A violation of governance

The Uttar Pradesh administration’s handling of the gang rape of a Dalit teenager by upper-caste men in Hathras reflects the most basic shortcomings in governance in general and crimes against women in particular. Had the police and justice system taken the course laid out in administrative manuals, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath would not have had to scramble to manage the fallout. Requesting a Central Bureau of Investigation enquiry into the case was the only sensible decision that the state government has taken so far after a series of reprehensible actions that included hiring a public relations firm to deny the monstrous crime. Suspending five policemen, including a superintendent of police, after the Special Investigation Team submitted its report, may present the impression of a dynamic response from the state government, as does the belated arrest of the accused. But it is a well-established fact that the police and bureaucracy are hostage to political power and upper-caste nexuses in every state, UP being no exception.

So it is inconceivable that the state actors in this tragic story were acting on their own initiative. Several acts of omission and commission at every step of the state administration demand explanation. First, a police report contradicted a conclusion of violent rape by the Aligarh hospital, which had examined the victim within hours of the crime. The police report was based on an examination by the Forensic Science Laboratory and swab samples taken a full eight days later when it is well known that evidence disappears. The police are yet to explain how this squares with the video evidence of the victim’s dying declaration, which is admissible under Indian law, implicating the men in the rape. Second, why was the cremation performed without informing the family? This is unusual by any standard. Third, why were the media and NGOs’ access to the family denied for some days after the victim’s death in a Delhi hospital by a cordon of security personnel? Fourth, why did the district magistrate threaten the family to silence if the investigation was being lawfully conducted?

This case drew a response from Mr Adityanath because Hathras is just 200 km from Delhi and therefore accessible to national politicians and the national and international media. Also, the fact that the Allahabad High Court has chosen to take suo motu cognisance of the case puts his administration under the spotlight in establishing the veracity of its actions. But Mr Adityanath does not seem to be keen to institute the gender sensitisation and institutional reforms that are urgently needed to break the cycle of caste and gender violence in the state he rules. Despite muscular statements about the “assured destruction” of those who “even think of harming mothers and daughters in UP”, he has not acted with similar dynamism on the rape of a Dalit teenager in Balrampur, which is about 700 km from the national capital. No matter how much Mr Adityanath and his party claim that the issue is being politicised, he and his administration cannot escape the strongest censure. How scrupulously his administration follows the court case that follows will be the real test of his sincerity.


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