A Time to Feel Shame – The Rape and Murder of Asifa

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By Lakshmy Parameswaran

HOUSTON: The rape and murder in January of Asifa, an eight-year old Indian girl, by several men in Jammu and Kashmir belies horror and disbelief. Asifa belonged to a nomadic Muslim community and the rapists and murderers were from the local Hindu community that disliked the nomads. The men conspired to kidnap, drug, rape and ultimately murder Asifa, the girl herding horses. The reasons for this atrocity are many but none justifies why a child should pay, with her life, for problems facing adults. When it comes to human value, women and girls are assigned to the bottom in many countries including the countries that I call home – America and India.

India, a country of 1.3 billion, does not report a higher number of rapes per capita compared to less-populated countries indicating the country’s neglect of women’s rights. The uproar against the 2012 gang rape and murder of a woman in a Delhi bus and the random selection of Asifa as a rape target are examples of the people’s frustration over the devaluation of women. Their anger is exacerbated by the absence of unanimous condemnation by Indian leaders.  

In America, the sordid history of sexual exploitation of American women revealed itself in 2017 with the #MeToo movement, a movement that galvanized the voices of thousands of sexual assault survivors like never before. Following the sexual assault allegations against Hollywood celebrity Harvey Weinstein, thousands of American women revealed the pain of sexual victimization by their bosses, colleagues and partners.

Following the pivotal #MeToo movement came the revelation about the sexual abuse and molestation of hundreds of female gymnasts, including Olymic medalists, by Larry Nassar, former USA Gymnastics team physician. Initial complaints about Nassar and Weinstein date back decades. It is only in 2018 that Nassar was sentenced and Weinstein was expunged. The length of time it took to bring justice shows silence and secrecy at work, protecting the perpetrators.

In modern India where the chasm between different factions – Hindus and Muslims and the rising middle-class and stagnant poor – is widening, Asifa’s fate is indicative of the fragile status of Indian females whose rights – including their right to life – are tentative and situational.

Violence against women is the most pervasive violation of human rights in the world today. Only the activism by individuals and organizations has resulted in the Indian government considering tougher punishments for perpetrators. In America, hordes of high profile predators were purged mercilessly, thanks to the power of courageous voices. These advances, however encouraging, do not erase the broader societal attitude that enabled a group of men to lure an unsuspecting girl and put a treacherous end to her life. The fitting tribute to Asifa would be our tears and our heads hung in shame.         

Lakshmy Parameswaran is a founder and board member of Daya Inc., serving South Asian survivors of family violence and sexual assault in Houston since 1996. She is a licensed counselor specializing in women’s issues.