By Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Unfortunately, the story moves on. The family of the eight-year-old girl has gone to the mountains, as part of their nomadic life. The community of Bakherwals, to which the girl’s family belongs, spend the summers in the mountains and the winters in the plains. The cruel murder of the little girl in Kathua is unlikely to melt the hearts of the villagers and bring about a temporary truce between the village agriculturists and the nomads. They had even refused the girl to be buried in the place that the community had long occupied. They had been asked to choose a field away from the village. That is the cruel fact of life.
With the arrest of the BJP legislator Kuldeep Singh Sengar in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh, as an accused in the rape of a minor and in the death of her father in police custody, the issue reaches a temporary resolution.
In Kathua, the tragedy turns on the issue of communalism. In Unnao, it is simple impunity of village males with an entitled sense of impunity. The fact that Sengar, his brother, and aides belong to the ruling BJP is just an additional factor. In rural India, in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere, men feel that they have proprietary rights over women as over chattel. An economic revolution is needed to destroy the entrenched social structures.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has proclaimed his peccavi and mea culpa, as did the other BJP leaders on April 12. The Congress and others, after their opportunistic political protest over the Kathua and Unnao incidents, will now turn to other issues. The anger of liberals and secularists will continue to simmer and fester because of their uncompromising ideological revulsion to the politics of Team Modi. The BJP has no option but to face the public anger because it is part of the coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir and it is in power in Uttar Pradesh. Had the BJP been in opposition, it would have spearheaded the protests.
The political heat over the little girl’s death in Kathua and the fight of the rape victim in Unnao will recede into the background. The closure for the families of both girls will come only when the guilty are convicted and punished in the courts. The opponents of the BJP, political as well as the general public, would hope that whenever the elections are due next—Lok Sabha elections in 2019, Jammu and Kashmir assembly elections in 2020, Uttar Pradesh assembly elections in 2024—the BJP would be roundly defeated. But this brings no solace to the families of the girls. It is quite certain that episodes like these contribute to the negative image of the BJP, but the party will engage in its own political arithmetic to counter this, and the people at large will weigh their options too.
The communal frenzy of the Hindus in the Jammu area predates the rise of Hindutva, the Hindu-centric ideology of the ruling BJP and its mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). There is evidence that the RSS had played an active role during the disturbed times of 1947 and it was responsible for the death and migration of thousands of Muslims in the Jammu region. It is necessary and useful to keep the historical background in mind. There is nothing imminent about strained Hindu-Muslim relations in the region, and the RSS ideology was no doubt a catalyst for the isolated flare-ups.
The rapists and murderers of the little girl are Hindu communalists, but more than that they are male perverts, people who are sadists as well. It would not suffice to blame communal politics to nail her killers. Communal ideology is an important ingredient, but it is not the sole cause of the violence committed against the eight-year-old girl. And there are also the economic and social tensions between the sedentary villagers who are Hindus and the nomadic Bakherwals who are Muslims.
The liberals and secularists will continue in their uncompromising fight against what they see as the poisonous Hindutva politics of the BJP and the Sangh parivar. The BJP and its affiliates on their part will press forward with their own agenda. Each side wants the other to be decimated, if not eliminated. That is not likely to happen. There is no total victory for either.
But what needs to be prevented is the crime of the kind that was unleashed against in Kathua and Unnao. The BJP senses the danger that the lumpen elements in its ranks pose to its own political survival and success.
The public, which has no fierce ideological loyalty to either side, will be repelled by the rapes and murder. Any attempt to play down the enormity of the crime will backfire on the BJP. People will punish the BJP at election time if for no other reason than that the party has been in power when these crimes were committed. It is both a political and moral failure on the part of the right-wing party.
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a freelance journalist. His last book was The Emergency An Unpopular History.