Kathua rape, murder exposes ‘India’s religious friction’, says foreign media
India’s terrible record in crimes against women is once again international headlines after the gang-rape, torture and death of an eight-year-old girl in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua district.
The girl was abducted and savagely attacked to terrify the Bakarwals, a Muslim community of nomadic herders she belonged to, into leaving Kathua, the police have alleged.
International news organisations’ reports speak about how the crime has “split” Jammu and Kashmir along communal lines and that it was another instance of “battleground in India’s religious wars”. These organisations noted that news about the crime in Kathua came as India was debating a 17-year-old woman’s allegation of rape against a legislator in Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao district.
Here’s how the foreign publications reported the Kathua case. [Note: The name of the murdered girl in Kathua has been removed from the news reports quoted here.]
New York Times
On Tuesday, the NYT carried a story by the newspaper’s South Asia correspondent Jeffrey Gettleman that focused on how the rape and murder had fuelled religious tensions in India.
“It seemed another isolated, horrific episode of sexual violence in India, perpetrated against a powerless girl by brutal men. But in the months since...the murder, the case has become another battleground in India’s religious wars.
Hindu nationalists have turned it into a rallying cry — not calling for justice for..., but rushing to the defence of the accused. All of the men arrested are Hindu, and ...nomadic people, the Bakarwals, are Muslim,” says the story.
The Washington Post
The Washington Post covered the case in detail, with stories and follow-ups. In her article, Malwa Eltagouri writes of how the crime has inflamed Hindu-Muslim tensions. “...case is the latest example of India’s religious friction: As some denounce sexual violence and demand justice for [the girl’s] family, others demand justice for the men accused.”
In a column for the Wapo, Indian journalist Barkha Dutt writes, “This week, two cases of rape and murder — one of a shepherd girl in Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir, the other in Unnao, in India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh — have been moments of acute national shame. They have proved how the powerful conspire to enable and protect sexual abusers. Worse, they have exposed the ugliest underbelly of India. Political and societal responses to these charges of rape have revealed entrenched misogyny, religious hatred and a shameful class bias. They have held up a mirror to the worst in us.”
The Associated Press
The news agency’s story contrasts the Kathua case with the protests that erupted after the December 16 gang rape in Delhi in 2012. “But the gang rape, torture and death of a Muslim girl in...Kashmir has seen far different protests: Thousands of members of a radical Hindu group with links to the ruling party have marched to demand the release of the six men accused in the repeated rape and killing of the girl inside a Hindu temple. Hundreds of Hindu lawyers have protested that the men, two of them police officers, are innocent,” it says.
The BBC has a detailed report on how the girl disappeared and the subsequent investigation, and how the incident has set Kashmir on edge. “The crime has shocked the community, exposing the fault lines between Hindu-majority Jammu and the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley in a sharply divided state,” the BBC report says.
The Asia Times
A report in The Asia Times said that details of the crime remained “cloudy” while the response of local officials was “strangely subdued” amid “claims that her community occupies land eyed by a ‘rival’ Hindu village”.
The report gives context on the historic tussle over land ownership in the region that between the Hindus and the nomadic Muslim tribes. The story quotes social activist and lawyer Talib Hussain, who is fighting the girl’s case, on Kathua’s history. “Almost 90% of the land is custodian property, and 100% of it is occupied by members of the majority community. Over the past three to four years, tensions over land occupation have been so high that communal boundaries have been fixed over it. Even if a cow owned by one community ‘infiltrates’ into land owned by the other, it’s not returned. What do we say about humans?” he says.