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Kathua Rape Showed What Normalising ‘Sulli/Bulli’ Fantasies Could Lead To

David Devadas
Updated: January 6, 2022 22:50
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Reactions to the online ‘auction’ of Muslim women have ranged from revulsion to compassion (yes, for misguided youthfulness), but most observers seem to have taken for granted that those who put up those names and photos on the internet were just having a lark, albeit a wicked, criminal, or disgusting lark.

Too few seem to have taken on board that what has emerged might be just the tip of a spine-chilling iceberg of vile fantasies. Worse, some of those fantasies could actually be played out in the future, as the poison of communal hatred deepens and spreads. The obscene ‘sulli/bulli’ theatre might turn out to be a virtual taster, even perhaps a testing of the waters of societal reaction.

That there are forces in the country that take inspiration from the Nazi ideology is unsettling in this context. After all, when Nazis first humiliated Jews in Germany — sacked them from jobs, and stoned their businesses — few realised the dimensions of the genocide that would follow just a few short years later.

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Kathua example

Let us never forget what actually happened to a pre-adolescent Muslim child in Kathua four years ago. She was repeatedly raped and then killed — and in the sanctuary of a temple.

It’s easy to forget the extent to which the horrifying crime was accepted by a large proportion of the local population. One of the most prominent political leaders of Jammu and Kashmir gave up his ministry over his public support for the criminals. He was forced to leave the BJP, but continued to back the criminals.

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Since local lawyers were also among those who backed the criminals, lawyers and activists from elsewhere pushed the prosecution of the case, which had to be tried elsewhere. Indeed, it is quite possible in light of the general local mood at the time that the case might have been shoddily investigated or brushed under the carpet if Mehbooba Mufti, the then chief minister, had not stood firm for incisive investigation and prosecution.

The point is that horrific hate-rape crimes have already been committed in our country, that the religious identity of the victim was the reason, and much of the public at large in the area backed the criminals. That the crime was committed in a temple evidently did not offend the sensibilities of those backers.

Historical precedents

Religious zeal can in certain circumstances be convoked for genocidal violence. The history of almost every religion has examples.

What those ‘sulli’ and ‘bulli’ posts envisage is very like what ISIS cadres actually did physically with Yazidi and other women in Iraq. It might seem unthinkable here but, like the Kathua rape and murder, it happened in the real world, and quite recently.

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Rape and humiliation have gone hand-in-hand with genocide through history. Rape was apparently not part of the repertoire of Nazi horrors, perhaps owing to Lutheran prudery, but it was par for the course among many conquerors, such as several Mongol armies.

The Hindutva narrative of Indian history focuses on Muslim invaders who are said to have conquered, pillaged, destroyed, and humiliated the native population. Today’s Indian Muslims are said to be their successors — against whom revenge is consequently sought.

Reverse narrative

The sort of other posts that are alleged to have been put up by the young engineer who was the first to be arrested for the recent ‘bulli bai’ series of posts (perhaps the first arrest since the ‘sulli deals’ posts six months ago) indicate that he and his friends and backers have lurid, and frequent, violent fantasies about the women and children of minorities.

One of his alleged posts claimed that Muslim women fantasise about upper caste men. That post was evidently meant to counter, or reverse, the narrative that is apparently often cited among Hindutva cadres — that Hindu women get taken in by the sexual lure of Muslim men.

Invidious Media role

Shaping narratives, and caricaturing the sociological ‘other,’ are key parts of processes that lead to genocide. Mass media tools were used in Germany in the 1930s, and in Rwanda more recently. They are being used here now.

While many of us decry the scanty coverage and condemnation of these ‘auctions’ (and recent genocidal speeches) on certain ‘news’ channel, many of us too easily ignore the fact that social media have their own very powerful dynamics for shaping the public mind, and sometimes do that far more effectively, if invidiously, than what now passes for ‘news media.’

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Social media platforms have been used as networked channels for monstrous reorientations of people’s minds and hearts, for a reconstruction of what’s real, what is happening, and what’s okay.

Of course, this is true of various parts of the world, but the evil that has been conjured in what one might call Middle India could potentially play out terribly violently.

Targets defy stereotypes

This round of online ‘auctions’ have thus far been investigated by the Maharashtra Police, which is under the charge of a coalition not in tune with the agenda of the ruling party at the Centre. The studied silence of the latter party’s leaders is regrettable.

Successive online ‘auctions’ might remain virtual events for the moment but, if such things go on in the virtual space long enough, it’s possible they could inure parts of society to the idea. One must hope that is not, indeed, the intention.

In the immediate term, of course, those crass posts are probably meant to scare, shame, or simply horrify the targeted women into withdrawing into virtual shells. Most of the targets are among the more vocal and courageous women online.

They are also, more often than not, the urbanely cosmopolitan antithesis of the caricatured ‘typical’ Muslim woman that their tormentors might want to project among their followers.

(David Devadas is the author of The Story of Kashmir and The Generation of Rage in Kashmir)

[Disclaimer: The opinions, beliefs, and views expressed by the various authors and forum participants on this website are personal.]

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