The death and rape of a minor in India recently has led to a countrywide debate. It is significant that we ask how the tradition of humanity can be maintained in times like these.
Nivedita Dwivedi is an Independent Writer. She is working in the field of education and—based in Mumbai.
The gruesome rape and murder of an eight-year old girl in Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir has elicited unexpectedly interesting responses from various cross-sections of our society. Although each of us would like to believe that the only possible natural response to such an abhorrent incident could be one of angst, anger and anguish, yet, what unfolded this time was much different, unexpected and unbelievable. This incident, rather than uniting the country against the death of humanity, split it midway along communal lines. Certain members of the society, incidentally, in the profession of upholding the law of the land, emphatically put their weight behind the accused. They were joined by other such members of the society, and thus what was witnessed was an unprecedented protest march in support of the accused. Efforts were made to cast aspersions on the credibility of the police officers investigating the case, based on their religion. Multifarious attempts were made to hide the crime, negate it, misrepresent it and delegitimize it.
So much has been said and heard regarding this case that it would be useful to recapitulate the undeniable specifics of the case, lest we forget what actually happened.
- An 8 year old girl, named Asifa, of the predominantly Muslim tribal nomadic Bakarwal community was abducted, raped by multiple people multiple times (in a temple), and finally murdered.
- The inhabitants of the neighboring villages, predominantly occupied by Hindus, refused to allow Asifa’s family to bury what remained of her dead body, in their villages.
- Although this happened in January, the hue and cry that happened around the case was only in the month of April.
- The rape and murder was carried out by the perpetrators in order to drive out the nomadic Muslim Bakarwal community from the vicinity of Kathua, such that they never dare to come even near that area.
- It was thus a well thought out and pre-planned act against a particular religious and tribal community.
- A powerful section of the society including some MLAs and ministers of the ruling dispensation and lawyers of the state openly sided with the accused, trying to block the filing of the charge sheet against the accused, by the state police, demanding a CBI enquiry instead. The reason was that they did not trust the J&K police investigation, because of the religious affiliation of the police officers.
- Some of the strategies that were used by those in power and by certain sections of society as a response to this incident included silence, trivialization, comparison to other rape incidents, attempts at de-legitimization of those expressing their anguish, obfuscation of the facts and the intent behind this gruesome act, etc.
While we are trying to come to terms with the viciousness and gruesomeness of the incident, it is imperative that we not forget the intent behind this incident. This rape and murder was not an unadulterated act of lust, but a pre-planned attack aimed to strike a fear in the minds of certain community, that community being a tribal Muslim nomadic community. The support that the perpetrators generated from the dominant Hindu community further underlined the deep communal schisms existing in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The response by the rest of the nation clearly displayed a strengthening of a communal mindset in our society, and a growing increase in the acceptable limits of our tolerance to inhumanity. There have been concerns raised in the recent past about the increasing levels of intolerance in our society.
In fact, my belief is to the contrary. I strongly believe that we are increasingly becoming a more and more tolerant society. Today, we are ready to tolerate a lot more that we would have even thought was humanly possible for us, and this includes the brutal rape and murder of an 8 year old girl, for reasons as shameful as her belonging to a certain religious community. During Partition, women, including children, were raped and murdered because of the religion they belonged to, and Partition remains the darkest of times that we have faced as a society. The memories of Partition only bring with it feelings of anguish, remorse and guilt. In this case, however, we have been able to create a memory that juxtaposes the face of an eight year old child, raped and murdered for belonging to a particular community and religion, and the sea of faces of those who marched in support of the rapists and murderers of this child. How are we going to look back at this memory in the time to come? How are we going to explain it to our children in the future, who may today be as young as Asifa was, to understand any of it in the present? I hope each of us has posed this question to ourselves.
As responsible citizens of this nation, as parents, teachers, educators, politicians, administrators, social workers, intellectuals etc., all of us have strong opinions on how are society should be and what kind of education system we should have in order to achieve that ideal society that we desire to create. Does all of the above figure in the dreams that we have dream for our society and our beloved nation? Are we prepared to routinize such kinds of incidents? Can we, in any way, do something about it? I, most definitely think we can. I wish to illustrate with a few examples, how.
- By unequivocally accepting ‘Humanity above all else’.
- By unequivocally embracing the inherently diverse character of our nation and choosing to make this our strongest characteristic rather than our weakest link that can any day threaten to break our nation into pieces.
- By unequivocally propagating the above mentioned principles through every means possible and most importantly, through our education system.
I wish to elaborate a bit on the last point that I have mentioned above. Any education system in any society does not exist in a vacuum but exists because it serves a purpose. On the broadest of levels, one of its major aims is always to fulfil the visions of the kind of society that one desires to build and inhabit. At the time of formulation of India’s Constitution, the contours for the kind of society that we wanted to be, were laid down.
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The broad vision that was arrived at was that of a democratic and secular nation that believed in the ideas of justice, equality and fraternity. These ideals were not randomly chosen based on the whims and fancies of a few individuals, but there was a reason for their being chosen and enshrined in our Constitution. This was done because it was understood that India was, by its very nature, a diverse nation. Since ages and eons, it has embraced this diversity and made it its biggest strength. It is the only natural way of existence that is known to this nation. Homogenization does-not come naturally to our country and its people.
Though various attempts at homogenization have been made by various vested interests, and though they might have seemed to be temporarily successful, yet they have definitely failed in the long run. The makers of the Constitution had realized this long back. Yet, it seems we continue to harbor our misgivings to this day. However, it is imperative that we realize that in the long run, it is futile to try and tinker with the inherent natural character of any society and its people. To the shortsighted it may seem that one has succeeded, however, such success can only be short-lived.
Thus, when we decide to teach our students and our children about the values enshrined in our Constitution, it is necessary that we first remind ourselves and truly understand, accept and embrace the reasons for which these values were enshrined. Such an education may actually help in building a society whose individuals shudder at even the thought of committing such a gruesome act for the fear of reprisal that it is bound to unleash from the society, for a society that is built on the principle of humanity as the most inviolable principle can definitely not sanction the death of humanity.
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