Modi’s long si­lence as women in In­dia are at­tacked

The Philippine Star - - OPINION -

Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi of In­dia tweets fre­quently and con­sid­ers him­self a tal­ented or­a­tor. Yet he loses his voice when it comes to speak­ing out about the dan­gers faced by women and mi­nori­ties who are fre­quent tar­gets of the na­tion­al­ist and com­mu­nal forces that are part of the base of his Bharatiya Janata Party.

In­di­ans took to the streets dur­ing the week­end to protest their gov­ern­ment’s cal­lous re­sponse to the hor­ri­fy­ing rape and mur­der of an 8-year-old girl in Jan­uary in which sup­port­ers of his po­lit­i­cal party have been im­pli­cated. Mr. Modi, though, has barely spo­ken about this crime and other cases in­volv­ing his sup­port­ers.

Un­til last week, he de­clined to ad­dress the at­tack on the girl, in the north­ern state of Jammu and Kash­mir, by men who wanted to frighten and drive away her no­madic Mus­lim com­mu­nity, the Bakar­wals, from an area that is dom­i­nated by Hin­dus. To read about what hap­pened to the girl, who was held and abused at a Hindu tem­ple, over sev­eral days is to plumb the depths of hu­man de­prav­ity.

As Mr. Modi re­mained quiet as pub­lic out­rage built up for weeks, state law­mak­ers from his party, which is part of a coali­tion that gov­erns Jammu and Kash­mir, at­tended a rally in sup­port of a man who had been ar­rested for the crime and joined in de­mands by lo­cals that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion be taken away from state of­fi­cials, some of whom are Mus­lim, and be turned over to fed­eral au­thor­i­ties. Af­ter a mob of Hindu lawyers tem­porar­ily pre­vented the au­thor­i­ties from reg­is­ter­ing charges in court, of­fi­cials have for­mally ac­cused eight men, in­clud­ing po­lice­men and a re­tired gov­ern­ment em­ployee.

Mr. Modi has also been re­luc­tant to talk about a rape ac­cu­sa­tion against a state law­maker from his party in In­dia’s most pop­u­lous state, Ut­tar Pradesh, which is gov­erned by the B.J.P. A teenage girl says the law­maker raped her last sum­mer, but un­til re­cently the po­lice have dragged their feet

in bring­ing charges against him. He and his brother are also ac­cused of con­spir­ing to kill the girl’s fa­ther, who was found dead in po­lice cus­tody.

On Fri­day, Mr. Modi said that these cases had brought shame on the coun­try and that “our daugh­ters will def­i­nitely get jus­tice.” But his re­marks ring hol­low be­cause he waited so long to talk about the cases and spoke in broad gen­er­al­i­ties — de­scrib­ing the crimes as “in­ci­dents be­ing dis­cussed since past two days.” He has taken a sim­i­lar ap­proach in the past when ad­dress­ing cases in which vig­i­lante groups af­fil­i­ated with his po­lit­i­cal move­ment have at­tacked and killed Mus­lims and Dal­its — mem­bers of In­dia’s low­est caste — who they falsely ac­cused of killing cows, which are sa­cred to Hin­dus.

Mr. Modi’s si­lence is as per­plex­ing as it is dis­tress­ing. He seems to have failed to learn the les­son of his pre­de­ces­sors who did not force­fully re­spond to protests in late 2012 and early 2013 af­ter a young woman was raped and killed on a pub­lic bus in New Delhi. That gov­ern­ment, which was led by the Congress party, paid a heavy po­lit­i­cal price for its heart­less­ness in the 2014 par­lia­men­tary elec­tions; the B.J.P. won the elec­tions in large part be­cause Mr. Modi promised to make the gov­ern­ment more re­spon­sive to the needs of In­di­ans who were left be­hind by a gov­ern­ment dogged by cor­rup­tion scan­dals and widely con­sid­ered rud­der­less.

In­stead, he has ex­hib­ited a pat­tern of si­lence and de­flec­tion that is deeply wor­ry­ing to any­body who cares about the health of the world’s largest democ­racy.

Mr. Modi can­not be ex­pected to dis­cuss ev­ery crime com­mit­ted by some­one who sup­ports him. But these cases are not iso­lated or ran­dom ex­am­ples of vi­o­lence. They are part of an or­ga­nized and sys­tem­atic cam­paign by na­tion­al­ist forces that want to ter­ror­ize women, Mus­lims, Dal­its and other un­der­priv­i­leged cit­i­zens.

The prime min­is­ter has a duty to safe­guard and fight for all of the peo­ple of In­dia, not just those who are al­lied with him po­lit­i­cally.

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