deployed as instruments of hostility during partition. It is estimated that more than 75,000 to 1,00,000 women from both the sides were abducted and raped. Butaliashowed the connection and continuities between violence of partition and communal violence while describing mass rape of women in Surat after demolition of Babri Masjid as revenge by Hindutva forces for the rape of Hindu women during partition.Communal rape has also been used as a weapon during the Babri Masjid riots in 1992, in Gujarat in 2002, in Muzaffarnagar in 2013 and many similar situations that continued in post-independent nation and then in Kathua which reveals deeply embedded division of the Indian society.

Secular State Follows Patriarchal and Fascist Agenda to Promote State Sponsored Violence

Today, the situation is odd and incongruent because the Constitution adopted in 1949, guarantees equality and justice to create a secular and democratic state yet, the country is being ruled by the Hindutva government where such values are being crushed for the sake of fake nationalism. With the emergence neo-liberal economy, the conservative feudal ideologies too have grown strong in patriarchal societies where women are being further marginalized and brutalized women as a category in new ways.  Small gains that have been made in terms of the operation of the archaic criminal law relating to rape have been rolled back with the aim to Hinduize the nation. Justice Verma Committee formulated post-Nirbhaya made several recommendations while holding the state accountable for the condition of women and called for change in the pattern of governance. However, Kathua incident seems to have an adverse impact on miniscule changes being made to eliminate patriarchal conditions. Not only in its gendered dimensions, Kathuamatter has changed the discourseby bringing in the communal aspects and the majoritarian politics. The rule of law has been desecrated while several of the state actors became complicit in the crime.  Ironically, the elite, totalitarian, androcentric saffronized state consisting of ruling upper caste Hindu privileged menproliferated the anti-minority, anti-lower caste and anti-women agenda to promote Brahmanical hegemony while unleashing barbarism.

In 2014, the Modi government campaigned with the slogan Bahuthuanaari par vaarabkibaar BJP sarkaar (Enough attacks on women during the UPA regime, this time vote for BJP). Women’s safety was highlighted as one of the prime issues byBJP for which it used Nirbhaya incident against the then ruling party. When it gained power, the BJP-led government initiated the BetiBachao, BetiPadhao’ drive (Save daughters, Educate a Girl Child) with the focus on declining sex ratio. Yet, during this regime, the situation relating to safety of women deteriorated as evident by increase in the magnitude of crime against women. Rather the rapists get embolden and committed the crime with impunity. In fact, the culture of violence in general, and against women in particular, expanded during the period.

It is during this period that the caste-based and communal-based polarization enhanced.Since 2015 till November 2018, it has been estimated that 88 people from minorities and lower caste have been assaulted, attacked and lynched by mobs in different incidents across the country. Sickening videos of rape and lynching are uploaded by gloating vigilantes while fueling hatred and no action is being taken against hatred mongers while human rights defenders and indigenous people are charged with sedition and such charges. Number of self-appointed cow vigilantes or gaurakshaks suddenly increased after the BJP came to power in 2014 and a virulent campaign was launched by the right-wing organizations who felt empowered because of ruling Hindutva government which has created conditions that in the name of cows, people are being killed. In fact, what is pushed is the Hindutva agenda of mobilising communal polarisation in the garb of development with the slogan such assab ka saath sab ka vikas. Though the BJP find it difficult to dismantle the strong constitutional paradigm or the legal right framework yet it continued with its practice of asserting dominance using various means. For instance, a high proportion of BJP politicians have the record of maximum share of conviction for crimes against women.

Rape became A Political Weapon

In the contemporary times, rape became a political tool to push fundamentalist nationalist agenda of hate. Besides, indulging in the state-sponsored violence where women’s bodies have been attacked, the majoritarian upper caste patriarchal Hindu state ignored its constitutional obligations and became the accomplice in the process of controlling and brutalizing women, minorities and lower castes. State while propagating the Hindutva ideology created conditions where violence is deemed acceptable in many ways and is legitimized against women and non-Brahmins. In the process, the state undermined the constitutional values of social justice and equality, by not following the rule of law, by not taking action against the accused and by maintaining deafening silence over increasing crimes against women while giving a message that gender justice is no longer significant or that women’s bodies may be used as a weapon to destroy the enemies’ in theNew India’. It is a symptom of deep malaise that this chauvinist bigoted authority is being used where Sanji Ram’s and such cadres are made to believe that it is their moral standing to deploy violence against `enemies non-Hindus’ while floutinglaw and undermining morality.

Women’s bodies are exploited as a means to establish social control to establish totalitarian dictatorship. In order to control sexuality of Hindu women, the BJP led government came out with the schemes such as love-jihad and `Bahu-Beti izzat’. The idea of Hindu rashtrais based on the notion of traditional womanhood, modesty, obedience and a sexualized embodiment of community honour while making the body of women as battleground of a different concept of nation. Ruthless pathological drives have been initiated during the BJP regime to consolidate the misogynist fabric where women are being pressurized to followsanskarinorms, to not to use mobile phones and to not to decide whom they may marry. Right-wing philosophy practices social paternalism to control women’s sexuality and has devised unfair measures as anti-valentine’s day to scare people from interfaith relationships. In order to preserve Hindutva traditions what is proposed is to put women in precarious situation while promoting the males’ sense of entitlements. The oblivious idea of women’s honouris being expanded in the context of fanatic politics.

In order to terrorize women belonging to `other’ communities, this ideology legitimizes and sanctions rapes of women. The Hindu Mahasabha founded in 1915, openly supported Nazism as a crusade by Germans to maintain purity of the Aryan culture while warmly embracing the fascist idea. Savarkar, the proponent of Hindutva idea, in his book ‘Six Glorious Epoch of Indian History’, justified rape as a legitimate political tool. In order to defeat the opponent, if their women have to be raped, there should be no hesitation, he argued. In another piece titledEssentials of HindutvaSavarkar in 1922while glorifying the act or rape as a nationalist pride argued that Muslims are enemies of Hindus and no mercies should be shown while raping their women. Noxious aggressive Hindu identity is evoked to differentiate the caste and communal divides.RSSadopted the method of demonizing, marginalizing and excluding Muslims and oppressing women. Sexual violence is used routinely to maintain caste-based division and to eliminate adivasiscommunities besides spreading hatred against minorities. The larger goal of such violence is to initiate ideological and material war to establish Hindu majoritarianism while harvesting hate.

Fascist Regime that is `Othering’ Non-Hindus

In order to promote fascist agenda, the bodies of young girls are being exploited, brutalized, tortured to humiliate not only women’ but also themen’ or the fathers from the Other’non-Hindu communities. Rape, here is used as weapon toteach lessons’ to Other’ men who do not fit in the imagination of theBrahmanical hegemony. Brutalities committed in the Asifa’s matter reveal level of permeation of intense toxicity where rape is used as weapon to force exile and to drive a wedge in society. Rape became an assertion of majoritarian ideology that intersect caste, religion and class bias to reinforce brutal social hierarchies, to polarise the society to createUs’ vs Them’ orOthers’. Fanon has used the term othering’ in the context of racism while <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Orientalism-Edward-W-Said/dp/039474067X">Said</a> has coined the termorientalism’ while focusing on Arabs and Muslim worlds where in order to construct the image of self as civilized, enlightened, rational and dynamic, Western scientist have described people from East as backward-thinking, irrational and static. Similarly, in India recently, handful of privileged upper-castes who consider themselves as superior are demonizing Muslims and other non-Hindu communities including women. In fact, Brahmanical supremacyviews non-Brahmins as inferior `others’ and places women on secondary position.

Fodder of communal hatred is being used continuously to nurture the Hindutva base. Media is deployed to create anti-Muslim narrative to communally split the society. Historical facts are being intentionally distorted and brought into the day to day narratives to permeate the agenda of hate against non-Hindus. Issues such as triple talaq have been raised to project certain practices as uncivilized while creating the rhetoric that the government is ameliorating the situation of Muslim women, but no efforts have been made to look within to examine the problems Hindu women face or to eliminate rampant discriminatory practices such as dowry or domestic violence.

Kathuamatter is one of the spectacular cases of authoritarianism that is being used to strategically create an environment of fear and terror among `Other’ communities where the state apparatus is being used politically to polarise the dominant Hindu majority on one hand and marginalized communities on the other. Religious revivalism and political mobilization are being carried out purposely to assert toxic masculine majoritarian hegemony. This normalization of most inhumane of prejudices is not only tolerated but is celebrated as a marker of aggressive Hindu nationalist identity. The situation is symbol of the dented social structure. It exhibits the fact that reactions to sexual violence does not simply emanate from the horrifying reality of the brutality of the act but is being conditioned by the communal, caste and social identities of the victims and perpetrators.

Re-imagining An Inclusive Just Nation

Kathua incident is a form of genocide that highlights the toxic mix of religion with politics, faltering justice system, radicalization of Hindus and the deleterious effects of hate propaganda through vibrant fake news industry. The narrative of `New India’ as given by the BJP led regime is built around the concept of creating Hindu rashtra where non-Brahmins and women find no place or they may stay only as second-class citizens. The hierarchical divisions are being sharpened where the majoritarian regime is providing a sense of impunity to the perpetrators of violence. The thread that bind these crimes is the manifestation of masculine supremacy which encourage the mobs and continuously manufacture violence through controlling the media. Anne Frank’s diary awakened the world to the horrors of the Nazism, but tragically the terrifying death of AsifaBano could not awaken India to realize the fact that fanatic fundamentalism is debilitating its roots. Yet, the horrendous tale of Asifareveals the dehumanization of society and debased polity that is spreading its tentacles and is swallowing the nation. During such times when noxious nationalism, fascism, sectarian communalism and violence is on rise and when secular fabric of the nation and democratic values are being attacked, the need is to re-imagine a society rooted in belonging, and compassion. In the era, when miniscule gains made after the Nirbhaya incident are being rolled back, it is the time to re-envision the situation of gender justice through political mobilization of different groups with the possibilities of humane and sensible politics which could bring together the ordinary people on to a common platform. Though the Supreme Court of India has given several significant interpretations to the concept of gender justice recently, yet on the grounds, the rise of the toxic cult of masculinity, the growing culture of intolerance and violence and harmful implications of such divisive ideology need to be understood in the changing socio-political context. Movements such as Me-Too have a potential to make dent on the society. Innovative ideas need to be implemented. The evolving social imagination, therefore, needs to envisage the women’s agency freedom and rights in this emerging socio-political regime while keeping in mind the broader discourse on gender discrimination and violence in order to re-capture and re-occupy the democratic spaces to create long lasting positive and just structural changes. It is a time for revolution – revolution to create a better world.

Shalu Nigam is an advocate, author and an activist working on gender, governance and law issues. Currently she is practicing as a lawyer in Delhi, earlier she has been awarded a senior fellowship by Indian Council for Social Science Research, New Delhi. She has been a regular contributor to countercurrents. Some of her writings could be found at academia and ssrn.

End Notes

[1] The incident took place in December 2012 when a 23-year-old student Nirbhaya when travelling with her male friend was brutally gang-raped in a moving bus in Delhi. She died a few days later but this incident created a huge uproar. Thousands of people protested on street.

[2]State sponsored brutalities here are not new. Mass rape of women in Kunan Poshspora case is one of such incidents.

[3] Farooq Dar, a Kashmiri Muslim was tied in front of an army jeep and paraded as a human shield on April 9, 2017 reveals the manner in which human rights have been blatantly violated. Earlier, rubber pellets have been used against common people.

[4] The famous incidences of Jauhar recorded are that of Chittorgarh in 1303, 1535 and 1568. In Jaisalmer too, jauhar has been reported in 1295 and in 1326 during the reign of Khalji and Tughlaq dynasty.

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