In Dostoevsky’s masterpiece The Brothers Karamzov, Ivan the middle brother a nihilist, describes an imaginary situation wherein the brutes fling an infant in the air and then catch the poor little thing on their spear, tearing the cuddly little child into shreds, and Ivan asks if anyone, even Jesus or God, can condone that sin?
That was fiction. But the eight-year-old child’s torture in a Kathua temple in Jammu on January 10 by goons, including a couple of police officials, is no fiction. Two Bharatiya Janata Party ministers in the J&K state government, marched in defence of the accused! This is the reality of the present day communally-polarised India, the feat of the ruling BJP which is in government for the first time in 70 years in Jammu and Kashmir, and leads the central government in Delhi. Can any amount of regret or condemnation ever wash away this collective crime by the forces of Hindutva?
There was always a latent Hindu sentiment in Jammu region, for J&K is the only Muslim majority state in the whole country, and the state government whether led by Congress or opponents, was always dominated by the Muslims from Kashmir valley. And even though a pro-Pakistan or Azadi sentiment prevailed in Kashmir right through 1950s, on the ground there was complete amity and camaraderie between Hindus and Muslims and J&K proudly flaunted a synchretic culture. This lasted till the rise of militancy in the valley in late 1980s and its mishandling by Jagmohan, a pronounced anti-Muslim migrant from Pakistan. Ever since Jagmohan packed off the Kashmiri Pandits overnight by buses from Srinagar, a communal divide appeared in the state and it rankles a vocal section of Hindus in Jammu region to be governed by the Kashmiris of the valley.
And yet the way an eight-year-old child was tortured, gangraped for days on end and finally brutally murdered, was unimaginable to those living for decades or centuries in this region, including the nomadic Bakerwals who were always aloof from any communal or terror activity in the valley. Every winter the Bakerwals descend from the snow clad heights of the mountains to the more agreeable climate of Jammu, stay through the winter with their sheep, goats and other cattle and soon as the snow starts melting, they migrate back to Kargil and other peaks of Himalayas in Kashmir.
Finally after all round condemnation, nationally and internationally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi deigned to speak on Kathua and Unnao rapes and murders. BJP firebrand spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi too had to grudgingly condemn the act after getting her cue from the Prime Minister. But for two full months, the BJP/RSS were active in supporting the perpetrators of this barbaric act
The shock of what happened is enhanced when one realises that a state government revenue official Sanji Ram, who planned the whole thing, had so tutored his teenage nephew that a seemingly immature boy immediately got down to raping the child in the forest, before she was forcibly dragged into the temple where she was confined for seven days and tortured continuously, day after day, hour after hour. Then there is Sanji Ram’s son studying in Meerut, who when summoned rushes back home to rape the child. What kind of upbringing does that speak of? Be it Sanji Ram, his son and nephew or that police official Deepak Khajuria who had a go at the child one more time before killing her, what kind of members of any society would these be? But they are heroes of Hindu Ekta Manch!
Finally after all round condemnation, nationally and internationally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi deigned to speak on Kathua and Unnao rapes and murders. BJP firebrand spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi too had to grudgingly condemn the act after getting her cue from the Prime Minister. But for two full months, the BJP/RSS were active in supporting the perpetrators of this barbaric act. Even the PDP and J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti maintained a stoic silence till the crime started exploding in her face. And so she finally threatened to sack her two BJP ministers Choudhary Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga, who participated in the Hindu Ekta Manch rally in support of the accused. That is when Lal Singh disclosed that he had been deputed to the Manch by J&K BJP president Sat Sharma.
Ironically as a Javed Akhtar tweet pointed out, Bakerwals are the ones who alerted Indian Army in 1999 about Pak intrusions in Kargil and then aided the Indian armed forces to successfully combat the Pakistani intruders. Former J&K chief minister and PDP chief late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who rode to power on the sympathy of the militants, took the unusual step in 2015 of forming a government with the BJP, which representing the resentment of an articulate section of Hindus of Jammu, had won a record-breaking 25 seats in the state.
Mufti hoped this alliance would be able to calm down extremist and militant sentiments among both Hindus of Jammu and Kashmiri Muslims in the valley. And as for the Bakerwals, they had no participation or connection to the growing militancy in the state. They have been completely aloof, living in their own nomadic world. Six months of the year they migrate away from their Jammu habitat and the forest land where they dwell, lies vacant.
There doesn’t appear to be any ground for grouse against the Bakerwals, except that the eight-year-old child bore a Muslim name. There was no cause for any personal animus against the innocent child or her parents. They did not rub anybody the wrong way.
The shock at the reprehensible act does not end with just the act and its perpetrators. The way the lawyers in Jammu came out on the street in support of the rapists and murderers reminds one only of how the lawyers of Lahore High Court came out garlanding and felicitating Malik Mumtaz Qadri, the bodyguard of then Pakistani Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, who gunned down his charge. Qadri was a semi-literate religious fanatic. But the lawyers, be they in Lahore or Jammu, are supposed to be defenders of the rule of law. We’ve had earlier situations wherein the district court lawyers refused to take up the cases of young men accused of terror activities. Never mind that 10, 15, or 20 years later, in spite of lawyers prejudging such accused the courts find no evidence and acquit them not once but on numerous occasions. In Pakistan too, any poor Christian or a Hindu accused of that horrible thing called blasphemy finds no lawyer coming to his or her defence. And one Salman Taseer who stood up against the unjust blasphemy law paid with his life.
These are signs of a sick society. Till the other day we mocked Pakistan. Today the world is looking disdainfully at us.