The rape and horrific murder of eight-year-old Asifa in India-administered Jammu and Kashmir has shaken many in India. The details are gory; to such an extent that my fingers tremble while writing them. The child was kidnapped, confined using sedatives and repeatedly gang-raped in a temple. She was strangled and then pelted with a heavy stone.
Just like in 2012, when a fatal gang rape in the national capital New Delhi shook the country, people are angry. But rather than focusing on the fact that a child was abused and murdered, the discussion appears to have taken a different turn. The matter has turned into a Hindu versus Muslim debate in the country.
It seems to be of utmost importance that the victim was a Muslim and the accused perpetrators Hindus. This is also the reason that right-wing Hindu groups like the Hindu Ekta Manch have come out in support of the suspected rapists and held protests in the state.
It is also suggested that a couple of ministers from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi took part in these protests.
And that is likely the reason why the Indian government has failed to condemn the heinous crime. Prime Minister Modi has not reacted to the situation, and most of his ministers are keeping quiet.
Death penalty as a solution?
It was the Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi who finally broke the BJP's silence, but ended up saying something not so reassuring. Gandhi said that she would endeavor to make an amendment to the POCSO (Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences) Act and would campaign for the death penalty in cases of rape of children below 12 years of age.
The minister's statement did not appear to be well thought out. Rather, it seemed to be pandering to the masses.
We hear neither any discussion about creating structures that could prevent such incidences in the future nor about improving the existing ones. An eye for an eye is being presented as the ultimate solution: you rape, we kill!
We see a similar attitude on social media as well. Most people are demanding the death penalty in such cases. This shows a loss of faith in the ability of the nation-state to enforce the rule of law.
It shows that people are angry and frustrated and that they do not see any other way out. The only solution that most people in India can think of right now is killing the criminals, instead of killing crime.
Do mass protests make a difference?
An online petition has been started by a group of activists, journalists and writers in Kashmir. The petition demands justice for Asifa and has been signed by almost 400,000 people in the last couple of days. A candlelight vigil was also organized by the opposition Congress party in New Delhi.
We saw a similar uproar in 2012 as well. New laws were made and funds were released to implement them. But over the last six years, we have not seen any change in people's attitudes. Criminals are still not scared of the rule of law. And political parties continue to exploit the situation for their own benefit. Six years ago, the BJP was in opposition and condemned the Delhi gang rape in every way possible. Today, the Congress party is doing the same.
General elections are due to be held in India in April 2019. None of the political parties want to make a wrong move just a year before the elections. The BJP has to secure its Hindu vote bank and the Congress wants to play the communal card against the BJP. It is sad to see how this gruesome act is being politicized.
Nothing will change in India if things continue in the direction they are going right now. The anger, outrage and indignation are not enough. We need schools, colleges, social organizations and even political parties to educate and sensitize civil society. A rape is a brutal and heinous crime. Period.