Don’t be too taken up by all the protests in your name, by the hashtags asking for justice. We have done that before and we will do that again. By now, we know the drill.
No Asifa, I don’t mourn for you because mourning for you is rather pointless. Especially, in this morally depraved society that we live in today. Did you not see how hundreds of men and women (yes, women) came out in support of your killers? They were with those who kidnapped you, kept you drugged in a temple, no less, raped you over several days and then strangulated you and smashed your head with stones. Oh yeah, they were also carrying the national flag to prove their patriotism, and maybe your guilt for having been raped. And, to think that you were just an eight-year-old child looking for her lost pony.
But don’t you worry, Asifa. There are no surprises here. These reactions are completely consistent with the character of this nation and what it has become over a period of time. Long before you were even born, there was a man, with an obscene political ambition to become prime minister, who tore into the secular fabric of the nation with absolute impunity, marching across the nation dividing friends and neighbours into Hindus and Muslims. And what did you think we did? Did we cringe in embarrassment over the crudeness of his ambition, the ease with which he was using everything sacred, holy in our religious texts to turn us into bloodthirsty monsters? Nah! We became mice to his pied piper and danced merrily to his poisonous music. And, we actually thought that it was something to be proud of.
A few years down the line, when a Christian priest and his two little sleeping children were burnt to death in their jeep, our heads did not hang in shame. We thought it was a victory for our right to self-determination.
Why just over 16 years ago, when the train with Karsevaks was set on fire, we did not think it was necessary to round up the culprits and send them to prison as soon as it was humanly possible. Our first reaction was to take the charred bodies on a ‘shobha yatra’ across a city 128 kilometers away from the scene of the incident, inflaming passions, screaming for retaliation. Woe be upon us, but what we sought was not justice for the dead karsevaks, but rape and murder of the Muslims at large. And we saw no irony in that.
What can I tell you Asifa? The stories are many and time is short. Remember the two Dalit children who were burnt to death with their parents in Sonped village, just outside the national capital, a little over two years ago. They were not even as old as you were. The little girl, Divya, was only nine months old. Her big brother, Vaibhav was all of two. Does anyone even know what happened to their killers? I am sure it is not difficult to guess.
Why, just a few days before we got to know your story, there was another story of another girl, not a lot older than you, who was raped. She was arrested, her father beaten to death in the police station.
Asifa, dear child, shocking as your story is, you are not the proverbial last straw which breaks the camel’s back. Aklaqh was killed on the pretext that he had eaten beef. Afrazul, because his killer thought he was in love with a woman from another religion. And Junaid? The poor boy was killed for wearing a skullcap. So don’t be too taken up by all the protests in your name, by the hashtags asking for justice. We have done that before and we will do it the next time, too. By now, we have perfected the routine. We know the drill.
And anyways, dear Asifa, even if this had not happened to you, what kind of a future would you have had? You may not have become the suicide bomber in keeping with the illustrious future that some Hindu nationalists have painted for you, but it is very possible that you would have just led an ordinary life, not very different from the lives of your mother, aunt or grandmother. But for a rare miracle (and those miracles are really rare when it comes to girl children from disenfranchised, tribal, Muslim communities), you would have most probably led a life of poverty and deprivation like lakhs of girls from poor, marginalized communities do, in 21st century India, and died an unsung death. But no, we had to savage you, murder you and then prove our patriotism by threatening to immolate ourselves if your rapists were prosecuted.
But in this ‘what if’ of your story, there is another ‘what if’ story that needs to be told.
What if we had felt ashamed the first time someone came to divide us along the lines of religion, caste, language and race?
What if we had developed a spine and said no to those who wanted to turn us into blood thirsty monsters in the name of ‘’my god vs your god”?
What if we had called out those self-serving fiends who were using our dreams, our passions, our insecurities and our fears to carve out an empire for themselves?
What if, dear Asifa, we had decided to hang in together as one people, one nation and built a country that 1.2 billion sane human beings are capable of building?]
Imagine what we could have done if we were not so immersed in this game of one upmanship, which could only end in this way – with the blood of a eight-year- old on the conscience of a nation.
The possibilities are so immense that it boggles the mind. What if, dear Asifa, what if…
So no Asifa, today, I will not mourn for you.
Today, I mourn for the India that could have been….
Asma is a once-upon-a-time journalist, a sometimes writer, a constant fighter, and a disobedient dreamer.