Five years ago when Nirbhaya was brutally raped and thrown out of a moving bus in the national capital, the savagery of the act that led to her death shook the conscience of society. The uproar and anguish seems to have settled down as many more heart-rending tales of rape victims emerged in the following months. The latest in the long line of cases are the ones in Kathua to Unnao. It is not the crimes alone that have been the cause of distress. The muddled response from the authorities points to confusion over what to do. The delay in acting quickly on the complaints of rape in both cases has exposed the authorities to the charge of attempted cover-up.
When the crime branch of Jammu and Kashmir police went to file the charge sheet in the rape and murder case of an eight-year-old Muslim Bakarwal girl, the bar association of Kathua held a protest in defence of the accused. For six hours, the police could not file the charge sheet because of the unruly behaviour of the lawyers who ironically were carrying the national tricolour. To make matters worse, the probe into the incident has not been without political interference with BJP ministers and MLAs in the state government coming out openly in defence of the accused – support for whom was galvanised through a local Hindu outfit giving communal colour to the crime. The charge sheet in the case gives gory details of the atrocities committed on a child before she was killed by the accused.
The story is the same in Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao where a Dalit woman accused BJP MLA Kuldip Singh Sengar of raping her. Instead of taking action against the ruling party member, the police colluded in the harassment of the victim and her family. The victim tried to commit suicide outside chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s residence and days later her father was mercilessly beaten by the MLA’s relatives and associates – his brother has now been arrested – leading to his death in judicial custody. Adding insult to injury Sengar was quoted as calling the victim and her family “nimn star ke log” (people belonging to lower strata) as he brazenly defended himself.
The victim’s agony is far from over as she now fears for the life of her uncle. The response of the Uttar Pradesh administration has been appalling. There is enough evidence on the ground of how the police have gone out of the way to help the influential MLA. For instance, instead of taking action, they are trying to conduct an inquiry into the case. Even though the police have stated that the inquiry will get to the bottom of the case, it could be construed as an attempt to take the heat off the case. There appears to be important for the state government since Sengar is a ruling party MLA.
If the case in Kathua accentuates communal divide, the Unnao incident exposed the schism in the society on caste lines. The attitude of the state government and ruling party in both cases, calls into question the purport of the centre’s campaign for the girl child and women’s rights. Neither the central government nor the ruling party can walk away from the allegation that when matters come close to home, they will stick by their own. In the deadly cocktail of politics surrounding the incidents, the cry for justice appears to have been lost.