A Dalit girl in Hathras district, UP suffered grievous injuries on September 14 and died two weeks later. She was just 19, she was a Dalit and allegedly involved with a local Rajput boy. Her rape and murder thus appeared to be an explosive stuff to capitalize on. What made it more tempting was the fact that the incident took place in a state where BJP is in power and the chief minister himself is a Thakur. Unscrupulous journalists, liberal social activists, partisan columnists and non-BJP party leaders were not prepared to let go this opportunity to trash the state leadership, its administration and police, in the run-up to the state elections which are due in less than 18 months.
Comically, a large section of media had, meanwhile, set up their own SITs and carried out parallel investigation. Hordes of journalists were seen chasing the girl's family members and interrogating them to elicit headline-grabbing responses. No wonder, the family members have been changing statements every hour. It was so funny to hear the reporters giving breaking news, leads and source-information to give credence to their ridiculous claims. Fortunately, journalists are not legally authorized to prosecute suspects, submit charge sheet in the courts and summon, search and interrogate suspects. What they need to do is to assist the investigative agencies with whatever information they have and not to jump around like juveniles with unverifiable soundbites.
Leaders from the Congress, SP, BSP, AAP, CPM etc. went a step further. Rahul Gandhi clumsily fell on the ground, others violated section 144, broke barricades, sat on dharna and gave aggressive speeches. At the time of meeting parents, they made sure they wore long faces, shed occasional tears, expressed solidarity, coached them what to speak to investigators and doled them money. They also sought immediate resignation of U.P. Chief Minister Yogi Aditya Nath for total collapse of law and order in the state. Bhim Singh, the new face of Dalit violence, joined the chorus to consolidate his Dalit electoral base by making incendiary speeches. Wish, when the girl was alive, they had taken care of her education, health, employment and poverty.
Yogi was not the one to take his criticism lying low. He insisted that the protests were a part of a national and International conspiracy to engineer caste war in the state to boost the electoral prospects of parties that were losing ground in the state. Police later filed several FIRs and made a few arrests to prove his claim.
So far so good. But when he transferred SP of Hathras summarily, it became obvious that he was in panic. He should have known that no rape or murder can be prevented by an SP or DSP anywhere in the country. In 2019 alone, 53,000 reported and unreported cases of rapes came to light. Could even one of them be averted? No - mainly because it is impossible to have advance intelligence about the nature, time and place of the occurrence of rape. So, why take this route of deflecting anger of the protesters? It is simply not feasible to provide physical safety to roughly 23 crore young girls in India who are potential victims of violent sexual abuse. If anything, such transfers are bad for the morale of the police force. You don't remove a general in the thick of battle.
Yogi's decision to send the DGP and the Additional Chief Secretary (home) to meet the girl's family members was his other mistake. It betrayed his nervousness and administrative inexperience. What if it turns out that the girl was murdered by her family members? How would he then explain why he sent his two senior most officers to sympathise with murderers and promise jobs and financial assistance. The question is, will he send them every time to meet parents of a girl who is raped and murdered. His sensitivity towards Dalits is understandable but he cannot have different standards of response to such incidents on the basis of caste and religion.
We also heard the cabal of opportunists fuming as to why the girl was cremated at the dead of the night and not in the presence of her parents. In such volatile situations, the sensible thing is to trust the local officers' judgement whether to let the body rot further, whether by keeping the body longer a breakdown in law and order situation is imminent and whether presence of parents before the violence breaks out is logistically feasible. Surely, Hathras SP and DM did not have any personal animus against her parents and what they did was in the larger interests of peace. The continued refusal of parents to immerse her ashes in protest against their absence from cremation is sickening and has nothing to do with love for their daughter.
Another complain we heard was why the police were physically preventing journalists and politicians from meeting her parents. Obviously, the purpose was to complete the initial inspection of the site, record statement of witnesses and arrest suspects without any undue interference. But the cabal had different priorities. Once they got the opportunity, family members were coached to give different versions of what led to the incident and incendiary statements were made to rouse the anger of Dalits over safety of their women under Yogi and coax the UN and international human rights bodies to ridicule India.
In a few days, the disgusting drama around this incident will all be over. Yogi's baiters will be excited that they succeeded in denting his popularity among voters, particularly Dalits. Journalists and social activists will pat themselves for hogging limelight for months and thus sustaining their employability. Family members of the girl will be happy for having allegedly collected huge funds, ostensibly to fight the case in courts.
What a pity! Instead of rooting out this curse, we are happy reacting to ensure that we gain something out of it. The pundits as usual have offered the same old suggestions - induct more CCTV cameras, ensure better policing and quick and deterrent convictions, draw up more stringent laws and guidelines, make women dress decently and not step out of the house, change the governments etc. These measures cannot prevent or reduce the number of such crimes. The remedy lies only in the change of our social behaviour towards women which will happen not with better upbringing, education or economic empowerment but with civilisational maturity which takes years to grow.
(Amar Bhushan is a former special secretary, Research and Analysis Wing)