Three months after the rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl, Aasifa, in Kathua, Jammu and Kashmir (J & K), the Indian media and civil society suddenly woke up to demand justice. Some are demanding death penalty for the accused. Much of this outcry comes after the details of rape and murder came to light following the chargesheet filed against the eight accused—all of them Hindus—by the crime branch of J & K police. They are also agitated because the Jammu Bar Council and Kathua Bar tried to stop the crime branch from filing the chargesheet and also because two BJP ministers from the government in J & K have come out in support of the accused. This deliberate obstruction of ‘justice’ has also angered the ‘Indian collective conscience’.
The details in the chargesheet suggest that it was not that ‘she was asking for it’, the usual explanation for rape that patriarchy ensures, but that the rapists wanted to drive out the Muslim Bakarwal community to which Aasifa belonged. We are told the rapists think that the land belongs to their community.
The Brahmanical obsession with the territory of Kashmir derives much of its meaning from mythologies like the sixth century Nilimata purana—its imagination of Kashmir as a woman – sati (derived from satisar) and its uncritical acceptance in the so-called authentic histories, like the Rajtarangni, of the place. In the post-colonial Indian imagination, the idea of Kashmir as a woman has continued. It is considered to be head of the Bharat Mata which needs protection from the enemy Pakistan and the local jalodbhavas – the Muslims. An exhaustive examination of this imagination, particularly in literature from pre and post-colonial times, is done by a Kashmiri academic Asiya Zahoor. In her unpublished work on the representations of Kashmir, she argues that the Indian imagination of the territory of Kashmir has always been that of a woman and substantiates her claims by revisiting the pre-Colonial Brahmanical texts like Nilimata purana, Rajtarangni and also the post-colonial texts like Jawahar Lal Nehurs letters, M J Akbar’s Kashmir Behind the Vale, among others, and many Bollywood movies. The reflection of this fascination with and feminization of the territory of Kashmir, however, is not only restricted to representations in old texts and Indian cinema but also informs the liberal Indian imagination of Kashmir. Consider, for example, this essay written by The Hindu’s Diplomatic editor Suhasini Haider whose “favorite” way of “describing the tragedy of the Kashmir valley” is its “comparison to a very beautiful woman.” We are told that in her youth “strongmen of the village fought bitterly over her” and ultimately the strongest of them “got to take her home and make her his wife.” He would beat her, we are informed, because “he cared so much and was so proud of this beautiful woman being his wife.”
Since Kashmir is a woman (and the suggestion is that women are to be ‘taken’), the use of violence on the bodies of the people who live there is justified because the Indian state, the strongman of the village, loves her a lot and therefore, killings, enforced disappearances, torture, and rape can be carried out with impunity. Since the Indian state faces an armed challenge to its ‘idea’ in the Valley, rape has been carried out by its army as a weapon of war to secure the ‘sacred territory’ which the Indian people ‘desire’. It is in this context that we must locate the rape and murder of Aasifa and assert the importance of highlighting the religious identities.
However, we must keep in mind one important factor. There is a perception that the Bakarwal community is ‘loyal’ to Indian state. We are told by the Indian experts and journalists that the community rejects the idea of Azaadi. The suggestion is that they do not identify and align themselves with the political aspirations of the majority. It should be noted here that the nomadic/Bakarwal communities are generally understood to lack concrete ideas of a ‘home’ or ‘homeland’, notions central to the creation of an ‘imagined community’. Since they keep traveling and do not actively participate in various manifestations of the resistance movement, their commitment to such ideas is suspected and subsequently they are seen outside of the imagination of the national liberation movement in Kashmir.
Besides, the psy-ops, which are part of India’s counter-insurgency campaign in Kashmir, have spread canards about the members of the Bakarwal community and their uncritical acceptance has characterized them as ‘informers’. The stereotyping of the community by the majority population has led to the otherisation of Bakarwals, further alienating them from the imagination of a free Kashmir. The effect of this otherisation can be understood by the nature of outrage against this rape and murder in Kashmir. Even Hurriyat conference took more than a week to issue a statement on this when the news first came out. This should open up space for critical self-reflection within the resistance movement and not end up in whataboutery.
Although considered to be outside of the ‘imaginary’, the nomadic community is not an exception to the violent practices of war which are played out on their bodies through other means. While the Indian army directly interacts with majority population in its violent transactions, the dominant Hindu population in Kathua region does the job for the Indian state. In Kashmir Valley, the job of securing the territory is done by the army by way of an incremental genocide of the population and in Kathua the same is done by a community patronized by the Indian state for their alignment with the ideology of Hindutva by terrorizing the Muslim Bakarwal community. This is not to suggest that the militarization and occupation of the place does not directly affect their everyday life. In fact, there is yet little exploration of the depredations visited on this community by that militarization. However, Mona Bhan’s book Counterinsurgency, Democracy, and the Politics of Identity in India: From Warfare to Welfare? should serve as an entry point into such investigations. That the Kargil population does not identify itself with the idea of right to self-determination was for long considered to be an established truth. In her work, Mona Bhan clearly states that “while Kargili struggles cannot be entirely reduced to Kashmiri aspirations of azadi, they are not entirely divorced from it.” She demonstrates the role counter-insurgency, particularly its humanitarian and welfare façade, played to this end. The Indian academia’s attempts of holding a plebiscite in Kashmir by other means must not be seen as an end point.
Now what does the Indian left-liberal solidarity choose to do differently about a people who, one can argue, are doubly colonized? They choose to express their ‘desire’ for the “beautiful woman” by exporting a girl, who faces multiple hierarchies of oppression besides the double colonization of her community, to their mainland and call her “another Nirbhaya” or “India’s daughter”. They stress that Aasifa’s rape and murder is an ‘issue of humanity’. By deliberately trying to erase the specificity of the case, they are obfuscating their complicity in the crimes the Indian state has committed in Kashmir in their name for all these years.
In sum, the #notinmyname is liberal apologia of the most irresponsible and self-serving kind. The Bollywood glitterati are outraged because the Bakarwal community once informed Indian army of infiltration. By making this crime an ‘exception’, and raising a voice against it, inversely, the ‘rule’ of crimes against Kashmiris is upheld. Having normalized the practice of rape and killing in Kashmir for decades, they see in Aasifa’s rape and murder an opportunity to again “take her home”. The strongman of the village and his coterie cannot overcome their lust for the “beautiful woman”.