She’s Somebody’s Daughter
On December 16, 2012, the world was perplexed as news broke out that a 23-year-old female physiotherapy intern, Jyoti Singh Pandey, was brutally beaten, gang raped, and tortured by a panel of men in South Delhi, India. Jyoti bravely attempted to fight off her assailants, biting and kicking her attackers; despite her noble attempts, she died in a Singaporean hospital days later from the severity of the injuries. In the aftermath of Jyoti’s passing, now known as India’s Daughter, the world reacted. Protests and riots were staged all over India, further sparking responses across South Asia and parts of Europe, demanding justice for Jyoti and the scores of women before her. After a fast-tracked trial in September 2013, her attackers were convicted of the heinous crime and sentenced to death. The world applauded the “justice” served in Jyoti’s memory, and took a temporary breath of relief that her story will prevent future rapes.
In January 2018, an 8-year-old girl, Asifa Bano, was summoned into a forest by a man, forced to take sleeping pills, was dragged to and locked in a nearby temple where she was repeatedly raped by two men. After three continued days of sexual assault, she was strangled and left in the forest to die. In yet another senseless kidnapping, an innocent, powerless person- this time a child- was subjected to a horrific act of sexual violence in a country where she is already afforded few rights. Of course, India is not immune to these not-so-isolated sexual acts, but perhaps what is most disturbing about Asifa’s murder is that it was motivated by a deep religious hatred. Asifa was from a community of Muslim nomadic shepherds called Gujjars. Reports allege that her perpetrators, of Hindu origin, wish to terrorize the Gujjar community into abandoning their homes.
The area is an historically split region between the Hindu-majority Jammu region and the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley. The aftermath of Asifa’s rape was starkly contrasted to that of Jyoti’s. Instead of focusing on the horrific abduction, rape, and murder of a minor girl, protests supporting the accused ignited. Right-wing Hindu groups staged protests against the arrests of the accused individuals, the lawyers of the suspects physically blocked police officers from entering a courthouse to file charges against the men, and many Hindu women threatened to burn themselves if the accused were not released.
In a world where unfortunately the words “rape,” “sexual violence” and “kidnapping” are pervasive, the most disturbing element of Asifa’s murder is the lack of an initial response to achieve justice for the child. Rather there was a singular focus to further engage in misogyny, religious intolerance, and rape shaming. What happened to the same vigilant efforts, protests, riots and attempts to rectify the political and legal landscape and stand up for what’s right as Jyoti was awarded in the aftermath of her rape, but are not offered to Asifa? Instead, India shamelessly participates in the same behavior they always have: putting class bias and their religious bigotry ahead of serving their citizens.
As a proud South Asian woman, originally born in India, I am disheartened by the way that this sweet, bright-eyed child was subject to revulsion and her rape was politicized and undermined by the legal and political systems. One may argue that the country is trying- they’re making moves towards modifying their behavior via regulatory change. In April 2018, India’s Cabinet passed an executive order to make the rape of a girl under twelve years of age punishable by the death penalty, as well as increasing the minimum punishment for female rape from seven years to ten years in prison. Although I applaud the legal change, I am still disturbed. After all, how many more daughters, sisters, and wives need to be subject to sexual violence before the country decides to effectuate real change. How many more public outcries do there need to be in order for government officials to speak up themselves? Is this legal “remedy” a result of the increasing pressure that the Indian government has been subjected to, or a genuine effort to protect their citizens and hold sons and husbands responsible and accountable for terrorizing their women?