A 19-year old Dalit woman is gang-raped, her tongue mutilated and her spine broken, her body left naked in a field. Her mother discovers her and seeks help for an ambulance to take her to hospital. The police delay, but eventually her body is taken to a hospital in Aligarh, from where she is transferred, a good ten days later and after media outcry, to a hospital in Delhi, where she dies.
The Uttar Pradesh police then rush her dead body to UP, where they cremate her in the dead of night, refusing to hand her over to her family for the appropriate rites.
Before she dies, the woman gives a dying declaration before a magistrate, saying that she was raped and brutalised by four men from the ‘upper caste’ Thakur community, who are arrested. Immediately after, the UP police descend in force on the village to prevent either journalists or political representatives – or, for that matter, social activists – from meeting her family. Their phones are confiscated and the District Magistrate threatens them, saying they can still change their statements. Her uncle is kicked.
Finally, after the media and political outcry continues to rise, the Chief Minister Adityanath orders a Special Investigative Team (SIT) investigation. Five policemen are suspended, but not the District Magistrate. At the same time, the victim’s family are asked to take a ‘narco test’, as if they are in some way culpable for what happened.
In the meantime, BJP representatives, including the national head of the party’s digital outreach or IT cell, Amit Malviya, assert that the girl was never raped. They cite medical analysis of samples taken over a week after the girl was raped to prove their point – in itself a display of monstrous ignorance that could have been set right with a 1 minute Google search – and when they are told that no sample taken even four days later can prove rape or the lack thereof, they continue to assert she was not raped.
Indeed, they go a step further: malign international interests, they say, are trying to stir caste-based animosities to put the BJP led Adityanath administration in the dock. As to the hurried cremation at dead of night, they add, what is wrong with that since it was done after the post-mortem was conducted – conveniently blurring the fact that the police have no right to decide when a cremation should be performed, let alone withhold the girl’s body from the family.
Then the Thakurs of the village kick in. Led by a former BJP MLA called Pehelwan, they cry loudly that that the arrested men have been wrongfully accused, in any case the girl was not raped, and the outcry is merely to malign Thakurs and Brahmins.
The UP police, that barred and even beat up journalists and opposition leaders from visiting the village on the grounds that they presented a COVID-19 threat, allow these caste bigots to meet and mingle freely, without wearing masks or observing social distancing. They even allow them to threaten dire consequences to anyone who defends the girl and her family.
To top off this sorry saga of malevolence, the Adityanath administration then proceeds to file 19 FIRs with conspiracy and sedition charges, mostly against opposition party members, who sought to show solidarity with the victim’s family.
The only ray of light is shone by the Allahabad high court, where two judges decide to take suo motu cognisance of the incident and summon the Adityanath administration. But before the case comes before them, scheduled for October 12, some well-meaning persons file a public interest petition in the Supreme Court. The Uttar Pradesh government files an affidavit, asking for a court-monitored probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation. The family too, the media tells us, has asked for such a probe.
In court, the Solicitor General, Tushar Mehta, tells the bench that the outcry against the Adityanath administration’s handling of the rape and murder is politically motivated and repeats the BJP’s allegation that those with interests to malign it are making trouble. The bench responds by asking the Adityanath administration to file an affidavit detailing the steps they are taking for witness protection. Really? The same police whose bias has been so clearly demonstrated will now provide protection to the witnesses, which here includes the family?
Remember what happened in Kathua, where a minor shepherd girl was raped and murdered, and Unnao, where the 17-year old victim survived?
There too, BJP leaders denied rape and BJP workers on the ground led demonstrations asserting the accused were innocent, that those who cried rape had malign designs. There too, the victims’ families were threatened. Indeed, in Unnao, the girl’s father was accused of brutalising her himself, beaten by the then BJP MLA’s men and taken into custody by the local police, who allowed him no treatment, so he died a few days later.
The girl was supposed to have witness protection, but was severely injured in a car accident on her way to court. She survived but two of her relatives were killed in that accident.
MLA Kuldeep Sengar was defended by party colleagues and the UP police as wrongfully accused and only convicted over two years after he had raped her. In her father’s death, the court ruled negligence by the jail doctor and the district hospital that allowed the police to discharge him back into their custody. The policemen who had allowed him to be so badly beaten and then to die were not charged with culpability in his murder.
I can only hope that the honourable judges are aware of what happened in the Unnao cases. Taking this history to heart, as well as the permissiveness displayed by the UP police and administration towards the defenders of rapists and murderers, the least that the Hathras girl’s family deserves is protection that can be trusted, an impartial investigation and speedy justice.
What I don’t understand is why the case went to the Supreme Court, or why the Court did not defer to the Allahabad high court, which showed the integrity to take suo motu notice of the ghastly event. In the desert that the rule of law has become, the Allahabad high court has been a rare example in calling the administration to account on blatant violation of human rights. Perhaps the Supreme Court will suggest the Allahabad court monitor the CBI probe, which the Adityanath administration now also seeks, at the same time, oddly enough, that it has extended the SIT mission by another ten days.
After Kathua, Unnao and Hathras, we cannot avoid the glaring question of why our ruling party is so tolerant of party representatives who seek to defend alleged rapists and murderers or those that have been complicit.
Will Malviya be taken to task for tweeting a video that lied? Will the BJP MLAs who allege malign interests while avoiding the issue of rape and murder be suspended or fined? Will the state and national ministers for women’s welfare and the heads of the state and national Commissions for Women be asked why they have done so little so far?
In fact, should any of them be in charge of our welfare when they are so clearly either incompetent or indifferent?
Radha Kumar is a writer and policy analyst. Her latest book is Paradise at War: A Political History of Kashmir.