Child murder and temple desecration in today’s India

By Savi Hensman
April 20, 2018

Responses to the horrific murder of an eight-year-old girl show the moral and spiritual damage caused by the growing power of India’s extreme right. The kidnap, rape and killing of Asifa Bano  in Kashmir and subsequent events have sparked outrage.

She went missing in January 2018 in Kathua district, amidst hostility by some Hindus settled on the land towards nomadic Muslim herders, her community. A week later her body was discovered. After an investigation suspects, including police officers and a retired government official, were arrested.

Allegedly they held her in a local temple and drugged her. According to the charge sheet she was "raped for days, tortured and then finally murdered".

But a section of India’s far right, which seeks to twist Hinduism to suit its own quest for power, tried to block the case from going ahead. Local lawyers attempted to prevent the police from filing charges.

Two Jammu and Kashmir state ministers from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to which Prime Minister Narendra Modi belongs, joined a rally on behalf of the accused . Modi himself stayed silent until risk to a political alliance prompted him to declare that those responsible for such crimes should be brought to justice

He was also responding to growing indignation over an alleged cover-up of a rape of a teenage girl by another BJP politician, after which her father was beaten and died in custody. Even so his response was less than impressive.

The trial is going ahead, despite fears for the safety of the victim’s family and their lawyer. However the controversy over these cases throws light on a disturbing tendency for sections of the public to ignore, or even applaud, discrimination and violence against those seen as weak or ‘inferior’. While successive governments have failed to act firmly, this way of thinking has flourished under the current regime.

Dividing society, debasing religion

Some commentators have drawn attention to the role of Modi and his right-hand man, BJP president Amit Shah, in this downward drift . Controversy continues over Modi’s own role before and during mass killings of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002  and whether Shah was involved in extrajudicial murders – though the death in doubtful circumstances of a judge probing these means this is unlikely to be investigated further in the near future.

The ideology which both Modi and Shah promote undermines women and girls as well as those oppressed for caste reasons and religious minorities. Many Muslims and Christians now live in fear.

The twisting of Hinduism is especially disturbing. Though there are different versions, properly practised this faith encourages tolerance and rejects violence against the defenceless. Worshippers are encouraged to free themselves from greed for money, sex or power that might lead them to act unethically.

That a child should be held in a temple as part of a dispute over land, and subjected to repeated rape by men and boys in what should be a space dedicated to the beauty and goodness of the Divine, is the worst kind of desecration. That some Hindus seem to think this normal and defensible is horrific.

People of other beliefs too, Christians included, have at times committed atrocities supposedly in the name of God or enlightenment. What happened in Kathua shows the horrific results when ideology loses touch with humanity.

However the willingness of many overseas governments too to welcome India’s hard-right leaders and help them in their public relations efforts is also worrying. Again this is in pursuit of business and political advantage. Yet as history has shown, unethical foreign policies have a tendency to backfire.

Recent rapes and murders in India have prompted some soul-searching among Indians there and abroad. For people throughout a world where violent misogyny and attacks on minorities of various kinds are all too common, and justice is often forgotten, these horrific cases should also be a call to action.

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© Savitri Hensman is an Ekklesia associate and respected commentator on welfare and other issues. She is author of the book Sexuality, struggle and saintliness: same-sex love and the church (Ekklesia, 2016): http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/22613 and has been involved in seeking greater inclusion. She wrote on ‘Health or Wealth?’ in Feast or Famine? (http://dltbooks.com/titles/2195-9780232532616-feast-or-famine)

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