Asifa Bano, an 8-year-old Muslim girl was gang-raped for days inside a Hindu temple in Kathua, Jammu & Kashmir. The nation is again seeing outrage poured into social media and protests being held, sadly not in support of the dead girl, but in support of the men who did this to her.
Twitter is an interesting playground when incidents like this happen because in 120 words you can see a common rhetoric at play. First, you see highly offended Hindus upset that the rapists used the temple for their crime and using Ram’s name to get public sympathy.
Then we have people pointing out that this was just a crime committed on one human against another and there was no need to bring religion into it.
We see people literally calling this incident an attack on Hindus rather than a case of child sexual abuse, including various examples that didn’t even make sense to me.
Then, along comes the ‘what-aboutery’ brigade! The ones that will try to dilute the topic by mentioning several past incidents and asking ‘what about’ the outrage regarding that one? This is how they will try to diffuse the intensity of the outrage.
To all the ‘what-aboutery’ people, I want to point out that yes, within the Muslim community, there exist plenty of crimes against women and Muslim women like myself are actively campaigning and working against them. However, Muslims are held in a different light.
Even during India-Pakistan cricket matches, Muslims like me are held inside these invisible socially created docks (katgarha) where we are bluntly asked whether we support the Pakistani team. While as an Indian I find their questions absurd, I also understand that they are simply testing my loyalty towards my nation. They want to be constantly assured that while being a Muslim by faith, I stand with my nation.
In fact, when terrorism-related crimes happen globally, due to a handful of fanatics, the entire Muslim community are branded terrorists and Muslims consistently face discrimination and hate crimes due to this rhetoric. Muslims are expected to publicly condemn the event and show solidarity with the nation and the victims of that crime.
There are also many accusing the media of deliberately making this about religion when they should be only focusing on the crime itself.
Apart from the several pray-for, justice-for Tweets for the victim, there are plenty of people saying that the victim was just a girl and the rapists were just barbarians, along with the hashtag #RiseAboveReligion.
Sounds great in theory. Superficially, I applaud this line of thought where we take out the ‘religion’ factor from everything and see it as just a crime committed against a little girl. This is a crime against humanity after all. However, to see it as just that would be to deliberately ignore the big picture.
Yes, rape is a common crime in India. But we need to acknowledge the fact that rape is also being used as a tool. The sexism we face is racialized and communalized too. In the case of Asifa Bano, the reason behind her rape and murder was to threaten the minority Bakerwal tribe to move out of that particular area.
This tweet of Shehla Rashid’s says it all-
This was the ultimate goal of the rapists; to instil fear in the minority community in order to chase them away from that area. And people are offended to see this as a crime against not just girls, but also a religious community.
This is like when a woman raises her voice against domestic violence and women collectively call it ‘violence against our gender’, men would go out on a limb and claim that men kill and torture other men too, why bring gender into this? Just look at the situation as a crime committed by one human on another human, why bring gender into it?
But we do need to bring gender into it because gender played a part in said crimes. Those who think Hindutva is the same as Hinduism and BJP is the same as India and patriotism is the same as nationalism; you need to understand this.
This mob lynching culture against Muslims has become so commonplace that it is now being called an epidemic and not just isolated incidents. In such a climate, why should we deliberately ignore that the rape and murder of Asifa Bano was a communal crime?
When a rape is committed to use the victim as a tool in order to threaten and intimidate a community, we need to see it as a communalized crime. Rape is used as a weapon of war. When a certain army defeats another, it has been evident throughout history, how women and children of the defeated are raped in order to humiliate and torture the defeated.
If the rapists being Hindu is just reason enough to support them, then I worry deeply about India. Every Hindu must be offended that not only did they rape the little girl but they raped her inside a temple; their place of worship! How come a stone statue of a woman has so much honour and respect in the hearts of people but a living and breathing girl deserves no mercy?
As a feminist, one must recognize this as a crime against a girl. But one cannot deny the role the race and religion played in all of this. It would be easier to look the other way on the issue of religion, had her attackers not stopped the police from filing the charge sheet for three months and obstructing justice with such pride and confidence and had they not denied Asifa Bano a respectful burial in her home.
They threatened more violence when her coffin was brought to her family home. Instead, the family had to bury her elsewhere in a forest. This is the intensity of intolerance towards people that have a different faith than yours and then being offended when being called out for it. How is this not communal?
Shahla Khan is the author of ‘Third World Woman’ who also helps people write books. Her daily chores include blogging, making YouTube videos and researching for her PhD thesis. When not speaking professionally about gender issues, she can be found admiring Ghalib and Mir. She can be followed on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and her blog and website.