“We had not seen anything as gruesome”

Yet another sickening story has emerged of sexual violence against women in India, with an 8-year old Muslim girl being kidnapped, tortured, raped and murdered by 9 men earlier this year. Asifa Bano was born into a nomadic Muslim community called Bakarwal, who traveled around the Kathua district of Indian-administered Kashmir. In recent years, the community had begun to graze their goats and herds in public pastures close to the forests of Jammu, where ultra-nationalist Hindu groups hold territory. In a bid to scare the Muslims into leaving, a retired government official Sanji Ram decided to target a little girl that he knew often came to graze her horses in the forest. He laid out his plan in detail and recruited his son, nephew and close friend to take part. They then kidnapped the girl, took her to a Hindu temple, performed ‘rituals’ on her, raped, tortured and murdered her over a series of days. When police were notified about the missing girl, they entered the temple and were informed about what had taken place. A special police officer then decided to take part in the sickening crime, before she was eventually murdered. Whilst the attack was clearly motivated by the Hindu community’s hatred of the nomadic Muslims, the reality is that Indian politics has defined this issue far more than religion. Ultra-nationalist Hindu communities are becoming increasingly emboldened by the presidency of Narendra Modi, who despite speaking out against this and other tragedies, only did so after a long silence and increasing awareness and pressure. Two members of his own party actually attended rallies in support of the 9 people accused of participating in the crime, and a group of Hindu lawyers attempted to block the trials from proceeding earlier this month. This political hesitation to deal with sexual violence based on the creed of its perpetrators is an increasingly dangerous reality in India.