We're Live Bangla Monday, March 27, 2023

Impunity, thy name is Uttar Pradesh


A young girl died on September 29, 2020, at Safdarjung Hospital, New Delhi. In her statement given on September 22 to a magistrate, the girl had said she was assaulted and raped on September 14, and named four men belonging to her village in district Hathras, Uttar Pradesh. When she died, the police hurriedly took the body to the village and cremated it at about 2.30 am on September 30.

The girl belonged to a poor Dalit family. Relatives of the four men who were arrested described the family as neechi kaum (low life) “whom they won’t touch with a barge pole”. There are thousands of such Hathras villages in India. These villages have a few Dalit families; the Dalits own little or no land, usually live in a segregated habitation, do low-status and low-paid jobs, and are dependent on the other dominant caste groups. The victim’s father owns two buffaloes and two bighas of land, and works as a part-time sanitation worker in a neighbouring school.

Emboldened by great social reformers like Mahatma Phule, ‘Periyar’ E V Ramasamy, Babasaheb Ambedkar and others, Dalits have politically organised themselves in a few states; but their status is only slightly better.

A rampant crime

Rape is a widely prevalent crime in India. According to data maintained by the NCRB, there were 32,033 incidents of rape against women (excluding POCSO cases) in 2019, of which 3,065 were in Uttar Pradesh. Many cases of rape are registered as crimes, investigated and tried. Given a conviction rate of about 28 per cent, many accused are convicted. There is a buzz for a few days after the crime, but it soon dies down. Some cases become ‘events’; the Hathras case is one for good reasons.

Pandemic infects all

The Hathras case is an example where everyone from the SHO of Chandpa Police Station to the district superintendent of police (SP) to the Principal, Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College and Hospital, Aligarh to the district magistrate (DM) to the ranking police officer in charge of law and order (ADGP) to the chief minister of the state (CM) seems to have been infected by a virus called Impunity. It is as if a pandemic has swept across the officialdom in UP. Consider the words and actions of the key players:

  • The SHO saw the condition of the victim, heard her mother and brother, registered a case of assault and attempt to murder, and referred the victim to a hospital in Aligarh, but did not ask for a medical examination. He did not even suspect sexual assault.
  • The SP explained the failure to conduct a medical examination within 72 hours, as required under the instructions, with the words “There are some systemic gaps for which we all need to work together”.
  • The Principal, Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College, admitted that the hospital did not conduct a forensic examination because, “as she and her mother didn’t say anything about sexual assault, we didn’t examine her”.
  • The district magistrate (Collector) along with the SP took the decision to cremate the body in the night without the family present. The SP said, “I have been told it is not unusual to conduct last rites during the night in this belt…..The point is that there is no Hindu way.”
  • The DM was captured on video telling the family that the media will be gone in a day or two but “only we will be here with you”. The brother of the victim said the DM also asked the family if they would get compensation if the girl had died out of coronavirus.
  • The ADGP (Law & Order) of the state asserted that the victim had not been raped because, according to the forensic report, there were no traces of semen and the tears on the vagina were old and had healed. (He should read Section 375, IPC, and the law on the subject.)
  • The officialdom of Uttar Pradesh locked down the village, imposed a ban under Section 144 of the CrPC on the roads to district Hathras, and barred the entry of the media and political representatives.
  • The UP government sought a CBI inquiry intending to replace the SIT. At the same time, diabolically and vengefully, the UP Police registered FIRs against “unknown persons” for conspiracy, instigating caste conflict and sedition. Recently, a journalist was arrested and charged.

Why injustice prevails

In a state where the administration is tightly controlled by the Chief Minister, Shri Adityanath, is it possible that each of the above actions (with the exception of the SHO’s) was not within the knowledge of the CM at that time or soon thereafter?

The assault was on September 14; the first statement of the CM was on September 30 after he had constituted an SIT. Meanwhile, the key players continued to strut on the stage as though nothing untoward had occurred.

Every injustice owes its origin to the sense of impunity that is entrenched in the system: my power is my sword; my epaulette above my breast pocket (IAS, IPS, Dr) is my shield; my caste folk will fight for me; my government and the ruling party will not admit any lapse or complicity, and so on. Governments tolerate the sense of impunity as long as officialdom does not defy the writ of the government.

Now you know why injustice prevails: impunity triumphs over justice.