CW: Sexual abuse, rape
Winter of 2012, there was an uproar all over New Delhi, India, and all over the world, as the details of a brutal gang-rape and consequent murder of Jyoti Singh unfolded. A victim who became widely known as Nirbhaya, the fearless. Six years later, a few states north in Kashmir, Asifa, an 8 year Muslim girl child from the seminomadic Bakarwal community was drugged, beaten, raped, and murdered. There are many parallels one can draw in both cases - terrifying acts of violence against women, public outcry at an international level, and perhaps more importantly, the reticent reaction from the government - a far cry from the expected planned action to implement systemic solutions, and hold such wrongly emboldened men accountable.
We're living in a world of dominant social media presence and instant connectivity, where news spreads like wildfire. As empathetic citizens, we are all quick to hashtag tragedies, post statuses on Facebook and Twitter, comment on the savagery and the need for justice. However, with the passing days, other priorities take over, and perhaps we move on to the next tragedy - because unfortunately, our world has no shortage of them. The benefits of social media allow a deep level of access to knowledge, the flip side is often a feeling of helplessness towards a tangible solution, once an issue has been internalised, discussed, and vociferously condemned online.
It's easy to feel helpless, when access to tragedies is at the tip of our finger, and the solution seems far-reaching.
However, we all can make an impact. Look around, gender, religious, and racial biases are a global phenomenon in every corner of our world. A movement of change needs to happen as critically at the grass-root level, as it needs to top-down at the institutional level. Are the members in our household and community abiding by the same value system we so vehemently impose externally? Are we raising our children to be strong, empowered, and fearless, yet with a solid morals? Is your workplace exemplifying the values of respect, inclusion, and diversity? Are we standing up for the injustice that happens around us everyday, in our local environment? We are all in a position to positively influence. It's a matter of how we use the channels we have access to, to push forward a positive agenda. Moving the needle on a deeply rooted issue such as sexual violence is slow, but if done in unison, it will undoubtedly have a cascading effect.
At the leadership level, the Indian government, we would think, would have progressed with the times and propagated a similar message, shattering the communalist and sexist ideology woven into the social history of the region. Right around partition, religion was turned into the basis of an individual's identity, and people were compelled to make political or nationalistic alignments based on religion. Consequently, this thinking allowed communalism to enter the public life of the country, leading to increased violent religious conflicts. Women bore the brunt of this violence during partition, with mass rapes across both newly built borders. Decades later, the brutal murder of Asifa, which shocked the world, was no different - an extremely calculated attempt to intimidate and drive out the nomadic Muslim community in Kashmir. Kashmiris have historically faced acute injustice over the decades - one doesn't have to go too far to uncover brutal rapes in the region, Kunan Poshpora representing one of the most heinous crimes, with an entire village of women raped by members of the army.
The callous silence of the Modi government against such crimes is as distressing as the lack of forceful response by the governments before it.
The silence speaks volumes, and so do the statistics, which state that every hour, four rapes are reported across the country. The India of Gandhi, Nehru, and Tagore seems long forgotten, and has been overshadowed by a leadership who seems to uphold an appalling sense of impunity, whilst propagating a communalist agenda. Crime has no religion, caste, or gender. As targeted religious and gender-specific crimes inflame in an environment ripe for conflict, lets take a step back and take control of the capacity we all possess to make a positive impact. Gandhi famously said, "You must not lose faith in humanity. If a few drops are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty". Start a petition, contribute towards an NGO, advocate for stronger policies, and most importantly, represent the values and morals you wish to see in the world, and stand up for justice every opportunity you get.