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Justice for Asifa on the Backbench as Politics and Religion take Centre Stage

Justice for Asifa on the Backbench as Politics and Religion take Centre Stage

Saniya Rashid

On January 6 this year Pakistan was reeling from the brutal rape and murder of 6-year-old Zainab Amin. Six days later, across the border, an 8-year-old girl, Asifa Bano suffered the same fate in India held Kashmir. She was kidnapped on 10 January from Kathua, some 72 km away from Jammu city. Her mother recounts that Asifa went to get the horses back home from the forest but never returned. The investigating team believes that Sanji Ram, a 60-year-old retired government officer, planned the crime with the help of police officers Surender Verma, Anand Dutta, Tilak Raj and Mr. Khajuria. The harrowing crime comes with the baggage of extreme Hindu-Muslim conflict in India held Kashmir.

The conflict in the region isn’t news. We can incorporate many layers of analysis into it. We can look at it through a religious lens or a political one. Or even develop a narrative that highlights how politics uses religion to meet its aims. Since the reported motive behind the rape was to drive the nomadic Bakarwal Muslim community out of Kathua, it was inevitable that people will argue from a religious lens.

Protests against the rape and counter-protests have ensued. Many in Kathua are protesting against the arrests of Hindu men, alleging that they are being wrongly framed in a Muslim apologist narrative. Bimla Devi, a protester, even went far as saying that the protesters will burn themselves if the accused Hindu men are not released.

While this is the extreme, similar minded people are also found on social media as seen in the following tweet.

Many others are following a similarly divisive approach.

Then there is the whole political opportunism narrative in the Asifa rape case.

Jammu and Kashmir CM, Mehbooba Mufti, ordered an investigation by the crime branch immediately after Asfia’s body was found. The crime branch is a special unit of the state police. Some have speculated that due to the religious nature of the crime and the police involvement of the perpetrators, justice might not be administered at all. Meanwhile, the ruling BJP in a political masterstroke has claimed that the state police is ineffective in handling the sensitive case and that the case should be relayed to the CBI. This will bring the crime under the central government’s control. This could potentially translate into leniency for the accused since BJP is already burdened with the anti-Muslim protests in the nation.

As BJP strategized to tackle the uproar, Congress President, Rahul Gandhi took to Twitter to condemn the incident, calling it a crime against humanity. He also called for the BJP led government to take action against the crime. Some were quick to point this timely condemnation out:

While both these arguments carry merit, they take away from the issue at hand. What is really lost in the religious and political humdrum is beautifully captured by the following Twitter user:

The brutal truth still remains that a child was brutally raped and murdered. That too in the name of driving a group of adults out based on a religious conflict. A child was raped and murdered and some are still caught up in arguing which religion perpetrates more crime or which politician is more opportunistic. In all the senseless, detracting tweets, here is hoping that tweets like the one above are heard loud and clear. There should be no comparison between how India handles a rape case vs. how Pakistan handles it. Let’s not make rape a means to promote nationalistic agendas and radicalize jingoistic sentiments further. It is time we change the conversation and talk about the rape culture itself and how it effects our society, especially children.