About a fortnight after widespread outrage over the Kathua gang rape and murder saw two BJP ministers resigning from the Jammu and Kashmir government, the state cabinet was reshuffled on April 30. Among the new ministers is Rajiv Jasrotia, the party’s Kathua MLA, who participated in the Hindu Ekta Manch (HEM) rally in support of the rape accused.
2 BJP ministers removed in J&K for attending a pro-rapist rally & a MLA who is reported to have attended the same rally is promoted as a minister. Why are the BJP/ @MehboobaMufti confused about where they stand on the #Kathua rape?— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) April 30, 2018
Also, the newly sworn-in deputy chief minister, Kavinder Gupta, lost no time in declaring the gang rape a “minor incident”. “Rasana is a chhoti si baat (minor issue)... We have to think this should never happen again and the child gets justice. There are many challenges like this facing the government. We should not give Rasana so much bhaav (importance),” Gupta told mediapersons.
Nirmal Singh, former deputy chief minister, who was shown the door, had supported chief minister Mehbooba Mufti’s stand to allow the local crime branch to probe the Kathua case, and not give in to the demands from Hindutva groups and later Jammu lawyers of a CBI probe.
BJP makes its position clear
What message is the BJP trying to send here?
The Kathua incident sent shockwaves across the nation, with demonstrations and rallies held in many cities. The outrage was sharpened by the communalisation of the crime – Muslim victim versus Hindu accused – and even the state machinery picking a side and making no secret of it: The Hindu Ekta Manch rally saw politicians from both the BJP and the Congress marching in support of the accused, carrying the Tricolour.
Has BJP underestimated people’s anger, or is this an unambiguous spelling out of position – that the party does not care about the opposing voices? Or, by repeatedly refusing to treat rape as a grave crime that it is, the BJP is trying to re-scale it in the public’s imagination too?
If provoked sufficient number of times, people’s outrage can give way to deadened weariness. If enough important people scream from pulpits that the incident was not as big a deal as it is being made out to be, seeds of doubt can be sown in the public’s mind.
In the process, what is lost is the assurance that every Indian is equal, with equal rights, equal claims to justice and redressal.
The Kathua child was raped and killed allegedly to terrorise the Muslim Bakarwal community, to which she belonged, into fleeing Jammu. After the accused were arrested in the case, the local police was vilified, and the arrests termed “jihad”.
According to a Firstpost report, Hindu Ekta Manch president Vijay Sharma has said that Jasrotia, the new minister, was “among the vocal supporters” of a CBI probe into the incident.
This is the man the government has seen fit to elevate. Will the gesture not embolden those trying to drive out Bakarwals from Jammu?
Tensions between Jammu Hindus and the nomadic Bakarwals have been rising for the past few years, with the Hindus claiming the tribes were settling in the region and trying to “change its demography". Last April, some Bakarwals, who are traditionally animal herders, were beaten up by cow vigilantes for “smuggling cattle”.
In the aftermath of the 8-year-old’s rape and murder, the Bakarwals claimed they were being barred from wells and ponds in Hindu-dominated villages. The girl could not even be buried in her own village.
When a man who has made no secret of where his loyalties lie is made a minister, how safe can the Bakarwals feel? They are residents of Jammu, their protection is government’s responsibility. Is the BJP, in making sure it sends the right message to its hardliner supporters, not failing in its constitutional duty as part of the J&K coalition government?
But then, this is not the first time that the BJP has chosen loyalty to its ideology over allegiance to the Constitution of India, or over decency and morality in public discourse.
Of the 58 MPs and MLAs in the country booked for hate speech, 27 belong to the BJP. The party’s leaders are often in the news for communally polarising statements – Ashwini Kumar Choubey and Giriraj Singh in Bihar, Ananth Kumar Hegde in Karnataka, to name a few. We never hear of any of them being castigated, let alone fired – all the three leaders named here are still Union ministers.
Kathua is a political crime
The J&K cabinet reshuffle is also an answer to those who have been questioning why the Kathua rape generated “more outrage” than other such crimes.
Ever since Rahul Gandhi led a candlelight protest against the Kathua rape – though he took his time responding and has not yet publicly berated the Congress leaders part of the Hindu Ekta Manch march – every rape case has become a whataboutery weapon, with people questioning why a similar outrage is not seen over them.
Those who debate the relative horrific-ness of rapes are clearly not interested in the safety of women. But one worrying fallout of Kathua seems to be the potential communalisation of every rape, with social media “activists” highlighting the religion of the victim and the accused in each new reported case.
Every rape is terrible. What is especially scary about Kathua is leaders of the ruling party not shying away from showing they support the accused, trying to appropriate the Tricolour and the Hindu religion as tools. What is shameful is their immensely powerful party continuing to patronise and promote them.
The public is being bludgeoned into accepting a new normal. We need all the candlelight marches and placard-wielding protests we can manage to counter this.