I remember how, yet again, I found myself googling a young girl’s name to find out what happened. I remember how my stomach turned when I read a headline:
“Justice for Asifa – An 8 year old Kashmiri infant who was kidnapped and gang raped in a Hindu temple for 8 days.”
I still cannot finish reading that sentence without the urge to vomit. I tear up every single time.
Read it to yourself again and tell me how many things are wrong with that sentence. Eight years old. Infant. Kidnapped. Gang raped. In a Hindu temple. For eight days.
Back in January, Asifa was grazing horses when she was followed into the forest, drugged and raped over and over again by eight different men and then strangled to death. Finally, they struck her head with a large rock to ensure she was dead and then dumped her body in the same forest. Think it can’t get any worse? Police say she would have been killed sooner had one man not insisted on waiting so that he could rape her a final time.
Now as the case appears in court, Asifa’s torture has made headlines again, started protests and gone on to further create rifts between Hindus and Muslims. I find myself infuriated as I read that Hindu right-wing groups protest in support of the arrested and accused eight men, a group which includes a retired government official, four police officers, and a minor. How can someone stand there and defend the eight monsters who are allegedly responsible for the rapes (yes, plural) and death of an eight year old child?
It is said that Asifa was kidnapped following a conflict between Hindu and Muslim communities in Kathua. But how does this allow men to prey on a vulnerable and innocent young girl? Why are we carrying out acts of revenge on children just because we, as adults cannot learn to get along in peace and harmony? How are we in 2018, and still not able to respect each other’s values, religions and differences?
According to official figures, there are nearly 40,000 rape cases reported every year in India and very few face justice for their crimes. Can we cast our minds back to 2012, to the gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey, the medical student in New Delhi? After that tragedy, the Indian government vowed to introduce legal reforms and support services to help and support victims of such violence. The government went on the amend the law to prosecute those over the age of 16 as adults in rape and murder cases but according to the “Everyone Blames Me – Barriers to Justice and Support Services for Sexual Assault Survivors in India” report by Human Rights Watch, not much more has changed since. The report also goes on to state that “police do not always adhere to [these] rules. They resist filing the First Information Report (FIR), the first step to initiating a police investigation, especially if the victim is from an economically or socially marginalized community.” Where is the justice here? How is this fair? When will status, money and power stop trumping justice and truth?
I decided to continue my research and googled ‘List of recent gang rapes in India’ and came across an article that listed 11 barbaric rape cases from India in 2017. Let me share some with you.
Do we remember the mother who was with her eight-month-old baby when she was gang raped in a shared auto? She was raped by the driver and two other men on board the vehicle. When the baby started crying, the three men threw the baby out on the road, where it died. What about the 23 year-old girl who was gang raped, her skull smashed with bricks by a group of men – one of whom she knew? How about the seven-year-old, who was taken by two neighbours whilst she was playing near to her home and raped. The young men asked her to accompany them on their bicycle, promising to drop her home. After raping her, they feared she would talk and so they murdered her. She was found in a pool of blood in fields nearby by village members.
Women and girls are not possessions or toys that we steal because we aren’t getting our way. We are not owned by men or at their disposal. When will the world start realising this? We are not yours. We are not yours to sedate, kidnap, rape continuously when an ego is bruised or when you want revenge or a chance to prove how ‘manly’ you are.
I cannot even begin to imagine the pain and fear Asifa felt. Did she even know what was happening? What was going on? Imagine her screams, imagine her calling out for her mum, her dad. Imagine her calling out for God. Inflicting such pain onto anyone, especially a child is not okay. Her fight is not about religion because there is no religion that condones rape. Her fight should not be about the egos of two communities. It’s about right and wrong. These fights should be about right and wrong.