In a tweet on April 14, public commentator Madhu Kishwar suggested that the murder of the eight-year-old Kathua victim was “suspected to be handiwork of jehadi Rohingyas settled by PDP [People’s Democratic Party] in Jammu region”. Kishwar also said that Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti used the crime as a “counterblast strategy” to get back to people in “Hindu areas” of Jammu who were unhappy over the state government’s decision to settle Rohingya refugees in their vicinity.
Soon after, or perhaps even before that, a video fronted by a so-called citizen reporter began to circulate. In it, its maker said that the Kathua victim had not been raped, but had been murdered by Rohingya settlers. He said that unlike the media, which he claimed was “bought”, he had gathered facts from the ground. Further embellishing the narrative that Kishwar had cited, he went on to say that the girl had not been murdered on the premises of a small temple she was said to be confined in, but that her body was thrown inside its compound the night before it was discovered, and that doctors were forced to write a fake post-mortem report indicating rape. This, said the video maker, had been done to malign a peaceful Hindu community whose only crime was to protest the presence of criminal and murderous Rohingyas in their areas.
According to the police chargesheet, the child was abducted, held captive in the temple, drugged, gangraped repeatedly and then strangled. Her body was found in the forest near Rasana on January 17, a week after she went missing.
A pernicious development
In the aftermath of the Kathua murder and the attempts to cover it up, Indians need to reflect carefully about the myth-making about the capacious diversity, reflexivity and tolerance that characterises our culture, which has become such an entrenched part of our public imagination. This only gets in the way of people thinking about what is truly rotten about it. And what is truly rotten, is our ability to invent new modalities of being bigoted and devise a bigotry plan that positions the most vulnerable among us as the actual receptacles of evil. A society without a moral compass cannibalises human empathy, gorging itself on the flesh and blood of the hapless.
It is apparently not enough that a child has been murdered and allegedly raped, and that this was condoned, and denied, by the police, lawyers and a variety of citizens with children of their own. It is not even enough that our political leaders calibrated their strategies of response according to perceived political damage. All this should have been enough to damn us Indians as a people with any claim to civilisational intent. However, we have, of late, developed an infinite capacity for normalising our aberrant selves. As we go about buying Korean TVs and developing a taste for Chilean wines and German cars, it has become easier to convince us that the most significant human relations concern those with objects. Pernicious politicians – having long abandoned any sense of the ethical capacity – thrive on this.
Perhaps the likes of Kishwar and the so-called citizen-reporter are working according to a script provided by some central authority in the ruling dispensation. But what of the larger collective consciousness that is so dulled in its senses of outrage and compassion that such tweets and videos actually generate hatred towards one of the most marginalised communities in the world, rather than disdain and revulsion towards our social media henchmen?
It is hardly new that social unity is often forged through creating a violent outside that threatens the peaceful inside. However, in the present time, there is something new with regard to the inside-outside narrative that lies at the heart of all forms of community-making, including national and religious communities. What is new is the rise of a threshold consciousness. This is a way of both viewing and presenting the world while standing at a point that is neither inside nor outside and allows the movement of thought in whichever direction the strategy of the moment requires. The inside-outside formula is both easier to track and expose to scrutiny, whereas the threshold moment unfolds in more pernicious ways.
The threshold moment
The threshold moment is pernicious in as much as it combines the inside and the outside into one whole in order to encourage the belief that despite various provocations, we absorb the world and are at one with it. But that this act of absorption must always watch out for those who seek to destroy that which is truly our home. Our worldliness must not be taken for weakness.
Consider the following examples from our current moment of misery. Neither Kishwar nor the video-man deny that something terrible has happened: a little girl has been killed. This, they both imply, is indeed, a terrible thing. Someone who is at least grudgingly one of us – because of her Muslim background – has been harmed they say, by complete outsiders, who are also Muslim.
This creates an interesting and confusing binary of the Good Muslims and the Bad Muslims. In the process, what we should be condemning without equivocation – the complicity of our political leaders and various organs of the state in the murder and alleged rape of a child – is diverted into the eddies of nationalist thought and threats to community. This strategy is that of thresholds in as much as the figure of the Muslim is both inside and outside. And, if there are Muslims who are both inside and outside the national community and its well-being, then how is one to take an unambiguous stand?
The narrative that seeks to create community out of positing clear outsiders is not so difficult to critique: after all, at various times, the supposed outsiders and insiders actually lead entangled lives. However, if the acceptable insider also has a duplicate that is, apparently, evil, then threshold thinking is easily able to sway public opinion. The Rohingyas have become the weapon with which they are to be slaughtered, as well as assist in the slaughter of others. The ruse of the Bad Muslim has, rather than lessening the quantity of hate directed towards the Good Muslims, only served to bolster the position of the Hindu good subject: the Good Muslim is now expected to be grateful for the sympathy of the Good Hindu, while continuing to bear the onslaught of the latter’s ire for their troubles. According to this narrative, the Kathua victim’s family should be grateful that we have recognised her fate as murder and are indefatigable in our efforts to apprehend the real culprits. These culprits – criminal, shiftless, murderous – hold up a mirror to the Good Muslim of their own possibilities. They should be grateful for the leeway they have been been allowed.