The current environment in the country is rife with tension. Two cases of crimes against women and the subsequent events have stirred up quite a controversy in national media. Allegations, counter-allegations and news debates have now eased into candlelight marches and the cases of law and order have now become issues of political mudslinging and goal scoring.
The Unnao rape case in UP that unfolded earlier this week grabbed media attention when the victim’s father died allegedly while in custody. The victim and her family had earlier attempted self-immolation outside the CM’s residence. After the father’s death allegations started pouring from all over. The loudest point was, the state government of UP is ‘shielding’ the alleged rapists.
Media and opposition alike were claiming that the Yogi Adityanath led government in UP has been protective towards the culprits and alleged assaulters of the victim’s father. But the police took swift action and the accused police officers were suspended on the same day. The rape accused BJP MLA Kuldeep Sengar’s brother Atul was arrested on the next day. Within a span of 48 hours the case was handed over to the CBI and an FIR was lodged against Kuldeep Sengar. Kuldeep Sengar has also been arrested. The government has assured full protection and security to the victim and her family.
In the case of the Kathua rape and killing of a minor girl, the crime had happened in January. There was no cries of ‘shielding’ and ‘protecting’ from the media or the opposition in all these months. The PDP-BJP government had given the case to the Jammu and Kashmir crime branch and though there was earlier news of Hindus being targeted and forced to leave their villages, the government seems to have completed the investigation and charge sheet was filed on Monday.
Suddenly on the day of the charge sheet filing, the media narrative took an unexpected turn. What has been a grossly underreported case till now, grabbed headlines in print, broadcast and social media. The Jammu Bar Association had held a protest before the courtroom demanding CBI probe into the matter and they have also been demanding action over the Rohingya settlement issue. The Bar Association had also called for Jammu Bandh over the issues.
#JammuAndKashmir: Lawyers of Jammu Bar Association called a bandh over various issues, demand deportation of Rohingyas from Jammu and handing over of the Kathua rape-and-murder case to the CBI. Visuals from Jammu. pic.twitter.com/ddrNrc4w0M
— ANI (@ANI) April 11, 2018
The popular narrative that was fed on national media was that the Lawyers of Jammu are ‘shielding’ the rapists of Kathua case and obstructing the filing of charge sheet. Soon, there was massive outrage and debates. Within no time, the issue was given communal colours and prominent intellectuals termed it ‘Hindu Nationalists shielding rapists of Muslim girl‘. Terms like ‘cow-vigilantism’, anti-muslim mindset etc were incorporated into the narrative too. All this due to the fact that there were few slogans of ‘Jai Shriram’ during the lawyer’s agitation and the lawyers carried the national flag while holding protests over the Rohingya issue and demand of CBI enquiry in the Kathua rape case. Let’s reiterate that. They demanded a CBI ENQUIRY.
Now that more details from Jammu are emerging, the ‘shielding rapists’ narrative looks dicey. Who exactly is shielding he rapists? BS Slathia, the President of the Jammu Bar Association yesterday held a press conference and clarified that the Bar Association in no way holds any sympathy for the perpetrators and asserted that they demand the harshest punishment for the crime. He insisted that they are demanding a CBI enquiry for fair and unbiased investigations into the case. He even insisted that in spite of several attempts to clarify the journalists covering the Jammu Bandh that they are protesting against illegal Rohingya settlement in Jammu and CBI enquiry into Kathua case, the narrative of ‘shielding rapists’ has been propagated endlessly, painting the Bar Association as rapist sympathisers.
The Kathua rape case has been condemned and strictest possible punishment is being demanded from every circle, be it the state or central government. J&K CM Mehbooba Mufti has promised every possible action. BJP ministers in the central government have openly called for strict and swift action. Even the Prime Minister has spoken up and said the culprits won’t be spared. What is interesting is, even the Congress has declared that it supports the demand for CBI probe in the case, exactly what the Bar Association has been demanding. Now, it indeed becomes the glaring question that who exactly is shielding the rapists anyway? The BJP is not, the PDP is not, the Jammu Bar Association is not, then who?
Fresh details have been emerging from Jammu. There are reports of how the probing SIT has specifically targetted people in the villages and the way the locals have been demanding action against illegal Rohingya settlements and demographic challenges the region has been facing over the years. Looks like, there are deeper, wider and bigger issues with the area and the protests and demands for CBI enquiry are owing to the deeper issues.
This brings us to ask, how did the narrative of ‘Hindu Nationalists’ shielding rapists, ‘BJP shielding rapists’ etc get so much of media and political traction? Has this been another carefully constructed agenda driven campaigns, like the Church attacks and beef ban has been, where the media successfully managed to manufacture outrage and divert from real issues? Given the level of hatred, this narrative has generated, it becomes evident that we, the people need to tread carefully whenever the mainstream media highlights an issue. More often than not, the outrages are misplaced and the real issues are left behind.
The Congress has now started ‘disowning‘ BS Slathia and leaders after reports emerged that they were associated with them. That still does not answer the question, who was shielding the rapists after all?