The overwhelming feeling that comes to mind about the manner in which the Uttar Pradesh administration has handled the alleged rape of a Dalit girl by her upper-caste neighbours in Hathras, and the way the ruling party has responded to the unfolding sordid events, is like that of an occupation force that is at war with the people of India. Long lost are ideas of decency, fairness and at least the modicum of, at least the pretence of, adhering to the rule book and norms that are accepted and understood by all sides in a nation that got its freedom way back in 1947. We are in a different territory here. This is a new kind of administrative species, not exactly the British but in some cases worse, that invents its own rules, that can be trusted to hit at the victims and perpetuate an atmosphere of fear and control to silence any voice that asks a question.
This is the continuing slide in the governance structure of the nation and a continued decimation, indeed eradiation, of the very idea of democracy from a nation that we thought remained the lone hope of democracy in the developing world. If there was a democracy meter, we have long fallen below the place we were in during the Emergency. If there was a governance meter, we have long fallen below some of the nations that are known as banana republics.
The facts of the Hathras case are too horrific to recount. We must appreciate that the unpardonable acts of the police of Uttar Pradesh come from a department that is under the direct command of the state home minister, who is also the state’s saffron-clad Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath. This is a chief minister who told a television channel soon after the rituals and the formal launch of the construction of the temple at Ayodhya: “My duty is to provide security to the 24-crore people of the state. It is my duty and my religion. And my religion says that evil should be destroyed and good should be promoted. The government should always be ready to honour good samaritans and to destroy the evil elements of the society.” He clearly likes to take charge and direct operations.
It is the same television channel that has now been compelled to ask the government how the telephone conversation of its journalist covering the Hathras case was tapped into and then also leaked, in an attempt to malign and undermine the heroic efforts of the journalist in covering the case against all odds.
What this reveals is the preponderance of illegal activity that is being run straight and directly from important centres of power in India, where sans any legal framework, the people in power are taking arbitrary decisions to arm themselves to fight political battles, to malign anyone standing up to their positions and spreading hatred and fear among the ordinary citizens of India.
This is the same telltale signature of the crime that we can see in part in the case of Sushant Singh Rajput, where WhatsApp conversations somehow leaked to select channels and every attempt was made to sell a particular version of a story by political operators who often twisted what actually happened in the case. It is also not difficult to contrast the ruling dispensation’s handling of the Rajput case, still a suicide as a new report indicates, with the Hathras case, which clearly must be investigated under the prevailing law as a case of rape and murder.
The nation continues to suffer from horrific crimes against the weak, the downtrodden, the backward and the Dalits. As it is, UP leads the nation in crime, though the numbers by themselves do not tell us the full story. This takes an uglier turn when we have a government that acts like in a Hollywood Western, gun on the hip, ready to shoot and even take pride in that crime. The number of encounters seen in Uttar Pradesh is a cause for alarm. An independent investigation into those who were targeted, killed and reportedly their houses demolished, equally illegally, will tell us a very different story from what the government might wish us to believe.
In fact, this is precisely what Mayawati has noted, as she asked for the sacking of Yogi Adityanath. It is beyond any doubt that the illegal killings we see in UP are usually against the weakest – and they would include Muslims, the downtrodden and the Dalits. As it is, sections of these have come under pressure because of the vigilantism against those who were seen as trading in beef, a campaign that has a distinct communal and casteist colour.
How can the weaker communities feel safe under such a regime? How is it ever possible for a Yogi Adityanath to control crime when the big picture itself is of lawlessness by the state? The answer, of course, is even more lawlessness in a downward spiral that will mean more violence, more friction, more deaths in the name of fighting “evil”. Indications are already there.
Consider the culture that allows the general secretary of the BJP, an otherwise little-known politician named Kailash Vijayvargiya, saying this: “Vehicles can overturn anytime in Yogi Adityanath’s state”. He was of course referring to the killing of the gangster Vikas Dubey in July at the hands of the UP police in an encounter that raises many questions. The brazenness of that incident, and the citing of that brazenness to set the stage for more crime, tells us about the depths we have fallen to.
When it comes to handling the administrative machinery of the state, any state, there is only one rule, one law and one method and that is called due process. Anything that violates due process promotes crime. Anything that follows due process holds the administration to account for its actions. The police would never dare cremate the body of a rape victim, her family locked into their home, not able to stand by and perform the last rites, a tortured victim on the pyre like a discarded, unwanted body, if it is given a clear message that the rule of the law is to be followed, that due process matters and that any violation will mean that they will have hell to pay. Such liberties are only taken when the team feels it can get away and maybe even get rewarded by pleasing one or the other boss. We must act against the police on the ground. But we must hold the leadership to account.
What has happened in Hathras is a terrible and ugly reminder of the wages we will have to pay when we have a lawless administration running riot on its “evil”- cleansing drive. The Hathras case is only the latest and a cruel reminder to the people of India about where this “evil” actually resides.
The writer is a journalist and faculty member at SPJIMR
The Billion Press