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The child rape cases that shook Indian politics

The child rape cases that shook Indian politics
From Al Jazeera - April 16, 2018

For days public discontent in India was simmering over the mishandling of two child rape cases. Over the weekend, anger boiled over and thousands took to the streets in several cities across the country to protest perceived inaction by the Indian authorities. Celebrities, writers, academicians, rights activists, lawyers and other professionals rubbed shoulders with the hoi-polloi.

People were angry but only a few shouted slogans. Most walked silently holding placards which did the talking. "Time has come now to make India rape free" was scrawled across one. "Not proud to be an Indian today" was written on another.

The outrage over the two rapes reached as far as the UN. On Friday, the spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described it as a "horrific case" and called on the Indian authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice.

The statement probably did not please the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has sought endorsement from the international community to shed his image of a Hindu fundamentalist and to campaign for enhancing India's image globally.

The two rapes were perpetrated in two different states - the Indian-administered territory of Jammu and Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh (UP) - but the outrage over them converged, to Modi's disadvantage. Eight-year-old Asifa went missing in the new year in Kathua district in Jammu region after her family of Muslim nomadic shepherds moved to the lowlands to tide over winter months. Her brutalised corpse was found a week later near a Hindu temple and investigators later named several Hindus, including a local police officer, as accused of raping and killing the girl.

Investigators claimed the abduction, rape and killing of the girl was part of a plan to evict the Muslim minority nomadic community. Initially, local lawyers blocked the legal process, while local BJP leaders - including two state ministers - joined protests in support of the accused.

They did so because the party draws strength in Jammu and Kashmir from Hindu prejudice towards Muslims. In 2015, for the first time, BJP became a partner of the coalition government after sweeping the state's Hindu majority seats.

The other incident involves a 16-year-old girl who was allegedly raped last year by a BJP legislator of Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state where the party is currently in power. Little was known about the case till April 8 when the victim attempted to immolate herself near the UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's residence to protest inaction by the police. The following day, her father, allegedly beaten at the legislator's behest, died in a government hospital. Police finally registered her case on April 12.

Adityanath displayed little urgency in having the legislator and his accomplices arrested. At the same time, several party colleagues, active campaigners on women's issues when the Congress Party was in power, made no comment.

Modi, who is usually proactive on social media intervening on various issues and deliver speeches almost every other day, was silent on these two cases until Friday, when he declaredthat there will be justice for the two rape victims.

In the past, he has been accused of choosing silence whenever there was need to criticise violence against members of religious minorities or other underprivileged groups and when his party functionaries have been involved in crimes.

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