Kathua Case

Joint protests for Kathua and Unnao rape case at Parliament Street, New Delhi

The Kathua rape case in Jammu & Kashmir and the rallying of the people of the ruling party behind the national flag exactly exemplify what is wrong with religious nationalism. This has not been the first case in the recent times where perpetrators of heinous crimes have been shielded through the national flag and their religious identities.

This is India’s Mumtaj Qadri moment (Qadri was bodyguard of a Pakistan governor Salman Taseer and assassinated him as the politicians spoke against the controversial Blasphemy Law). Qadri had no remorse for what he did and highly charged mobs thronged street in support of his action. But, India should have seen it coming - the Kathua rape case and the rally that questions the existence of the country’s moral compass.

 

Earlier, in Udaipur 50-year-old Mohammed Afrazul was brutally hacked to death by Shambhulal Gujjar, ostensibly to save girls from “Love Jihad” and in the name of patriotism. When he was presented before the court, a mob came out in support of him.

In Kathua, the accused of raping the eight-year-old Asifa Bano in a temple were abetted by the police and were later defended by lawyers and public under the aegis of the Hindu Ekta Manch (Hindu Unity Platform). The rally as a blot on the face of the Indian democracy got worse as two ministers in the Jammu and Kashmir Government attended it.

The severely mutilated body of the child was refused burial in the ground owned by her relatives and family by Hindu right wing youths, who threatened riots if her body was to be buried there.

These recent incidents of mobs exonerating accused of crimes driven by religious hatred has been the result of fanning religious nationalism in the country. There have been concerted efforts to vilify the Muslim community in the country in recent past by equating them with being backward and radicalised, whose identity is in contravention with the image of India envisaged by the right wing nationalists.

Just like other ultra-nationalists across the world, they have also been fed on the existential fear of the majority community. They talk about culture as a non-fluid entity and talk about some golden era in the past that no one has seen and that needs to be replicated in the present. So there is a little difference when the Islamists seeking to bring back Caliphate, the Hindutva-supporters seeking to bring back ‘Ram Rajya’.

The Kathua case could be attributed to two reasons – one, the increased wedge between Hindus and ‘the other’ i.e. the Muslims, and the imposition of this divide onto the Kashmir conflict, especially with respect to the regions of Jammu and Kashmir.

 

Scholars have seen nationalism as a way of ‘situating oneself in relation to the other’. The way the Hindu nationalists are seeking to define is going to result in the rupturing of the processes of modernity that have been instituted since the independence of India.

The present dispensation has embarked on a project to rewrite history and challenge the multicultural narrative that has been built over the years to establish Hindus as the direct descendant from the land’s first inhabitants. They intend to make a national identity based on Hindus. While many do not find a problem with it, but neighbouring countries in the neighbourhood suggest that once the genie of religious based nationalism is out, it is difficult to put it back.

Since the time the concept of nation came into existence, it has accrued numerous definitions. Some scholars emphasised on primordial dies for the formation of a nation, besides common language, religion or ethnicity; others spoke about common experiences. The bottom line is one can define a nation as one wants.

So in 21st century if India chooses to define itself as a ‘Hindu nation’, it should remember that the road with traverse through de-humanising of ‘the other’, which in this case happens to be the Muslim community; and the criminalisation of the minds of the majority Hindu community.

 

The second contributory factor has been the imposition of the prism of Hindu-Muslim divide between Jammu and Kashmir. The local People Democratic Parties (PDP) functionaries cited uniting of Jammu and Kashmir regions as the reason of PDP forming alliance with the BJP. However, the arm twisting of Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti by the BJP has done little to wrest this drifting apart.

Caught in this vortex hatred have been the Bakerwals, the nomadic community to which the eight-year-old Asifa belonged to. The accused allegedly was driven by the motive to drive away the community living in the village.

Bakerwals have been the eyes and ears of the Indian armed forces for long, even being the first informants of the insurgency during the Kargil conflict. They have been mistreated by the Hindu majority Jammu as they are Muslim and often see their settlements as demographic threat to the region. The protesting lawyers has been terming the arrest of the accused as the assault on the ‘minority’ Dogra community.

 

The two BJP ministers, who participated in the demonstration in support of the accused, have resigned and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has obliquely referred to the crime as ‘incident’ that won’t go unpunished. But, the nation should do introspection as to why what was earlier confined to the bedroom talks has become mainstream narrative of the country. And, it is not that only the right wingers in India, who are pandering to the existential fears of the majority community of the country – Islamists of the ISIS, Buddhists of Sri Lanka or Myanmar; and Christian fundamentalists of European countries and the US have the same line of argument.


Ritu Sharma has been a journalist for nearly a decade, covering defence and security issues for major part of her career. She has worked with the PTI, IANS and The New Indian Express. She studies religious conflicts and religious nationalism among other topics.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s).

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