Two recent incidents of rape have been widely covered and debated in the media.

The first was the brutal gang rape of an eight year girl in Kathua district of Jammu. The minor girl belonged to the nomadic Bakerwal community of Jammu and Kashmir.

The second case is of of a young girl from Unnao who has alleged that she was reaped by the local BJP MLA. The two cases have come as a haunting reminder of the violent reality of our country.

However, violence against women, Dalits and other marginalized communities and weaker sections of society is nothing new in India. If we care to look back at our history, it is replete with such instances. Yet there is something new, far more dangerous and disturbing in the violence that we see around us everyday.

Let us look at the Kathua incident. The incident took place in January this year but it came to public notice when the police filed the case after doing a meticulous investigation nailing the culprits in April. The investigation brought out the gruesome details of how the minor girl was kept captive inside a temple, given sedatives and raped by several men in a perverse and gut-wrenching series of events. However, what came as a shock was the way in which Bar Association of Jammu and a few other groups owing allegiance to BJP and its ideological cohorts came out in favour of the accused. Two MLAs of BJP from J&K who are its serving ministers came out openly in support of the accused. They prevented the police from filing the report in the court. This marks the change from the past.

The violence against women and Dalits is nothing new but the open and blatant justification for such acts is new. The level to which people of a certain ideological and political affiliation go to justify it is new. The change in response, which is brazen and devoid of any moral pretence is indeed worrying.

Kathua is not an isolated incident. We can see it happening across the country in similar circumstances.

*Take for example the mob lynchubg of Akhlaq in Dadri in Uttar Pradesh in 2015 for suspected beef in his house. When one of the accused in the case died in the jail for natural reasons, his body was wrapped in tricolour. BJP MP of the area and local MLA who is an accused in the Muzaffarnagar riots and a mob of supporters gathered for his last rites as if he were a martyr in a national cause.

*In Rajsamand town of Rajasthan, in December last year Shambhu Lal Regar, killed a Muslim daily wager to avenge ‘Love Jihad’ and videographed it triumphantly to share on Whatsapp.

Subsequently, lawyers of Udaipur in Rajasthan hoisted saffron flag atop court building in support of Shambunath Regar.

*In the Ramnavami festival in March this year, a tableau was displayed in Jodhpur by some rightwing Hindu groups celebrating Shambhu Lal Regar as a hero who made great sacrifice to save Hindu women from Love Jihad. Government of Uttar Pradesh has announced that it will take back cases related to Muzaffarnagar riots.

Such examples abound. This open justification of violence and communal hatred is one of the defining marks of the emerging pattern of violence in India.

The roots of this degraded political response lie in the fact that BJP has openly embraced winning in elections as the core of its political ideology. Violence has never been anathema to Sangh Parivar affiliates. BJP President Amit Shah does not tire of repeating that BJP sees every election, be it a municipal election or a Panchayat Election or a bypoll for a parliamentary seat as of utmost importance.

Winning elections is the core value of BJP of Amit Shah and Narendra Modi. No price is too big to pay for it. No value is sacrosanct for the BJP today in its pursuit of power. In such a world of all consuming hunger for political victory, supporting a murderer or a rapist or a hate-monger is quite understandable.

In Jammu, for example, the two ministers who resigned under sustained public pressure and condemnation have said that they participated in the Kathua rally under instructions from the very top of the BJP leadership. This exposes the truth behind attempts at obfuscation and double speak in which leaders of the ruling dispensation engage whenever such incidents take place.

Elevation of the pursuit of votes without any consideration for moral or constitutional values, which I call ‘Votism’ for the lack of any other suitable word, at the top is the second hallmark of the new pattern that marks political violence in the country.

It is also remarkable to notice how the BJP has been using empty symbolism to fool people of the country. In case of Dalits, Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself has said on many occasions that naming of the UPI based money-transaction app introduced by the government as BHIM (Bharat Interface for Money) is a great mark of respect for Baba Sahab Ambedkar. It would be laughable but for the grotesqueness of the fact that Dalits have been at the receiving end of this government all through its four years of rule.

While the UP government is so keen to withdraw the Muzaffarnagar riot cases for heinous crimes, it keeps the Dalit activist and leader Chandrashekahr Azad ‘Ravan’ behind bars under NSA. Stories of torture against Chandrashekhar Azad have also been reported from the media. After the recent Bharat Bandh episode in which 10 Dalits were killed, most of them from the firing by the people opposed to Bandh, governments of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, UP etc. were reported to have engaged in witch hunt of Dalit activists and youth to implicate them in various cases.

The Koregaon Bhima violence also resulted in Dalits being singled out by police and arrested under trumped up charges even while the leader Sambhaji Bhide who reportedly instigated violence roams free. Government’s response to the Supreme Court dilution of provisions of SC/ST Atrocities Act has been tepid and evasive.

Atrocities against Dalit and support of the state government machinery to the perpetrators of violence continues hand in hand with BJP mouthing platitudes for Ambedkar. They want a docile, Hindu Ambedkar shorn of all his radicalism calling for transformation of the caste based exploitative social order. Such an Ambedkar, they imagine, could be of great help in Hindu consolidation and its followers could be used as cannon fodder for communal violence.

Symbolism plays a great role in the scheme of things BJP and its ideological family rely upon. It is easy to stir up emotion by creating a façade of simplistic narratives foisted on symbolisms of various kinds. In 1992, it cleverly and successfully utilized collection of bricks from across the country for Ram Temple at Ayodhya which ultimately resulted in the demolition of the Babri Mosque.

In trying to posit Sardar Patel against Nehru, the tallest statue of Patel is being erected in Gujarat on the point where Narmada barrage is built. In order to appropriate Ambedkar in its fold, setting up of museums, naming buildings and such symbolic things are being used by the BJP on a large scale.

In the new narrative of violence sanctified and openly supported by it, we can see how saffron flag is being planted on mosques, courts etc. after communal conflagration or during rallies in support of a crime having some communal undercurrent. It happened in Bikaner where a mob came out in support of Shamhu Lal Regar who had killed a Muslim migrant earlier. In a series of reports in Indian Express about Communal incidents in various towns of Bihar, it was reported that in Rosera town of Samastipur district, the miscreants hoisted a saffron flag over a mosque after some communal clashes.

In Kathua too, national flag and saffron flag were liberally used in the rally in support of alleged rapists. During the demolition of the Babri mosque also the saffron flag of RSS was hoisted over the dome. Forcibly hoisting of the RSS saffron flag on mosques, courts or other public buildings, during rallies etc. is the new trend. It seeks to impose a psychological sense of victor and the vanquished. It is easy to understand who is the victor and who is vanquished in the project that is being carried out across the country by RSS and its affiliates. Taking violence far beyond the physical realm to the new reality of striking psychological terror among minorities, Dalits and other marginalized sections of society is again a powerful dimension of violence in India.

Violence has been part and parcel of Indian reality. Sometimes it remained hidden in a subterranean manner as in caste violence. It was openly expressed as during wars or social unrest and riots. But the new phase of violence seeks to legitimize it if it happens to be in sync with the ideological framework of the ruling party. It is a natural corollary of the ideology which believes that ‘violence and war were necessary and laudable Hindu responses to foreign aggression.’ The only difference is that now the ambit of ‘foreign aggression’ has expanded to include minorities or Dalits or marginalized people of any colour and creed.

It is the time to remember what Hana Arendt said about violence in a totalitarian set up as we may not be too far away from it if it is not checked now-‘Totalitarianism is never content to rule by external means, namely, through the state and a machinery of violence; thanks to its peculiar ideology and the role assigned to it in this apparatus of coercion, totalitarianism has discovered a means of dominating and terrorizing human beings from within.’