New Delhi: All states have information departments to put out the official line on any given subject. But in ‘atmanirbhar’ Uttar Pradesh has the government felt the need to hire the services of a PR firm to press its controversial claim that the 19-year-old Dalit woman who was gang-raped last month in Hathras and succumbed to her injuries on September 29 was not actually raped at all.
On Thursday night, a number of foreign correspondents in India – and some national media correspondents – received a ‘clarification note’ from Concept PR, a Mumbai-based public relations firm with the ungrammatic headline:
“Hathras girl was not rape, reveal Forensic investigation, Preliminary Medical and Post-mortem report”
The note played up other claims too, such as:
“The reports also revealed the conspiracy to push the state into caste turmoil”
“SIT is sure to unveil evil design behind the whole incident”
And in a presumed reference to the government’s decision to quickly cremate the victim’s body in the middle of the night against the wishes of her family, the note says:
Police action was prompt to prevent untoward incident: further intensive probe into the matter
The PR note then goes on to reiterate what the UP assistant director general (ADG) of police (law and order) Prashant Kumar had already told the Indian media:
“Putting to rest all the speculation, the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) report on the vaginal sample of the 19-year-old girl of Hathras has revealed that she was not raped. This is the conclusive confirmatory report after the post mortem medical report and post mortem report both have concluded that no rape was committed.”
While the UP government’s claim that the “Hatras girl was not rape(d)” has been questioned by medical and legal experts who say the state’s police evidently do not understand the definition of rape in the Indian Penal Code or the basics of rape forensics, the PR note makes it clear that the ongoing investigation is going to focus less on the Hathras crime and its perpetrators and more on the alleged “conspiracy to push the state into caste turmoil” which the ADG says the forensic report had “exposed”.
The ‘clarification note’ also specifies that the Special Investigation Team assigned by chief minister Adityanath to look into the matter “is sure to unveil evil designs of vested interests who wanted to create an atmosphere of disharmony in Uttar Pradesh.”
The UP Police will “now probe as to who was responsible for this malafide campaign and twisted the facts despite the statements of the responsible officers otherwise”.
This particular mention in the press note should be read as a warning to domestic media houses which have reported the Hathras incident as a gang-rape, quoting the family, or would still follow up on the story as so – besides sending out a caution to foreign correspondents to stay away from it.
The wider message also appears to be that in ‘New India’ rapes don’t take place, certainly none that reflect the harsh reality of caste injustices. And that any global attention on this case – akin to the Nirbhaya rape case of 2012 when the Congress-led UPA was in power – will not be acceptable. If anything, global media coverage would likely be looked upon by the government as part of a “conspiracy”, an “evil design” against UP and india.
This PR move was likely prompted by the fact that the rape victim’s death hit the headlines in several international papers, including the New York Times and the Guardian. The Adityanath government urgently needed a media strategy to nip this coverage in the bud, and also give some ammunition to the BJP’s NRI supporters to defend the party on social media and elsewhere.