Why did India wake up so late to child rape, murder?

Kalerkantho Online   

15 April, 2018 15:34 PM

Why did India wake up so late to child rape, murder?

There were protests against the incident in Kashmir in February: PTI

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A bright looking eight-year old girl belonging to a Muslim nomadic tribe in Indian-administered Kashmir goes missing in the new year.

On 17 January, her battered body is recovered from a forest in Kathua district.

Through February, police arrest eight men, including a retired government official, four policemen and a juvenile, in connection with the gang rape and murder of the girl, reports BBC.

There are protests in the summer capital, Srinagar, demanding a special probe into the incident. The crime exposed the fault lines between the Hindu-majority Jammu and the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley in a sharply divided state. The incident is covered promptly and prominently by the local media in the Muslim-dominated valley.

So why does this story from Kathua make it to national news networks only in mid-April? Why does it evoke delayed outrage and anger? Why does this happen only after Hindu right-wing groups protest the arrest of the accused, who also belong to a Hindu community?

Why are the eventual protests in Delhi - including a midnight march by chief opposition leader Rahul Gandhi - milder than the ones after a similarly brutal gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi in 2012?

The responses tell us something about modern India.

The media in Delhi, many believe, exerts a disproportionate and undeserved influence over shaping the "national narrative". And large sections of this media have been partisan and selective when it comes to reporting on Kashmir, one of the world's most heavily militarised regions.

India and Pakistan have fought two wars and a limited conflict over Kashmir and there's been an armed revolt in the region against Indian rule since 1989. "The biggest problem in Kashmir is the way the place has been covered in the mainland Indian media," wrote senior journalist and editor of The Print, Shekhar Gupta, in 2015. "The problem has always been very closely linked to national security and military security. "

So, often, the truth (about Kashmir), he wrote, "was considered against national security".

In this instance, one could possibly cite "religious honour" as another reason for why most national media avoided reporting on the crime. The support shown to the accused by Hindu right wing-groups - and two ministers from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - has shocked many.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi only broke his silence on Friday evening with a series of tweets, saying "no culprit will be spared. . . our daughters will definitely get justice".

'Not such a big story'
A journalist who has been covering the incident in Kathua since January says that he had been telling his colleagues who work for Delhi-based news networks to report on the crime and its aftermath.

"When some of the reporters approached their offices in Delhi to tell them about the incident, the feeling was that the inauguration of a garden of tulips in the valley was a better story than the rape and murder of a girl," Sameer Yasir, an independent Srinagar-based journalist, told me.

According to Mr Yasir, most of their bosses prevaricated, saying they didn't have enough people on the ground in Jammu, and that it was not "such a big story". Only one English news network has been consistently covering the story.

"I believe that media is almost tired of reporting violence in India. Rapes, lynching, torture is being reported all the time. It's almost like you have to run a torture report, like the weather report," says Shiv Visvanathan, a Delhi-based social scientist.