Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India's sons should be held accountable after an 8-year-old Muslim girl’s rape and murder in India sparked nationwide outrage.
"A rape is a rape. How can we tolerate this torture with our daughters? You are always questioning your daughters, why don't you ask the same questions to your sons? I believe this is the evil of not just the individual but also of the society," said Modi, who is visiting London at the moment.
"This is a matter of great concern for the country. The people who are committing the sin are someone's son,” he continued.
Modi was subjected to condemnation from activists all over India for failing to address the brutal rape and murder of Asifa Bano.
It was April 13 when the Indian PM first addressed the horrific ordeal, almost a week after Asifa was strangled by her own veil and thrown into a nearby jungle. He promised “justice for our daughters” after an open letter from Swati Maliwal, the head of Delhi's Commission for Women, called for a death penalty for rapists.
While addressing the issue, Modi asked the case not politicized.
"Any time a small girl is sexually assaulted, it is painful for all us. But can we compare the number of rapes in different governments? We can't say there were this many rapes in our government and that many in yours. There cannot be a worse way to deal with this issue,” the Indian PM said.
It is important to note Modi specifically asked not to politicize this matter, since a few members from Modi’s ultra-conservative Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been accused of attending protest that called Asifa’s rape a controversy against the accused Hindu men. The leader later resigned over claims of religious discrimination.
As thousands rallied for justice for Asifa, there were protesters who blocked the police from filing cases against the accused men. Seven out of the eight accused have now pleaded guilty; a minor involved in the rape will be tried separately.
Modi is calling for justice for the Muslim girl; however, his own government is built on the back of Hindu extremists.
In 2017, more than 200 people were victims of the so-called “cow vigilantism,” which is violence committed by Hindu extremists mobs against those who consume beef. The issue got so aggravated the Supreme Court of India had to issue contempt notices to three Indian states for failing to curb the violence.
The horrific killings took place after Modi imposed a country wide ban on cattle slaughter in 2017; cows are considered sacred animals according to Hindu beliefs. Despite the ban being lifted two months later, the killings in the name of cow vigilantism continued.
IndiaSpend, a nonprofit data journalism site, reported 97% of the cases occurred after the BJP came into ruling in 2014 with 53% killings occurring in states where the BJP headed the government.
Modi condemned the attacks, which largely targeted the Muslims and the Dalits (India’s lowest caste). But he selectively left the Muslims out of his speech, only focusing on the crimes against the Dalits.
Another huge question mark on Modi’s rhetoric against the Muslims is the 2002 Gujarat riots.
At least 59 Hindus were killed after a train was set on fire in Gujarat. Modi was the chief minister of the state at the time.
In retaliation to the attack on Hindus, almost 1,200 Muslims were killed. Human Rights Watch accused the government of supporting Muslim killings.
“The attacks against Muslims in Gujarat have been actively supported by state government officials and by the police,” said the report.
The attacks also included unfathomable crimes against women, who were brutally raped and burned alive. Pregnant women were cut down the middle with fetuses removed while alive.
Modi’s history, extremist beliefs and Asifa’s brutal treatment has brought on a wave of outrage from opposition parties calling for swift action from the PM, who refuses to consider this a political matter.
BJP leaders accused by other rape victims were also brought under fire. Critics asked Modi to take actions against his own party members.
"There is a very, very active BJP involvement in all of this. But Modi has referred to them [the separate cases] only as small incidents, basically sending a signal to many rapists ... that they can continue to do what they want. It is a let down to the people of India and the women and girls involved in these incidents,” said the spokesperson for India's opposition Congress Party, M.V. Rajeev Gowda.
Vrinda Grover, a lawyer and women's rights activist, dismissed Modi’s cries of depoliticizing the issue, claiming Asifa’s case and the growing pandemic of rape culture in India should be the government’s “top most agenda.”
She called the defense of the accused rapists evidence of the “hate ideology” prevalent in India’s political system.
"If a prime minister is to be held accountable for basic security and exercise of right to life and liberty for half the population of this country, then it should be a problem for Modi, …A sitting legislator is yet to be removed by the party. There is therefore some kind of overt or covert political patronage," she said.
Modi’s reaction to Asifa’s death amid growing pressure from protest will define how seriously he takes the pandemic of rape, despite the victim being a Muslim child.
Thumbnail/Banner Credits: REUTERS/Toby Melville