No Country For Women
TRIGGER WARNING: sexual assault, rape
In January 2018, an 8-year-old girl (Asifa) was abducted, raped and murdered in a small village in Kashmir, India. The case known as the Kathua Rape Case made national and international news in April 2018 when the official charges were filed. Evidence showed that the attack may have been motivated by political and communal tensions and that the perpetrators sought to drive out the Muslim-minority community to which the girl belonged. This combined with the violent and ghastly nature of the attack led to public outrage and polarizing reactions from the leading Indian national political parties.
In the weeks following the case, I tried to avoid Facebook like it was the plague. Each time I logged in because work and, let’s face it, my addiction required me to, my heart began to race in anticipation of a news article, status update or hashtag about little Asifa. For several days after her case made the headlines, I walked around with a huge pit in my stomach, accompanied by recurring feelings of rage and deep sadness. But I and, I suspect, my sisters back home in India have all been here before.
Every few years, a horrific rape case manages to make national news in India. This is followed by public outrage, hashtags, marches, and debates on news channels about the state of affairs until one day, it’s business as usual.
As a passionate social justice worker, I am one of the last people to suggest that hashtags for justice mean nothing, that marches mean nothing, or that public debates mean nothing. But, they are clearly not enough.
Because while we as concerned citizens or residents of India, protest on the streets or on our social media pages, tribal women are still being raped in parts of India by our own military; a niece is being molested and raped by her uncle; a rag-picker is being raped by a local policeman; a baby girl is being raped by her 16-year old cousin.
These girls and women, much like Asifa, are not raped by a few monsters or fringe elements of society as we would like to believe. They are raped by deep-rooted patriarchy, by sexism, by casteism, by majoritarianism, by communalism, and the many other “isms” that are alive and thriving in the “developing”, “shining”, “secular”, “democratic” Hindustan aka India.
Asifa was raped not just by her perpetrators; she was raped by an entire system. This is a system that tells young girls that their bodies are ripe fruit for the picking; that tells poor and lower caste women that they have to live with the hand they were dealt a.k.a abusive husbands, fathers, uncles and brothers; that tells women they do not belong outdoors without protectors especially after sunset; that tells women that they cannot express their sexuality of their own free will.
This same system tells men that the honor of a family and community resides in a woman’s vagina; that women who are fearless and bold are asking to be raped; that you can get away with molesting and raping women especially when they are poor, lower caste, Muslim, tribal, or some “other” minority; that you can feel powerful by subjugating and controlling the women in your home, at your workplace, on the streets.
It is this system and the consequent societal mindset, which does not recognize women as whole human beings, that told Asifa’s rapists it was okay to rape her for their “cause” and that they just might get away with it.
This premeditated rape that was meant to drive out a Muslim community, complete with its B-grade Bollywood rape-revenge-plot like feel, followed by the inhumane reactions from some political & religious groups including some women, is a terrifying reminder that girls and women are all dispensable pawns and characters that can be sacrificed in the theater we call Indian society and Indian politics.