In January, an eight-year-old girl from the nomadic Bakerwal tribe was kidnapped, raped and murdered in Rasana village of Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir. This horrific case made national headlines in April when the police filed a charge sheet against eight men accused of the crime. Protests were held against the arrests and were led by a local unit called Hindu Ekta Manch. Two ministers from the ruling BJP party were also present at one of the Ekta Manch meetings. They have since resigned.
The charge sheet said the girl was picked up, drugged, raped and murdered in a bid to dislodge the Bakerwals, who are Muslims, from Rasana.
False information was circulated on WhatsApp:
Alleging that the rape never took place. On April 20, a leading Hindi daily, Dainik Jagran, published a story which said: “No rape of the girl in Kathua, postmortem report only talks of injuries”.
In an unprecedented move, the J&K police issued a statement on April 21 saying that the reports circulating on various news and social media platforms about the Kathua victim ‘not being raped’ were false.
Many faced attacks from online trolls for calling out the support given to the rapists. It seemed almost as if religion was blinding people to humanity. She was just a child for God’s sake!
We who protested were asked why we had not spoken for x, y, or z? Why were we speaking now? Fake messages flooded WhatsApp on people’s mobile phones.
A totally bizarre twist was added by a Sunday paper named The Sunday Guardian on April 14. Titled Anatomy of a Concoction and printed under the heading, ‘Fake News’, it claimed that no rape took place in the case of the 8-year-old Kathua victim.
It picked holes in the police’s version and alleged that the charge sheet was aimed at harassing the Hindu population of Rasana. At the end of the story, it carried a disclaimer saying, “Any resemblance with any character or event is unintentional and coincidental.”
Well, who reads disclaimers or headings?
The article was widely shared on WhatsApp but not in its print form which mentioned the disclaimer and the ‘fake news’ heading. It was simply copied and pasted on WhatsApp to deceive the gullible into thinking it’s the real thing. The damage was done.
The Indian Express published the forensic report: “Jammu Crime Branch says that ‘on the strength of opinion furnished by medical experts, it has been confirmed that the girl was found subjected to sexual assault by the accused’.”
On April 25, Hindustan Times carried a story,“10-year-old girl rescued from Ghaziabad madrasa, teen held for alleged rape”.
Rape In Madrasa:
A day later, Twitter was flooded with messages about a 10-year-old Hindu girl, Geeta (name changed) from East Delhi, who had been kidnapped by a student of a madrasa and was confined on its first floor by the Maulvi and allegedly raped.
The hashtag was #HangShahbaazUnderPOCSO.
We wait for the reports of the investigation and hope for the severest of punishments to those found guilty.
Rahul Gandhi, the Congress President, had participated in a midnight candle march on April 11, demanding justice for the Kathua victim and another rape survivor in Unnao.
On April 25, the president of the BJP’s Delhi unit, Manoj Tiwari, and others took out a candlelight march asking for strictest punishment for Shahbaaz- #HangShahbaazUnderPOCSO.
Shahbaaz has been arrested and he should indeed be awarded a strict punishment by the courts. So should every rapist. A rapist is a rapist and his religion does not absolve him. It’s not about a Hindu girl and a Muslim rapist or vice versa. A rape of a child is a rape of humanity.
Hindu vs Muslim issue:
There are hateful tweets and Facebook messages being sent about the little girl Geeta as if it’s a tit-for-tat situation. Humanity is surely dead and on its way to the grave.
There are many ‘us vs them’ moments these days but to make it one over as heinous a crime as rape is reprehensible.
There’s not a day when rape cases are not being reported but instead of uniting to ensure women’s safety we are getting carried away by our hatred and making it a Hindu vs Muslim issue.
If you are on social media you might be misled into thinking that the two communities have always been at loggerheads with each other. Don’t get taken in by that.
Divide and Rule policy:
This policy is called Divide and Rule and was actively propagated by the British after the Uprising of 1857.
George William Forrest, the British historian, mentioned in the introduction of the State Papers soon after the end of the mutiny: “Among the many lessons the Indian mutiny conveys to the historian, none is of greater importance than the warning that it is possible to have a revolution in which Brahmins and Sudras, Hindus, and Mahomedans, could be united against us…”
When the British realized the biggest hurdle to their Imperial dreams was the Hindu-Muslim unity, they adopted the policy of divide and rule. Colonial history was written to show British as savior and the Mughals and Delhi Sultans as the tyrants who only oppressed.
The British developed the martial race theory, whereby Indians were divided into martial and non-martial races according to their caste and recruited into the British army on that basis. The martial races recruited in their army were those who had sided with them in the Uprising.
Systematic division of Indians based on race, caste, class, and religion was encouraged. They were pitted against one another.
Linguistic divisions were also created. The Hindavi/ Hindi spoken by the common people was projected as Hindi for Hindus written in the Devanagari script and Urdu for Muslims written in the Perso-Arabic script.
The printing press helped the colonialists to cement the division of “Hindustani”, which contained words of Urdu as well as Hindi, into the standardized Urdu and Hindi.
That Urdu was never the name of a language and, in reality, referred to the city of Shahjahanabad – called Urdu e Mualla or Exalted city. It was branded as the language of the Muslims.
All India Muslim League:
All India Muslim League was formed in 1906 to safeguard the interests of Muslims in India, with the active encouragement of the British. In 1915, the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha was formed to safeguard the interests of the Hindu community.
In 1925, the RSS was formed as a voluntary missionary organization. Its aim was to provide character training through Hindu discipline and to consolidate the Hindu community.
In reaction to it, an Indian Muslim League National Guard was formed in 1931. Its stated aim was to organize the Muslim youths in order to cultivate among them a spirit of tolerance, sacrifice, and discipline.
Both the Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha joined hands to form a provincial government in Sindh in 1939 after the Congress-led governments resigned in protest of the British decision to declare India as a participant in World War II without consulting the Indians themselves.
In 1943 again, the Hindu Mahasabha joined the Muslim league and other parties to form a government in North-West Frontier Province. They also joined hands to form a government in Bengal.
In March 1943, the Sindh Government became the first Provincial Assembly of the sub-continent to pass an official resolution in favor of the creation of Pakistan. The Hindu Mahasabha which was part of it protested but did not resign. The Muslim League went on to press for the partition of India based on a two-nation theory. In 1947 when Britain finally agreed to give freedom to India, it was at the cost of the country’s partition. Their divide-and-rule policy had succeeded.
India healed somewhat under the guidance of its Constituent fathers and clung fiercely to its secular ideals. Nowadays, it seems we have forgotten that and make everything about religion. Muslims are regularly told to go to Pakistan. They have to prove their patriotism at every step regardless of the fact that they chose this land as theirs and belong to it.
We are forgetting our shared customs and traditions and are ready to fight over everything. This amounts to cutting off our nose to spite our face.
Politics uses religion and caste to divide, but we need to use our own minds to rise above it.
I would like to end on a piece of advice given by Ali ibn Abu Talib, the fourth Caliph of Islam to the governor designate of Egypt, in the 7th century:
“Remember that the citizens of the state are of two categories. They are either your brethren in religion or your brethren in kind. They are subject to infirmities and liable to commit mistakes. Some indeed do commit mistakes. But forgive them even as you would like God to forgive you.”
Rana Safvi is a writer, and the author of Where Stones Speak: Historical Trails in Mehrauli, First City of Delhi.