Amid the growing clamour over the rapes in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua and Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao, one voice has been notably absent: that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The gang-rape and murder of an eight-year-old in January in Kathua and the rape of a 17-year-old in Unnao in June, allegedly by an MLA of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, finally got the belated attention of the country in the last week. In the Kathua case, a girl from the nomadic Muslim Bhakarwal community in Jammu was allegedly raped and murdered by eight men, which included members of the police force. The case provoked outrage after a group of lawyers came out on the streets on Monday to thwart the police from filing a chargesheet in the case. In February, a Hindu outfit had held a rally in support of the accused, which saw participation from two BJP ministers and other members of the saffron party as well as the Congress.
The Unnao case grabbed national attention after the survivor and her family tried to immolate themselves outside Chief Minister Adityanath’s house to protest against alleged police inaction against Kuldeep Singh Sengar, the BJP MLA accused in the case. The next day, her father died in police custody after he was allegedly beaten up by Sengar’s brother and supporters. A first information report was finally registered against Sengar on Thursday, 10 months after he committed the alleged crime.
Despite the growing outrage, including social media campaigns and protest rallies demanding justice in both cases, there was no open condemnation from the BJP for the crimes. On Thursday, Minister of State for External Affairs General VK Singh was the first prominent BJP leader to break his silence. On Friday, the party finally addressed the issue through its spokesperson, Meenakshi Lekhi, who insisted that the governments and police had acted promptly and tried to cast the protests as a case of selective outrage.
Modi, however, continues to stay silent even as one case involves his party MLA and another has seen his party’s members rally around the accused.
But the noise around his lack of comment is growing. On Friday, online news publication Quint used a creative route to comment on Modi’s tight-lipped stance. “Here’s What PM Narendra Modi Said About the Kathua and Unnao Rapes”, it declared in a headline.
The prime minister’s prolonged silence on heinous crimes have been noticed in the past too, especially during multiple instances of mob violence against Muslims and Dalits last year. Many of these lynchings were done in the name of cow protection, a cause the BJP enthusiastically espouses.
Meanwhile, Buzzfeed compiled this handy list of “burning issues” that Modi did find the time to speak about in the recent past, which include the need to sleep well during exam time and the benefits of Yoga.