The United Nations, which has been a mute spectator of atrocities against women, children, Muslims and Dalits in India under the watch of the Hindu right wing government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has at last spoken out on the issue.

Following the nation-wide outcry over the rape and murder of an 8 year old Muslim girl in Kathua in Jammu, and the rape of a 17 year old in Unnao in Uttar Pradesh by persons linked to the Establishment, the UN has issued a statement calling for an “unequivocal commitment by India’s leadership at the highest level” to end violence against women and children.

“We are deeply concerned about the prevalence of gender-based violence, including sexual violence against women and girls, which we are witnessing in India,” said Yuri Afanasiev, UN’s Resident Representative in India in a statement dated April 13.

“We take note of the investigation and judicial processes that are now underway in the two cases and are hopeful that they will result in speedy justice for the girls and their families.”

“But sadly, these are not isolated cases. There are many others which remain invisible, unheard and therefore, not counted due to everyday normalization of sexual and other forms of violence,” he said.

“Such normalization can only be prevented through strong engagement with schools, colleges, communities, state machineries and elected leaders, and a policy of zero tolerance of violence against women and girls.”

“Addressing impunity at every level – family, community, institution – is crucial. To ensure accountability for such crimes is essential for justice to be delivered.”

“An unequivocal commitment by leadership at the highest level to address sexual violence and to ensure accountability for such crimes is essential for justice to be delivered,” Afanasiev said.

According to the Indian National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) figures for 2016, incidents of rape of children had increased by over 82% compared to 2015.

It was for the first time that such a sharp increase in sexual assaults on children had been registered.

The NCRB data shows that while in 2015, 10,854 cases of rape were registered, 2016 saw 19,765 such cases being registered.

The numbers reported were the highest in Madhya Pradesh (2467), Maharashtra (2292), and Uttar Pradesh (2115), all States ruled by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The rape and killing of an 8-year-old girl Muslim girl Asifa Bano in Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir in January has had a major political fallout for the Modi government.

“Justice for Asifa” has become a nation-wide movement which is now being exploited by the opposition to push Modi into a corner.

With elections due in a year’s time, Modi had no option but to break his silence which had been taken as a license by the rapists and their apologists in the BJP.

In two tweets he described rape as a “shameful” act, promised strong action and justice for women.

But people are waiting for action, not platitudes, as both recent cases of rape showed the active involvement of the ruling party and government officials both retired and serving.

Eight year old Asifa, a girl belonging to the nomadic and pastoral Muslim tribe of Bakherwal, was lured into a forest near Kathua in Jammu, drugged, raped over three days and finally killed by a group headed by a retired government official Sanji Ram and a Special Police officer Deepak Khajuria.

Investigations revealed that Asifa was raped and killed to frighten the minority Muslim Bakherwal community into fleeing Hindu-majority Kathua.

Since the victim was a Muslim and the perpetrators were Hindus, Hindu right wing organizations including lawyers prevented the registering of the case, alleging that the police were biased because Jammu and Kashmir is a Muslim-majority State.

In Unnao in Uttar Pradesh, a local legislator Kuldeep Singh Sengar of the BJP, had raped a 17 year old girl, and to silence her father who wanted to lodge a complaint with the police, killed him.

While the rape and murder of Asifa took place in January this year, the rape of the girl in Unnao took place early in 2017. But arrests were made only in April 2018 after the cases became national news and agitations erupted across India.

The Indian Supreme Court has now asked the lawyers of Kathua as to why they physically blocked police officials from entering the courthouse.

The lawyers said that the police had a pro-Muslim mentality because Jammu and Kashmir is a Muslim-majority State. But the truth was that the chief investigating officer who cracked the case, was a Hindu, Ramesh Kumar Jalla.

Yes, Modi broke his silence finally. But rights activists said that it was too little ,too late. They are not hopeful about follow up action.

Deepa Narayan, author of a book on violence against women in India told The New York Times: “Modi is always a slow reactor. He waits for an issue to go away and when it doesn’t, and he’s in a corner, he speaks up and makes platitudes.”

She further said: “I think the B.J.P. will suffer from this. They will pay a price for the impunity they’ve unleashed by not treating crimes as crimes but by politicizing them.”

In an article in The Indian Express, rights advocate and Vice Chancellor of Ashoka University, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, said: “Our conduct as a society in the rape and murder case of an eight-year-old in Kathua has been so despicable that it can be said, without exaggeration, that India’s moral compass has been completely obliterated, carpet-bombed out of existence by the very custodians of law, morality and virtue who give daily sermons on national pride.”

“Think of the deep divisions that now characterize India - the state, law, and civil society, now understand only a sectarian language.”

“Someone has to psychoanalyze how political differences or cultural differences between communities have reached such a pass that the death of a child is, with glee, used as a pretext for exacerbating divisions.”

“It is as if communal identification has dismantled any trace of conscience.”