An analysis of the response of a section of Indian media and society to the Kathua rape and murder and the faults within it.
Disclaimer: The author completely understands that Indian liberalism is not a total monolith. Wherever a reference is being made to Indian liberals and liberalism in this article, it is to refer to that popular and dominant strand of it, that possesses the characteristics this article laments.
The minor girl in Kathua was sedated, repeatedly raped and murdered in January of this year. For almost four months, the anger, protest, and outpour were all confined to her home state of Jammu and Kashmir, particularly to the Kashmir region. Come April, and there was an almost volcanic eruption of protest against the shameful crime by the liberal intelligentsia of India both on the ground and more so on social media. Compelling and revelatory questions should be raised: why was the anger delayed, why was this kind of anger for a rape in Kashmir a first off, why was a certain kind of imagery used in the protests in India? The answers to these questions are not hard enough to arrive at if one looks keenly into both the historical precedents and the anatomy of the current cycle of protests over the rape of the minor girl. Once we have arrived at the answers, we need to vigorously wave them into the faces of Indian liberals who can already be seen patting their backs over the 'crusade' they launched for the Kathua girl, so as to make them and those in awe of how the nation stood up for her realize, how these attempts reek of a historical culture of hypocrisy that has become Indian liberalism’s breeding ground.
Why such a reaction for the first time?
Rape in Kashmir has been used since the outbreak of armed conflict as a weapon of war by the Indian armed forces and has frequently gone unpunished. The armed forces’ record of sexual violence in Kashmir in spite of the state’s attempt to brush it under the carpet, is fairly well documented by international organizations like the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International who have called it out stating it to be a result of the forces’ institutional “desire to retaliate against Kashmiri civilians’’ and “systematic attempt to humiliate the local population” respectively. As hundreds of women in Indian held Kashmir have been raped by the state’s forces, yet most of the liberal brigade protesting against the Kathua incident if asked, “Why are you protesting?’’, will reply that a brutal rape has happened and `naturally’ protests should and will happen. But is it really such a given or so natural? We wish it was. We wish the Indian liberal elite always found a voice, we wish ‘rape is rape’ wasn’t used cunningly to fulfil vested agendas, we wish institutional rape as a policy of the armed forces shielded and supported by the state had been called out. We wish. But that’s not what the history of the conscientious rape protesting liberals of India, which is constituted of a large feminist voice as well, is.
Which brings us back to the real question, “Why in the case of the minor Kathua girl then?” Many would try to ‘answer away' this million dollar question by citing the viciousness of limits that were crossed in this case. But was Asiya and Neelofer double rape and murder case of Shopian committed by the Indian paramilitary forces in 2009 any less brutal? Was Kunan-Poshpora, where scores of women were raped in a single night by the Indian army personal any less deserving of the kind of outrage that we are currently witnessing? Was Mubeena Akhtar, a bride and her aunt who were raped by the Border Security Forces (BSF) and their relatives shot at, on the former's wedding in 1990 not enough to ruffle up some liberal feathers in India? Was the Bijbehara gang-rape incident followed by the Bijbehara massacre not worthy of any anger or demands for accountability? Were the hundreds of rapes that have happened and continue to happen at the hands of armed forces all lesser sins not deserving the coveted attention of the liberal Indian? Any person who is not completely bereft of justice and uprightness would say, yes. But are not justice and uprightness the hardest traits to find in the FabIndia brandishing liberals of this country?
The Kathua rape and murder saw the liberal Indian rage for two reasons. There was no direct armed forces angle to the rape, which made it automatically move one step ahead in the ‘venn-diagram of politically correct causes to stand up for’ that Indian liberals have sketched in their hypocrisy infested minds. Secondly, more shamefully and dangerously, the reason for the upsurge is also a national duty that these people hardly shy away from when presented with even a slight opportunity. What’s this national duty? Protecting mother India’s sovereignty at whatever cost. And hence if protesting against a rape and murder case presents the Indian liberal with an opportunity to display his best art, that of playing the classical balancing act of “yeah some things are wrong, but Kashmir is ours’’, then they are completely ready for it. This is revealed in the current case when one studies the anatomy of the so-called rage all over India. From the loonies in Bollywood who only know how to advocate “films should be back in Kashmir” to your regulation big newspaper columnists, everyone repeated the phrases `our daughter’ `India’s daughter’ `rape is rape’ too many times for a keen and informed individual to ignore. Sure, rape is rape. All rapes are bad, yes. But different rapes have different causations. With the central element of men exerting power over women remaining the same, one rape might be a result of an individual’s urge to satisfy his sexual desire by exploiting the differential in power relations and another rape might be a resultant of a systematic policy to take advantage of a larger power differential between the oppressed and the oppressor, a powerful community and a less powerful one, the occupier and the occupied.
The rape and murder of the Kathua minor girl, without doubt, falls in the second category but the raging Indian liberal, shouting his lungs out on primetime television wants to tell you that it falls in the first category, that rape is rape, that it is like any rape that happens in India, that it is the rape and murder of an Indian daughter, all trying to categorically insinuate this: the rape of the minor girl along with thousands of other rapes in Kashmir had nothing to do with the state’s policy of trying to maintain its terroristic and occupational grip over a land that most definitely does not belong to it. Notwithstanding the absence of a direct armed forces angle, all the markers of the shameful activity and those that were attached with it: the bold use of a temple, the formation of Hindu Ekta Manch, the brazen support from the quarters of the state to the rapists point out towards the extraordinariness of this rape that the liberal Indian and the primetime television feminist want us to ignore. They want us to not lay the blame squarely at the door of the real causes: the disproportionate power of the Hindu over the Muslim, the state support to the maintenance of this power differential, and the occupation of Kashmir by a state that is subscribing more and more to an extremist Hindu bent of mind with every passing day.
Why the delay?
A series of intertwined reasons explain the delay. Primary among them is again the standards that the liberal Indian civil society has come to hold, the bars that have been set for action to be initiated, the point that bigoted actions have to reach to ‘extract’ condemnation and anger from them. The minor girl being raped and murdered wasn’t the point, the formation of the Hindu Ekta Manch to shield the rapists wasn’t the point, the point came with some news outlets giving national coverage to the story of lawyers deciding to not represent the victim and raising Hindutva slogans in their protests. As if the wrong had 'finally' been done, the protest was now totally called for. One can only sob in sadness over the fact that it took the Indian civil society reasons like the BJP ministers marching in support of the rapists, lawyers shouting Hindutva slogans in defence of the rapists, to finally raise their voice, maybe because these are the forces whose heat the Indian liberal has started to face back home in India as well.
The trigger factors for the liberal Indians to stand up, that are talked about above coincided with another travesty for them. International media began taking serious note of the incident, particularly of the shameful successive events (ruling BJP’s support to the rapists, formation of the Hindu Ekta Manch etc.) around three and a half months later. Hence it was 'call of duty' for the Indian liberal all over again. Mother India’s clean image which the liberals have greatly toiled to sell all over the world could not have been allowed to take yet another blot right to its face. The international reputation of the nation had to be defended and thus, even the likes of Arnab Goswami found themselves spending too much time in unfamiliar waters: raising voice against a rape in Kashmir. The media both liberal and the part that is an out and out lapdog to the Saffron government rallied to show the world how ‘this isn’t India’.
The rape in Unnao and its BJP angle (a very different one though) spiraled up in the media around the same time. Now the Indian liberal didn’t even have to use too much magic with words to superimpose the larger rape problem in India on the Kathua rape case. Mentioning both in the same breath, condemning both and calling both mirror images of each other was enough to make the naïve audiences living under a propaganda state believe that Kathua was nothing more than reflective of ‘India’s rape problem’.
The paradoxes, hypocrisies, pretenses, and duplicities that characterized this liberal charade in the name of anger and protest is well captured in this line by Arif Ayyaz Parray critiquing more specifically popular Indian feminism: “What conversation can one have with a feminist who advocates the marriage of an occupied land with its rapist state?” ♦