If ever proof was needed that we are in a state of civil war, it can be found buried with the battered body of an eight-year-old girl who never returned. Rape as a weapon of war has a long and inglorious history and what happened in Kathua is nothing short of that.
It is clear that the little girl was the victim of a long-standing dispute between the local Hindus and the nomadic Gujjar tribe over the use of public and forest land for grazing.
Add to that drummed-up fears of a forcible change in the region's demographics, and you have a recipe for the savagery that was unleashed on the little girl, who was trapped, drugged and raped by several men in a temple.
The violation of women in Bosnia so they could give birth to Serbian babies; the rape of an estimated 200,000 women during the battle for Bangladeshi independence in 1971 so they could breed "Punjabi children", men have used sexual violence to mark their territory and assert their power. Amnesty International calls women the "unacknowledged casualties of war". And indeed we now live in a state where each seems to have turned on the other.
Much of this has to do with what Harvard scholar Homi Bhabha calls the rise of tribal nationalism that creates a feeling that some people have deeper claims to citizenship than others, who are never fully accommodated despite having social, legal and economic rights. Much like the Gujjars to which the little girl belonged, who despite their status as Scheduled Tribes, are not seen as equals by the local Hindu community.
The little girl is a victim not only of the rise of this vicious strain of nationalism which pits one community against another, especially at a time when resources are strained. She is a victim also of the sanctioned savagery that is in full force in India currently – sanctioned not only by the actions of groups that call themselves Hindu Ekta Morcha but also the silence, and delayed speaking out, of those who run this government.
The particular brand of whataboutery displayed by the Delhi MP Meenakshi Lekhi and Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani is as specious as the delayed reaction of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
This savagery has taken its toll on everyone. On Dalits who are flogged for the perceived crime of cow slaughter. On Muslims who happen to be travelling by train with a parcel of food mistaken for beef. On women who catch the fancy of powerful BJP lawmakers with a reputation for being baahubalis.
The toxicity seems to have caught us by surprise – we who were so comfortably numb on the promise of relentless globalisation and righteous nationalism.
We – the democratic we – were so sure that our trains, privatised of course, would run on time; that there would be jobs for our children; that women would be safe; that corruption would be vanquished – if we had to rename a few streets, bring down a few statues and erect a few new ones, it would be worth it in the long run.
No one realised that they may not survive in the long run. Meenakshi Lekhi says, you see their plan, first shout "minority minority", then "Dalit Dalit", and now "women women" and then try to somehow fix blame of state issues on the Centre. She doesn't specify who they are, but it is clear that is everyone who doesn't buy their argument, including as she said so angrily to a TV reporter, "some sections of the media".
She doesn't realise that it is precisely this diversity, this confederacy of the marginalised, that Indian democracy has existed for, to embrace them and to empower them. The majority in India has never meant majoritarianism – until now.
Blame Mr Nehru and Mr Ambedkar (though he was more realistic and more cynical) if you will for seeing Indians for what they ought to be rather than for what they were, but Independent India, even though built on the corpses of over two million refugees killed, should have prepared us for where we are today.
Perhaps we should not be surprised then that we can rape and murder little girls. Or that we can turn a blind eye to a woman who threatens to commit suicide after being raped by a lawmaker. We are, after all, a country whose birth itself was soaked in blood.
Also read: Shielding rapists to legitimising extra-judicial killings: Adityanath's jungle raj has turned UP into a hell hole