I am in Turkey as the horrors of the latest developments of the Kathua and Unnao rape cases unfold. I’ve often argued that rape is not about lust, but power. And frustration and revenge do play a role in it, but the power aphrodisiac undermines everything else.

But in Kathua, our recent obsession with religion and divisiveness is linked to the rape and murder of eight-year-old Asifa. She was a Muslim, and her rapists were Hindus. The kidnapping, drugging, continued sedation and blood-chilling gang-raping of the child by eight men, shamefully in a temple, and then her murder by smashing her head, was a lesson in horror meant to send her community — Muslim Bakerwal — scurrying out of that village in Hindu-majority Jammu.

As I look around me, in both the Cappadocia region as well as Istanbul, which I am revisiting after 11 years, I am surprised to find many many more Turkish women covering their head. Under the present regime Turkey has turned more Islamic and I must admit I would have flinched and half expected somebody to ask me why India was treating its Muslim population as second-class citizens. But nobody does that. Perhaps the Kathua, and even Unnao rape cases are yet to make headlines here.

And they know nothing about how this time around little Asifa paid the ultimate price for being a Muslim. And shamefully and disgustingly, for several weeks attempts were made by two BJP ministers in the Jammu and Kashmir cabinet, as well as lawyers with saffron allegiance, to set the arrested men free. Worse, our Tiranga , about which we are given homilies by pseudo nationalists often enough, was shamefully used by these bigots in protest marches to secure the release of the rapists. Thanks only to the raw courage of the lawyer Deepika Rajawat, who is now in danger of being raped or killed, the criminals have been arrested.

Fortunately for me, I am merely a tourist here and not in the midst of some 100-odd international journalists with whom I had found myself in Switzerland soon after the horrendous gang rape and brutalisation of Nirbhaya’s body in our Capital, an incident that had hit international media headlines.

Add to this the rape of some foreign women around the same time, and it wasn’t surprising to be subjected to some searching questions, including: “Why is India becoming the rape capital of the world ? What’s wrong with Indian men?”

Ouch, that hurt. But it did not wrench out the guts or turn the blood cold as the two recent rape cases and their aftermath have done.

In Unnao, the 17-year-old girl who used to call the UP BJP MP Kuldeep Singh Senger ‘ Bhaiyya ’ was raped by him first, then kidnapped and gang raped by some men, including his brother. “Open your mouth and face the consequences” threat petrified her for almost a year, till her uncle sought justice.

But our strange law and order and justice system, or the jungle raj in UP, unveiled the consequence of charging a ruling party MLA with rape. The victim’s father was picked up by the UP police on some trumped up charges, and brutally beaten to death by a police trying to protect their criminal political masters.

The backlash on the BJP that has followed the Kathua and Unnao rape cases and the administrators’ blatant attempts to protect the guilty with such impunity and arrogance that only brute majority in the legislatures can bring was bound to come. In Kerala, where there is a bypoll, signs are posted banning BJP candidates from entering homes seeking votes “because children live here”.

Mental degradation

But what chills the blood and numbs the senses is the mental degradation and the depths of shamelessness to which our society is sinking. A little child is gang-raped and then killed because she is a Muslim and her Hindu rapists are sending a message to her community — you have no place in this village.

A J&K policeman joins the criminals and the lawyers blatantly hold the torch for the rapists and wave the Indian flag. The frightening inference: if you sing the nationalism mantra you can get away with murder and rape of a child. The Unnao teenager is orphaned and her father killed because she dared to accuse an MLA of rape. He is Mai-Baap . She a nobody.

Our daughters will get justice, says the Prime Minister. Pray how? Can the best judicial system in the world give back to Asifa’s parents their beloved child? Or return her father to the Unnao teenager?

Worse, the poison of religious bigotry that has been injected into our social fabric, slowly but surely, to garner votes, and thereby power, projects a scary scenario of impending doom that can have worse consequences than a war or any other major calamity.

For what worth has a society or country without its moral values and a collective conscience? Wonder what the great poet Rabindranath Tagore would have to say about letting his country awake to an era where an eight-year-old’s fragile body is used to score bigoted victories by twisted minds.