Eight year-old Asifa had been a member of a nomadic Muslim community in India known as Bakarwals before she was gang-raped and murdered this past January while grazing her family’s horses.
According to the LA Times, tension had been building up between the Bakarwals and the permanent residents of that part of Jammu and Kashmir. The dispute was primarily over whether the Muslim nomads should have grazing rights in an area that is majority Hindu, India’s dominant religion.
The murderer has been identified as Sanji Ram, a retired bureaucrat, who had conspired to kill the girl in a twisted attempt to drive the nomads away from the area. One day in January, while Asifa was tending to her family’s horses, Ram’s nephew kidnapped her and locked her in a temple.
For several days, Asifa was repeatedly drugged and raped by multiple men – including Ram’s son who had driven 300 miles to “satisfy his lust” with the child – before she was bludgeoned to death with a stone. The men then dumped Asifa’s body in a forest where she lay for three days.
As if the horrifying fate of an eight-year-old was not terrible enough, many of the responses to the tragedy have made the issue even more sickening. Lawyers and right-wing Hindus marched in defense of Asifa’s assailants; controversial Prime Minister Narendra Modi waited several days before condemning the crime and accused his critics of politicizing the issue. Additionally, according to the authorities, two local police officers accepted nearly $5,000 worth of bribes from Ram in exchange for destroying the evidence.
The case received very little attention until a police report was released to the public in April. Unfortunately, Asifa’s case is just one in a series of cases that suggest religious and political divisions in India are widening under Modi’s leadership.
In response, activists have taken to Twitter to launch a new hashtag, #BetiKhatreMeinHai – which translates to “daughter in danger” – to show support and draw attention to Swati Maliwal and her protest.
Maliwal, who is the chairperson of the Delhi Commission for Women, began a hunger strike on April 13 in order to demand stricter penalties for rapists. While some of her demands may be construed as extreme – such as demanding that anyone convicted of raping a minor must be hanged within six months – Maliwal has amassed a large group of supporters, many of whom have started expressing concern for the activist’s health.
“Swati must not continue with her fast, she did everything to make them hear. Let people decide if they are ok with such politicians, it’s no use risking your own life when the government doesn’t care for our daughters,” a supporter tweeted.
Maliwal ended her fast on April 22nd after President Ram Nath Kovind approved an ordinance adhering to her demands. Now, those who have raped a child under the age of 12 will be awarded the death penalty.
“I didn’t expect that our protest will take such a large shape. It is a historic win for all of us who have been demanding stringent law to punish convicted rapists,” Maliwal told The Times of India. “I welcome the law and end my fast here.”
“But this is not the end of our fight, this is just the beginning. We have a long way to go,” she continued. “If the government doesn’t implement the law within three months as promised, then I will again start my protest.”
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