As the abduction, rape and murder of eight-year-old Asifa shook the country, we all hang our heads in grief, shame and deep regret. Archana Pai Kulkarni says, ” That child is going to haunt me forever! How do the beasts do this?”

Once upon a time, I was an eight-year-old like Asifa. It’s an age when one is not aware of the secrets of the body or the perverse modifications of the mind. One is made the way almost everyone else is: with a pair of eyes and ears, a nose to breathe, a mouth to speak and eat, and limbs to run about. The sun rises every morning to brighten the day, the moon, the stars, the sky, the trees, and the breeze make it a beautiful world. That and the warmth of a mother’s love are enough to make any little girl feel secure. There is no consciousness about belonging to a caste, a gender, or a community, or even a stray thought that these matter. And, if you have a dog or a horse for a pet, you live in a state of innocent wonder.

At eight, you don’t expect beasts to snoop around in your backyard, keep vigil, or lie in wait for you with lustful eyes.

Perhaps an elder narrates stories to you about heroes and demons, mythical tales that keep you enthralled, as the wicked demons are always chastised in the end. Love wins. Maybe your mother utters a word of caution about something unknown to you, but you don’t pay much heed. At eight, you don’t expect beasts to snoop around in your backyard, keep vigil, or lie in wait for you with lustful eyes. You don’t know what lust is. Or for that matter, hatred either.  At eight, you trust the world. It’s spontaneous. It’s the way you are – human, and hardwired to be carefree and happy. Then, one day, your horse wanders away, and the demons appear, and lead you to the jungle. In a fraction of a second, all the horrors that you had never known existed ravage you. You don’t live to share your torment, disbelief or shock at the way your world became ugly, at how what you thought was human, turned out to be barbaric, cold-blooded, and treacherous.

No hero arrived to rescue you. What’s worse,  everyone lives on silently thereafter. That child is going to haunt me forever!” How do the beasts do this?”  

We succumb to the propaganda of majoritarianism that will have us believe that we are an entitled lot, and to have the upper hand, we must marginalise and subjugate who we think is the other or inferior, be it a child, a woman or someone who professes a different religion.

Little Asifa, Unnao, Simran, and the speech – and hearing-impaired girls at a Karjat boarding school, who were sexually assaulted by the very person who was entrusted with their care, are victims of a collective mindset that has been inoculated with the germs of patriarchy, hatred, and misogyny, and fed on rhetoric that gives birth to insecurities, and keeps them alive too. It is as if we are still living in the Dark Ages, despite the valuable lessons history has taught us. We succumb to the propaganda of majoritarianism that will have us believe that we are an entitled lot, and to have the upper hand, we must marginalise and subjugate who we think is the other or inferior, be it a child, a woman or someone who professes a different religion.

We are also guilty of propping up the above as the recognised and acknowledged reasons behind all the heady power games we play. And, in spite of the diagnosis, we hold these up as excuses for our inhumanity, and bask in our victimhood, instead of striking at their very roots, and refusing to end up as statistics or sitting targets.

We rape, lynch, maim, destroy, demolish or kill, before those whom we perceive as our enemies, vanquish us. So intoxicated are we by this misleading, illusory sense of power that it has blurred our vision, destroyed our trust in humanity, clouded our thinking and incapacitated us.

Sadism is our new normal, enlisting a juvenile to commit criminal acts is kosher, and raping and killing have become justified violent acts.

The worst is our silence. It speaks. It’s complicit, pregnant with approval or a convenient passive act, depending on our proclivities. But, not unknown to us, and however inconspicuous we may pretend it is, lurks in its wake, a wounded, aggrieved, angry force that will not demand but command justice, that will cry foul before a mishap occurs, and that will hopefully do so out of a sense of responsibility, and not revenge.

We failed Asifa. Nothing can breathe life into her. But, by remaining silent, let’s remember that we abet every such abominable, future act.

As I see the heartbreaking photograph of eight-year-old Asifa’s broken mother sitting on her haunches with a pile of the little one’s clothes, I hang my head in grief, shame and deep regret. We failed Asifa. Nothing can breathe life into her. But, by remaining silent, let’s remember that we abet every such abominable, future act. The only way forward is to protest the heinous crime, to demand swift and appropriate punishment for the guilty, to vote against those who propagate separatism, to root for implementation of the law, to stamp out patriarchy, and to proclaim zero tolerance towards such bestiality. The challenge lies in  remembering after the din dies, (and sadly, it does), that we have a long way to go, and that it’s vital to enforce preventive measures, and issue periodic reminders.

And, while we do penance, let’s prod the human in us. Only humanity can redeem us.

Also Read: The Politics of Rape in India – Asifa, Unnao, Who next?

Archana Pai Kulkarni is a Journalist, Editor, Creative Writer and Blogger. The views are author’s own.
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