Compounding the Hathras horror

By: |
October 7, 2020 4:50 AM

The UP administration’s ham-fisted approach in the matter underscores a desire to bulldoze accountability

The chief minister launched the campaign digitally from his official residence.The chief minister launched the campaign digitally from his official residence.

The mobilisation of caste groups against the backdrop of the alleged rape and murder of a Dalit girl in Hathras—by Opposition politicians and identity-politics leaders—can be argued both as a political assertion for rights of the marginalised and as opportunistic exploitation of caste faultlines in the society, from different vantage points. But, the Uttar Pradesh (UP) government’s claim that the mobilisation is an “international conspiracy” to instigate caste riots and defame the Yogi Adityanath-led dispensation is little more than an attempt to deflect scrutiny over its failures.

One of the most egregious failures in the episode has been that of the UP Police; while the incident happened on September 14, the police filed a complaint based on the FIR only by September 20 and recorded the victim’s statement on the alleged rape on September 22. If past is precedent, UP Police personnel certainly don’t seem to be sensitised on crimes against women, and among these, against women from marginalised groups—indeed, three of its personnel have been charge-sheeted by the CBI in the Unnao rape case. The state government has not responsibly acquitted itself; the girl’s family alleges that the police hurriedly cremated her body, without their explicit consent, soon after her body was released from Safdarjung Hospital in the national capital.

The state government has told the Supreme Court that the cremation was expedited because it had “intel inputs” that the death would have sparked large-scale violence and caused major law & order problems—ironically, there has since been a rally in support of the accused, captured on camera, with slogans that can seem as an attempt to intimidate the victim’s family. The UP Police imposed a virtual curfew on the victim’s family and barricaded her village by deploying nearly 300 personnel, as reported by various mainline media, while members of the victim’s family have accused the district administration of putting pressure on them not to speak to the media. Beyond this, the visuals of UP police personnel assaulting Opposition politicians—even manhandling Congress general secretary in charge of Eastern UP Priyanka Gandhi—does the state government no credit, the subsequent apology from the police and talk of internal inquiry notwithstanding.

The state government has gone trigger-happy with charges to beat down any criticism of its handling of the case—as per an Indian Express report, it has invoked charges of sedition, cheating, criminal conspiracy, even promoting enmity between different groups and imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration, among other charges, in 21 FIRs across the state, six of which have been filed in Hathras. While the need is to expedite justice for the victim’s family, the state government has requested the Supreme Court to order an investigation of the ‘criminal conspiracy to spread caste conflict and instigate violence and incidents of propaganda’ by the media and politicians. Such a stand, without doubt, has a chilling effect on marginalised groups mobilising and demanding justice, which is a healthy feature for a true democracy. The ineptitude of the UP administration is, thus, only compounded by the attempt to stall democratic oversight—unstated curfews to keep media and civil society from reaching the victim’s family and police assault on politicians who wanted to the meet the victim’s and build political pressure in the interest of justice betrays a ham-fisted approach to bulldoze accountability. The present crisis was an opportunity for the ruling dispensation to signal that it means business on ensuring accountability and justice—instead, CM Adityanath chose to see the outrage over the incident as “conspiracy by “some anarchists who can’t bear to see development in the state”.

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