Trigger warning: references to physical and sexual violence.
Posted by Sehar Iqbal
What does it take to shock people in India?
Rape is a daily headline on the news, sexual harassment routine in public places and men restricting the circle of our lives with their ever-increasing privilege – a reality that we face and challenge every day. Violence, physical and sexual, is an old enemy that we recognize and strive to defeat every day. Why are we then shocked by the rape and the murder of an eight-year-old in a remote village in Kathua, Jammu and Kashmir?
Shockingly it is not the young age of the victim or the fact that she was gang-raped by men, including her neighbours and members of the local police – rapes with identical circumstances are perpetrated with horrifying regularity all over India. It is also not the fact that the perpetrators planned in cold blood the rape and murder of a child, essentially as an act of power and control over land and all it contains.
After all, dominant caste men raping women and girls from non-dominant castes or husbands raping their wives to ensure their domination of spaces, resources and female bodies has long been a part of our ‘sanskriti’. We are also not shocked at the rapists being supported publicly by community members and politicians – let’s face it, we’ve seen it all before.
What has shocked us, in this case, is the familiar imagery recast in an unfamiliar manner – the icons of religion and state being involved by the rapists and murderers. We are shocked by the fact that the child was kept hidden in the local temple and raped brutally and repeatedly in view of the idols there.
we are not sure if we can get her justice in a system that defends the inhuman beings that did this to her.
We are shocked because the mastermind of these inhumane crimes carried out rituals in the temple before commencing the rape. We are shocked when we hear that this same man (if he can be called that) told a local journalist that the girl was a “devi” for him, while she was being brutalized in the temple just a little distance away.
We are shocked at the national flag being held aloft at a rally in support of the criminals, invoked where ministers from the state government waxed eloquence about how they would ensure no one would be prosecuted for the crime. We are shocked because these idols and this flag are familiar to us, are sacred to us, these rituals are a part of our being: our identity.
We are shocked because no one in our national government has called this child – starved, drugged, gang-raped, strangulated, crushed with heavy stones and dumped near a pile of rubbish – ‘India’s daughter’. We are shocked because we could not save her and we are not sure if we can get her justice in a system that defends the inhuman beings that did this to her.
We are shocked because we are all complicit.
Sehar Iqbal is a feminist, activist and researcher based in Jammu & Kashmir.