By Ellie Kreidie
There are few stories that bring a tear to the eye. In today’s world, where there are dozens of conflicts and wars affecting the lives of millions of people, the pain suffered by our fellow human beings always consumes me when I hear their heartbreaking stories. Yet, the emotion never leaves me due to the sheer number of stories I’ve heard that have affected me throughout my life. I thought I had gotten to the point in my life where the raw emotion of a news story could no longer consume me. That was until this week, when I heard the news of two 7-year-old and 8-year-old girls being raped and later violently killed in India, in the span of a few days. Two tears left my eyes.
This was not breaking news on any major news network in the U.S. – on many it wasn’t even mentioned. But looking through the top news organizations in India, it was clear that this story had the opportunity to change the future of how rape is viewed and prosecuted in India, where there are high levels of sexual assault.
Asifa Bono was left for three days in the forest, after having been raped, strangled with her own scarf and bashed in the skull by a rock. She was 8 years old. A few days later, an unnamed girl was found in the village of Etah, brutally bruised from being raped and strangled. She was 7 years old.
Both cases have rightfully encouraged nationwide protests in India, as outrage has sparked against the ruling party and lack of response by major leaders. In the case of Asifa Bono, the rape has increased tensions between the Hindu and Muslim populations of India. Asifa was Muslim, and her assailants were Hindu – in a country where religious tensions and nationalism are on the rise under the conservative Hindu-nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In response to the rape, the response by Modi’s government originally showed support for the accused rapists, due to their religious views.
It was this part of the story that really got me, and many across India and the world, upset. How can the leader of a nation support the accused rapists of a young girl, over the young girl who was brutally raped and killed? It shows that the heightened nationalism pushed by Modi and his government over the last few years has gotten out of control, to the point where people are supporting the worst people, including rapists, simply because they belong to the same religion. Modi did not act like a leader for India when he initially called support for the alleged rapists; instead he acted like the leader of Hindus, which he is not.
Public anger about the cases led late this week to a change to the penal code by the Indian Cabinet to give the death penalty for those convicted of raping a child under the age of 12. In recent years, the Indian government has come under fire for not doing enough to prevent sexual-assault cases, which are extremely common across the country and continue to be on the rise in part due to the increase in nationalism in the country. In 2016 alone there were 19,000 registered sexual assault cases across the country, more than 50 a day, not including the many unreported cases. Many have argued that this new executive order by the Cabinet fails to try and deal with preventing these sexual-assault cases, especially against children. As a result, protests have continued into the weekend as people have called for further prevention related laws in response to the rapes.
Asifa Bano and the unnamed 7 year old girl should stay in our minds. And they should stay in the minds of the Indian government as well. Spread this story, keep the world’s focus on these two young girls and the millions of Indian women and girls who have been subject to horrible sexual abuse. If the Indian government won’t take any meaningful preventable measures to solve this crisis, we can try by making this heartbreaking story known to all. Until they finally do something.
Graphic courtesy of the Associated Press