Asifa — My Thoughts on the Kathua Case
Asifa’s photograph as it appeared in all the newspapers kept flashing before my eyes as my feet hit the concrete path during my morning walk. I consciously try to ignore the news about rapes that appear every day on social media and news notifications. Almost all of the reported rapes and molestations are about women and being a woman it agitates and scares me. However, Asifa’s case is receiving excessive media attention. A young child, kidnapped, drugged, tortured, gang-raped and killed. Calling it savage would be an understatement. I had to write about it.
The first time Asifa’s face flashed on my mobile screen, it reminded me of my student Ramya. Ramya was nine when I first met her. A year older than Asifa. Ramya doted on her brothers. She wanted to become a chef like one of her brothers. Her family was close knit and as they belonged to the low income community, all of them contributed to the family in every way possible. Asifa had two brothers. She must have cherished their company and enjoyed playing with them. She too, probably wanted in some way to be like her elder brother. She helped her family by tending to the herd. Ramya had lost her father when she was young. Her mother was her sole guardian. She loved the company of her only daughter. She talked about “girl stuff” with Ramya that she couldn’t with her two boys who were also much older and more independent than her daughter. Like Ramya, Asifa’s father mentioned to one of the reporters that Asifa kept her mother company while the others were away. Ramya’s mother wanted her to go to school and learn so that she could be independent. Asifa’s parents had the same dream for her. They wanted her to enjoy school like other children. Ramya is twenty today. She has completed her high school education and she works and contributes to the family while still enjoying the company of her brothers and her mother. It agonises me to think that Asifa will never know this life.
I text a friend at 3:30 am on Friday. After quitting a hectic corporate job, she had decided to take a break and volunteer with a public school nursed in the heart of Breswana in Jammu. Spending six months at this school had inspired her to pursue a career in education. She was excited to show me the pictures of the children and the videos of a play they had created of a model gram panchayat. The pictures depicted their inculpable character yet unstained by the stress of a modern lifestyle. Asifa in her appearance resembled those children. As told to a BBC reporter, her mother described her as a “chirping bird” who ran like a “deer”. Her big brown sprightly eyes are proof of her chirpiness. The parents of the students in this Jammu school wanted them to do well in life like most parents anywhere in the world would want for their children. Asifa’s parents were not overly ambitious. They wanted their daughter to go to school to learn how to live her life well. Now they know that education doesn’t teach us to lead a decent life. It does not give us achay-burey ki samajh. If it did then none of the accused would think of committing such a heinous crime. If our education did us justice then maybe Asifa would still be alive. Her eight-year-old body would be intact.
At 5:00 am I wake my husband up to inform him of my inability to sleep because what happened to Asifa haunts me. I convulse imagining the pain she must have had to bear. What mars me more is the fact that this happens to millions of children all around the world. A recent UN report stated that “Around 120 million girls worldwide (slightly more than 1 in 10) have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts”. I should know, because seven years ago when two of my students came up to me and told me that a man in the lane behind our school was showing them porn on the pretext of asking them for help with an address on his phone, I decided to talk to my students about how to handle such situations. When I sat my thirteen students in a circle and asked them if they have been sexually harassed before, ten out of ten of my female students raised their hands. My students then, were twelve.
As a young couple, the thought of starting a family strikes terror in me. A 2016 HuffingtonPost article reports that 180 children go missing in India every day. Most of them are never found. What fate do they suffer, considering that India is “ranked among the lowest four countries in the world” in terms of rape cases? It scares me to think of giving birth to a child in a country where justice is an illusion, where justice is the play-dough moulded by the wealthy and the powerful to suit their needs.
Politicians want to carry out candle marches to show their resistance. The people who are involved emotionally in Asifa’s case want to bring her rapists and murderers to justice. I wonder if any consequence, however severe it may be, would ever account for what happened to Asifa.
*The student’s name has been changed to protect her identity.
4 As told by Maneka Gandhi to Times of India — https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/India-ranks-among-lowest-4-nations-in-rape-cases-Maneka-Gandhi/articleshow/55551811.cms