I’ve known S for over 20 years. When I first met her, she was 17, but pretended to be a decade older – and she could easily have passed for 27. Faking her age made it easier to explain the fact that she had two children of school age. The children’s father, she said, had left, but visited regularly. As I got to know her over the years, the truth slowly emerged. Growing up in a Hindu home, she had been raped at age 11 by an “Uncle” (note, every older person in Indian culture is an Uncle or Auntie), and became pregnant. Refusing to bring “shame” on the family, her parents kept the situation quiet, and if any blame was cast, it was at S, not the abuser.
Having established her status as a “slut”, S became the regular sex toy for her older brother. Age 13, she allowed her original abuser to impregnate her a second time, in the hope that he might take her as a wife, or at least mistress, and end her pariah status – but he was married, and did not. Within her home, S had to endure the growing wrath and hatred of her mother, who blamed her for damaging the family name. She was eventually, with her children, cast out, and ended up as a single parent in a council flat.
She avoided Indian men as much as she could; whenever she befriended one who learned of her lonely and vulnerable status, she again fell pray to abuse. Westerners who idealise “traditional” societies, where respect is always due to elders, fail to understand that this power in the hands of “uncles” is a recipe for sexual abuse. The formula that states the elder must never be challenged by the younger is one that creates countless victims of rape.
India’s dirty little secret had largely been overlooked in the wider world until the recent horrific gang rape and murder of a Delhi student that shocked the world. The fact that a gang of young men could repeatedly rape and beat a woman on a bus for an hour, before throwing her into the street, indicates that they expected to get away with their crime – but they failed to realise that the world has changed in a fundamental way. The Internet, and social media, put their actions under a national and global spotlight, and India, and the world, recoiled in disgust, embarrassing Indian authorities into taking action. Indians demonstrated against corrupt and incompetent officials who have always allowed such crimes to be dealt with quietly, or not at all. They were met with the standard Indian state response: water cannon and batons.
Amidst all the noise, there is a notable silence: there is a loud, organised online community of Islamophobes that revels in reporting every horror that takes place at the hands of Muslims. These people form a broad alliance of propagandists who know that by amplifying some events, and ignoring others, a picture of “Muslim barbarity” can be painted. These people range from European and American fascists and Zionists to – yes – Hindu nationalists in India. I watch many of these people on Twitter, and their network is always ready to mention a rape in Pakistan, a stoning in Saudi Arabia, a stabbing in France, if the perpetrator is of Muslim background. But in my observation, none of these commentators, whether English Defence League supporters in the UK, Pamela Geller’s American hate network, or Israeli Arab-haters, have had anything to say about the Indian case.
Many of the Muslim-haters pose as secularists and human-rights advocates; yet their silence on “non-Muslim” events, from the Delhi rape to the rape and bloodshed in the Congo, to the mass slaughter and rapes of Tamils in Sri Lanka gives the lie to these labels. In their campaign to paint Muslims as Untermench, fascists, Zionists and Hindu nationalists provide shelter for barbarity. In pretending that Hindus are somehow more human than Muslims, they give cover for Hindu rape and violence. According to their narrative, a rape victim in Kabul is more worthy than one in Delhi. The British victim of sexual abuse by a Pakistani immigrant deserves a mention, but the victim of a white British person does not. An “honour killing” in Yemen must be endlessly mentioned on Twitter, but one in India must be ignored.
In their careful selection of victims, the Islamophobes are apologists for the sexual violence that they ignore. By deeming most rapes as unworthy of mention, these people become apologists for rape. It is heartening that India has recently taken a tentative step towards accepting the huge scale of sexual abuse in that country. And it’s shameful that many people have declined to talk about it, for fear of weakening their crusade against Muslims.