India’s rape problem was highlighted on a global level with the Jyoti Singh rape case of 2012. This case was considered a turning point in the history of rape culture in India for many reasons.
The public outrage over this rape, which is also called the 2012 Delhi gangrape, was more than any that the country had seen, something attributed to the gruesome details of the rape and murder and also the demographics of the victim.
Jyoti Singh was a medical student and lived in the capital city of Delhi, which is also unofficially known as the rape capital of India due to the high rate of the crime. The public outrage was over the repeated assaults against women and the lack of protection and action on the part of the government.
More importantly, the case resulted in Criminal Law Amendment Act (2013) a legislation that made a number of changes to the laws related to sexual assault. The most important of them was considered to be the definition of rape itself under the law. According to the new amendment, any act of penetration of female body by any object or body part would be called rape.
In this context, the events related to three rapes that happened within a span of 48 hours the past week reminds the country of the dangerous situation that women and children are facing under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, where the strong laws and amendments that are already in place amount to nothing under political power.
Citizens are wondering what about these rapes are not ‘gruesome enough’ to have elicited public outrage or worried lawmakers and menders. India does not have rape laws that are capable of keeping political parties and powers at bay when women and in more and more cases, children, are subjected to sexual assault.
In Unnao, Uttar Pradesh, a 17-year-old girl tried to register a complaint of rape against BJP MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar and his accomplices. In a grave violation of the rule of law, the police refused to file a First Information Report (FIR).
The victim and her mother staged a protest outside Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath’s residence where they tried to immolate themselves. As a response, it was not an arrest of the accused that happened.
Instead, the girl’s father was arrested under Arms Act and booked under charges related to voluntarily causing hurt and intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace. He was subjected to police brutality in custody and died of injuries.
It was after the death of the father on April 9 that the police arrested the four people (the MLA not included) named by the girl in the complaint along with the MLA’s brother, Atul Singh.
The MLA’s name has not been stated in the FIR even after the victim repeatedly saying that she was taken to his house by one of the accomplice’s mother and was raped by him. MLA Sengar has, on the other hand, accused the family of framing him because they belonged to lower class, (‘nimn star ke log hain’) reported the Indian Express.
In the Unnao case, the role of power in the violence that is being meted out to a rape victim is glaring. Being a BJP MLA, Sengar’s demeanour and words are unabashedly confident. The influence he and his family have over the people of the region is such that a lot of residents have fled homes for the fear of being asked to be part of the investigation.
“No one in the village will dare support us. No one will raise his voice against the MLA and his family. They hold all administrative posts in the village,” said the victim’s mother to the Indian Express. The MLA’s wife, Sangeeta Singh Sengar, is the Unnao zila panchayat president. Atul Singh, Sengar’s brother was arrested by the police in the case of the death of the girl’s father.
Atul Singh’s wife Archana Singh is the village pradhan. The girl and her family have refused to return home fearing attack from the MLA’s goons. The Unnao District Magistrate Ravi Kumar NG has arranged for their stay at a government guest house in Unnao.
The custodial death of the father was also the result of the MLA’s influence in the region. The local people have given testimonies that they had seen the father being taken away by the MLA’s associates. There were even witnesses when he was beaten up with sticks by the goons including the MLA’s brother. The police were called to take the man away after he was beaten up.
The rape and murder of Ashifa Bano (‘Asifa’ in some records) in Kathua, Jammu and Kashmir is an instance of Hindu Brahminical forces terrorising an entire region and Muslim community using the political power they possess.
Ashifa was kidnapped and held captive for 8 days in a Hindu temple where she was repeatedly raped and finally killed. She was eight years old. She was a member of the nomadic tribe in Kashmir called Bakerwal who are Muslims. She was abducted on January 10, 2018, while grazing horses in the forest.
The main accused, Sanji Ram, told investigators that the motive behind the crime was to instill fear among the Bakerwal community to which the girl belonged and to drive them away from Rasana area. Sanji Ram was the caretaker of the temple where Ashifa was kept captive and raped. Eight Hindu men have been arrested in the case so far. This includes police officers who had accepted bribes to bury the case.
Like in the case of Sambhu Lal, the man who set a Muslim labourer on fire and filmed it, supporters, which even include lawyers, have come out for the accused and have already disrupted court proceedings.
This is a new reality that India is facing. Even when there is sufficient evidence of sexual crimes and after the accused confessing to the crime, they are protected by the Hindu right wing. Ekta Manch, a right-wing organization backed by BJP held a protest march demanding the release of the accused.
Hindu women have come in support of the accused and have threatened to kill themselves if they are not released. The lawyers who came in support of the alleged rapists were invoking Hindu god Ram’s name while trying to stop the Crime Branch from filing chelan/charge sheet in the case in court. Due to the protest by lawyers, this had to be done at the residence of the judge.
Advocates are invoking Ram’s name to prevent crime branch from filing chalan in 8-year-old Asifa’s rape case in Kathua, Jammu. This is what RSS's Hindu Rashtra look like .#JusticeForAshifa
— Md Asif Khan (@imMAK02) April 10, 2018
It has been reported that the enmity of the Hindus towards the Muslim nomadic tribe of Bakerwal is an old one. The Hindus who possess land were unhappy with the nomads grazing their cattle on their land.
There is little doubt that the eight-year-old was tortured thus to instill fear in the Muslim community to which she belonged and to drive them away from the area. The accused themselves have repeatedly admitted to this.
Ashifa’s parents were suspicious of Ram as soon as they learned that their daughter had gone missing. They even went to him and asked about her. Ram said that Ashifa might have gone to some relatives’ house and that she would be back. Ram had also paid Rs. 4 Lakhs to investigating officers head constable Tilak Raj and sub-inspector Anand Dutta, to destroy crucial evidence. Both the officers have been arrested.
Protests marches and outrage on social media demanding justice for Ashifa have failed to elicit any reaction from the BJP government.
Impunity of Alleged Rapists
The case of former Junior Home Minister Chinmayanand is the most recent example of impunity enjoyed by rapists supported by BJP. This also draws attention to yet another trend that the people of the country are witnessing under the BJP regime – that of Hindu monks and preachers rising to prominence, becoming business tycoons and like in the case of Adityanath of Uttar Pradesh, even Chief Minister of the largest constituency of India.
CM Adityanath government’s decision to withdraw the rape case lodged against Chinmayanand points more towards the Hindu brotherhood of protection that is engulfing the country with its political power just like in the case of Ashifa and the Unnao victim.
The victim in the Chinmayanand rape case filed the complaint of rape on November 30, 2011, in Shahjahanpur. Her complaint said that she was held captive and raped in an ashram (a Hindu shrine) in 2004.
Chinmayanad was the former Union minister of state for Home and a BJP MLA. It was reported that the victim was threatened by Chinmayanand and his supporters in an attempt to keep her silent. When the case was pending in court, Chinmayanand obtained a stay on his arrest from High Court.
Chinmayanand then requested CM Adityanath to withdraw the case against him when Aditynath visited yet another ashram called ‘Mumuksh ashram where he inaugurated a festival by the name Mumuksh Yuva Mahotsav. The actions of the CM after the ‘request’ further proof that not only rapes but also decisions regarding rape cases are rituals held in Hindu shrines under the Narendra Modi government.
Adityanath directed the State Law department to issue the GO for withdrawal of the rape case. Acting on the GO dated March 6, the Shahjahanpur District Magistrate office issued a letter on March 9, 2018, signed by the ADM (Administration) Jitendra Sharma, directing the Public Prosecutor to file an application in the court under Section 321 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 to withdraw the rape case against Chinmayanad.
Adityanath’s Uttar Pradesh has in the past displayed interest in the withdrawal of cases when it decided to withdraw 131 cases related to the Muzaffarnagar and Shamli communal riots of 2013. At least 62 people were killed and thousands lost their homes in the said violence. Adityanath has also withdrawn cases against himself.
Minister of State for Finance Shiv Pratap Shukla and BJP Member of Legislative Assembly Sheetal Pandey were accused along with Adityanath in a case of violating prohibitory orders in Pipiganj in 1995. In 2017, Adityanath government refused sanction to prosecute Adityanath himself in a case in which he is accused of inciting communal violence in Gorakhpur in 2007.
The Prime Minister of the nation, Narendra Modi, a strong Hindu nationalist himself, is yet to issue a statement regarding Asifa’s rape even when protest meetings are erupting throughout the country. A media campaign has been initiated to call out the insensitivity and silence of the Prime Minister alone.
These incidents related to Hindu places of worship and other centres of devotion and prayer are happening in India, a Hindu populated country ruled by a Hindu political party. The victims are mostly Muslims and Dalits. When Gurmeet Ram Rahim, a self-proclaimed Hindu god person was convicted of rape and was sentenced to multiple life imprisonment terms, his supporters took to the streets and unleashed violence that killed many.
In spite of being the largest democracy in the world, India is setting an example of overriding the judiciary by publicly supporting rapists and endorsing them with inaction.