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Letter to Bharat Mata on birth anniversary of Father of the Nation 'mourning' Hathras

Abananindranath Tagore's Bharat mata
By Sanghmitra S Acharya*
Dear Bharat Mata,
In this Corona times, hope your face is masked and you have washed your hands off.
Once again a daughter of yours has been raped. And killed too. Brutally, inhumanly and heartlessly. Could you see from behind your mask? And on this day of the birth anniversary of the Father of the Nation, when you must be getting ready to wish him, some officials through the news channels tell the country that she was not raped! Are you perturbed on this blatant denial? How will you convey this to the Father of the Nation?
She was a bright student hailing from a community stacked at the lowest rung of the social ladder. Lively and full of aspirations, had dreams in her eyes -- waiting to be fulfilled when her being was outraged and reduced to a statistic by her neighbours who could not take an assertive move from her family.
Now that the birth anniversary is over, Bhart Mata (BM), I hope you told the Father of the nation, who championed the cause of the ‘Harijans’, that he has been wronged by some of your very own children. The Father of the Nation named them ‘Children of God’ and upheld and glorified their ‘spirituality’ in doing the lowly jobs such as scavenging. (One might want to question that why this spirituality has been reserved for only the Harijans? Others too have the ‘right’ to share this wonderful spiritualty experienced by cleaning others excreta and filth.) 
This is a daughter of one such parents. Brutally fatal sexual assault was unleashed on her by her neighbours because her grandfather asserted his right to questions the neighbours’ animals destroying his fields. This is what the Thakurs, her neighbours, found unbearable, and unbridled their young blood to ‘teach the ‘lowly Valmikis’ a lesson’ -- all of them barely in their early twenties. Good practical training to become like the older ones!
How could the spiritually enlightened ‘Children of God’ be assertive? They must continue to experience the exclusive spirituality of cleaning their filth and stay away from assertion. That is not their cup of tea. If they do try to consume this tea, the upper castes reserve the prerogative to teach them an apt lesson.
And that is precisely what they did once again in this non-descript village of Hathras where Manisha lived (yes, that is her name). Otherwise famous for the locks, the very element of its fame seem to have locked the lips of the administration and officials responsible for the district and its sub units tighten enough.
Bhanwari Devi of Rajashtan, the little girl of Kathua, the young girl of Unnao, the women of Belchhi... all are screaming their voice hoarse to ask the Father of the Nation and you BM, what has gone wrong? Where and how? Where is the spirituality and religiosity which some of your children value so intensely? And proclaim that their religion is all-embracing?
Dear BM, did you talk of all this when you wished him happy birthday? Oh, you perhaps must have organised a puja or a hawan and lit hundreds of diyas to commemorate the occasion. While the Valmiki Tola of Manisha’s village remained enveloped in darkness- of fear coupled with no electricity and no phone connections.
Did it strike you to converse on this issues? Did your voice quiver when you shared with him the story of this young girl whose FIR was not recorded for days? Did you tell him that her body was burned- not cremated, using kerosene, at night in the absence of any family member? Had it been cremated, then the father would have lit the pyre. But first and foremost, it would not have been cremated at night, for as per the tenets of the religion some of your children vouch to practice, no cremation after sunset is prescribed.
What happened to the so-called concern for the downtrodden and the underprivileged among the practitioners of the religion of Hindutva? Instead of ensuring impartiality and fairness to the family, the household members have been locked inside their house and the village cordoned off. While the perpetrator of this crime are moving freely, doing their panchayat meeting to deny the dying declaration of the girl- that she was raped?
The victim’s family was cordoned off from any kind of access to anyone or any connectivity to the rest of the world via phone or media. The village has been closely ‘guarded’ in the name of protection and maintaining law and order. The authorities have been found to intimidate the family members from speaking to media, and advised them to make no hue and cry about the incidence.
As evident from her relatives, now, after the dramatic three days and more, of closely ‘guarding’ the victim’s family, the girl had been complaining of the harassment experienced by her at the hands of the neighbours -- the Thakurs -- each time she, for that matter, any other women of their community, stepped out of the house.
What would have happened if Manisha was ‘Singh’ or ‘Sharma’ or ‘Bharadwaj’, for instance, instead of ‘Valmiki’?
Do you think BM, the same kind of cordoning off and locking the family in their house without allowing them access to media or use their phone would have happened if Manisha was ‘Singh’ or ‘Sharma’ or ‘Bharadwaj’, for instance, instead of ‘Valmiki’? Nothing of this sort happened when your other daughter Jyoti Singh was brutalised similarly in December 2012.
While Jyoti did not know the perpetrators, in this case, they are the neighbours! Horrendously, the adage ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’ went tossing out of the window! Well, this proverb may not be from the religion of whom you have nurtured to become what they have. But in the Vedas of their very own religion, “Love your neighbour as yourself'” is an intrinsic principle of ‘unity with the absolute self’- ‘tat tvam asi’.
Therefore, since one loves oneself, one is bound to love one’s neighbour, who is not different from oneself. But here lies the crucial point-you love the one ‘who is not different from oneself’! So the differences are deeply entrenched! Manisha was different from the perpetrators, as were the others who have met similar fate.
Therefore, when the ‘illustrious’ Mahabharata -- grand epic of the grand religion states – ‘This is the sum of duty; do naught onto others what you would not have them do unto you’ (Mahabharata 5,1517) or ‘One should not behave towards others in a way which is disagreeable to oneself as this is the spirit of morality, virtue and ethics; and all other activities are due to selfish desires.’ (Mahabharata, Anusasana Parva 113.8), the stipulation of ‘differences’ seem to supersede and thus the prescribed right bestowed upon the self-proclaimed upper caste to undermine, damage and emasculate the ‘different’ others.
Are these the precepts, dear BM, that have led to filing the FIRs against the victims and intimidating them? Kathua or Unnao, Manisha of Hathras or Soni Sori of Chhattisgarh, Akhlaq or Pehlu Khan, students from JNU and Jamia... adding to the list are the incessant cases being reported from Balrampur, Azamgarh, Bulandshahar and Kanpur Dehat. May be you could have a conversation with the Father of the Nation and appraise him of the situation in his beloved land.
Dear BM, while we are all concentrating on the Covid-19 and celebrating the lowered fatality rate, the death of democracy may go unnoticed. Please initiate the dialogue before it is too late.
Yours truly,
Yet another daughter
---
*Professor, Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

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