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Two child rapes in India and Pakistan expose the shallowness of the middle class

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The way Indians and Pakistanis reacted to the Kathua and Kasur rapes exposed the delusion and hypocrisy of the middle classes.

My social media feed is imploding with comparisons between the outcry over the Delhi gangrape in December 2012 and the Kathua gangrape of an eight-year-old girl in 2018. But my mind is transfixed, not in exploring the distance between Delhi and Kathua, but between Kasur and Kathua.

Just three months ago, the rape and murder of seven-year-old Zainab in Kasur near Lahore had inflamed Pakistanis. Her body had been found in a garbage dumpster. The outpouring of public grief lasted for weeks, until an anti-terrorism court pronounced the death penalty for the serial rapist and murderer.

The two incidents emphasise that theirs is no country for the young. This does not come as a surprise for anyone growing up in South Asia.

The perpetrators in both Kasur and Kathua had planned ahead for any discovery by killing them. They knew that the power structures may not protect them any more. As more and more people cry out for death penalty for rapists, there is an increasingly sinister targeting of vulnerable children.

The way the two countries responded to the horrific deaths of the little girls in Kathua and Kasur exposed the delusion and hypocrisy of the middle classes.

Were the criminals in Kathua aware of how capably legislators, police officers, lawyers, and religious groups would forge in perfect synergy in their favour? Did they foresee how the educated middle classes would pour their energies to confuse and confound the truth with social media rumors?

In Kasur, the distraught father Ameen Ansari even insisted that the head of the Joint Investigation Team be replaced because he belonged to a sect that he did not consider as Muslim. He is aligned with the cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri of the Minhaj-ul-Quran, which is a bitter critic of the ruling party.

The Kasur police reacted to the citizens’ increasing anger by clamping down and firing at mobs. Ansari’s access to the media has been controlled, lest he attacks the government even more.

The authorities in Pakistan were very careful to quell any linkages of Zainab’s case with the child pornography ring in the area. The paedophile ring was said to have powerful backers, and the ruling PML(N) had quelled damning investigations and shielded the guilty.

Both Zainab and the little girl in Kathua were doing what children do – going for a tuition class and chasing an animal respectively. It is time the middle classes in both countries view the children as children and not as ‘women’ who need to be locked up.

In Pakistan, when initial news of Zainab’s disappearance trickled in, it was followed by unfair accusations by a smug class that chided families such as the Ansaris of being negligent parents, and how it is a class issue of being remiss of one’s children and leaving them to negotiate the unsafe streets. A slew of passive-aggressive commentary on social media in the guise of advice to Zainab’s parents and other families poured in. Some of them went like this: cover up your daughters; your children are not viewed by adult men as innocents but as sexualised beings; why do you not keep an eye on your children and allow them to run about unattended; forget using ‘she is still just a child’ as an excuse to not mind your daughters and so on.

In India too, there are many who were quick to hijack the commentary to serve their dog-whistle politics (knowingly or not). For every derision of what transpired in the temple, there was an equally fervent message admonishing one for making references to temples, or to Kashmir, or to religious identities. For every “no true Muslim would” apologist in Pakistan for a bombing in a mosque, India now has a chance of “no real Hindu would” use the temple as a site of rape.

But it is important to note that it was also easy for many Indians to see the Kathua girl as their own child. This is because no one could pin the blame on her or her family. They had not offended anyone’s sentiments. No meat was found in their fridge, no chowmein had been consumed, no one was wearing jeans, or using a mobile phone or wandering alone at night.

In a bizarre twist, Orijit Sen’s heart-rending tribute to the Kathua girl and her horse has been appropriated by right-wing groups. In an idealised Ram Rajya, the tiger and the goat drank water from the same stream, we have been told. Sen’s sketch is now being used by both ‘Not In My Name’ and ‘Hindu Ekta Manch’ to rally support.

Two decades ago, an Indian member of Parliament had said that the only choices available for the “haare hue desh ki haari hui auratein” (the defeated women of a vanquished nation) was euthanasia. The legacy of Kathua’s little girl should be a generation that is not broken or vanquished, but angry. Hold the gaze until there is no choice but for the other to flinch and go for a course correction.

Aneela Babar is a gender and cultural studies specialist, and the author of ‘We Are All Revolutionaries Here: Militarism, Political Islam and Gender in Pakistan’.

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