Less than a few months ago , an 8 year old girl was forcibly held for a week at a temple by the head priest, his nephew and a convoluted special police officer. She was drugged, raped and beaten. The trauma continued in repeat mode for a while till she was murdered in cold blood in the forests near Jammu. The priest’s son was ‘invited’ from Meerut to satisfy his macabre lust by his cousin before she was killed. The gory group expressed no regret during the entire episode. The girl was from a Bakharwal Muslim Gujjar community who had squatted in the surrounding areas.
Media screams that religion should be kept out of this issue – A rapist is a rapist. Every child is the same. Unfortunately in modern India that simply doesn’t hold true. Religion can never be kept out of the equation here. The girl was from an ostracised community of Muslim Gujjars who were hated by their neighbours. The perpetrators were ultra-nationalistic Hindus who were hell bent on driving them away. The rape was carried out in Maryada-purush Shri Ram temple by the head priest who was never seen without a red tilak on his forehead. Can religion be far away from this ? It is like saying Muslims can disassociate themselves completely from the atrocities of Islamic state .
The Stonebench team went into analysis mode. We started looking at family whatsapp groups of various Hindu middle class families. We prompted our volunteers to initiate discussion on the Asifa rape and murder case. What we found was interesting. Uniformly across backgrounds , we found that there was outrage. There were calls for death penalty and stricter punishments. There was anger at the rape being carried out in a Ram temple. There was indignation at the away the priest called his son home to rape the poor child. But we also found one shocking element. The discussion soon descended into a vicious chain of whataboutery. What about the Assam rape by illegal Bangladeshi immigrants ? What about the Rohingyas who are raping our Hindu women ? This was understandable considering that most people do that when confronted by uncomfortable truths. We descend into whataboutery and needless blame. There may be an element of truth in all this. Rape is a rape whether it is by an illegal Bangladeshi immigrant or by a Hindu priest. But we noticed something more sinister. In certain groups the discussion descended to greater depths. Some fanboys had to dig out random unverifiable Facebook posts about Bakarwals indulging in drug trade and how this rape was society’s natural reaction. What horrified our team was that even though most of the group members were opposed to such opinions, not many were willing to openly condemn it.
Our nation is a noisy place but when truth strikes us we descend into the cold depths of silence. We use it as a “chaddar” to escape from reality. We condemn the rape in harsh terms. Our Facebook wall are filled with ‘Justice for Asifa’ posts and our whatsapp statuses are filled with photos of shame about the rape. But most of us hesitate to condemn the inhuman protestors who didn’t allow the charge sheet to be filed. Rape has no religion we echo incessantly. But when rape is used as a weapon to induce fear in a community, rape can’t be devoid of religion. It is similar to how calls for ‘terror has no religion’ turned out to be a farce that didn’t resonate with anyone. Just like how the entire Muslim umma has a responsibility to prevent the radicalisation of its community, Hindus have an onus to prevent the venomous worm of bigotry and discrimination from creeping into our families. We cannot expect that our children grow into responsible adults without bigotry whilst passing subtle racist comments at our homes. Religion is such an integral part of our lives and it is imperative that Hindu leaders are strong in their comments and hard hitting with their opinions. We do have an responsibility to tell the world that our religion will not defend such acts.
These are moments when the entire Hindu mega-community must take time out and look inwards. These are moments when we should step back and disown these monsters totally. These are moments when we should introspect why the fringes in the community are taking control of our thoughts. Till we force our leaders rise up strongly against such crimes , I can easily say we aren’t outraged enough.
Vinayak Rengan is a General Surgery Resident in Chennai, India. He writes about global socio-political trends, healthcare and technology.