The Hathras atrocity: Low 
politics already under way

All those claims about being strong on law and order sound hollow, given the harrowing tales of rapes and molestations in the State. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath needs to appreciate that allowing the police carte blanche to eliminate alleged criminal dons and other habitual law-breakers in fake encounters is not the same as good and responsive policing. The police fails in its primary task if ordinary people, particularly vulnerable sections, notably women, feel unsafe and threatened.

The horrendous rape and murder of the 19-year-old Dalit girl from Hathras yet again serves as a grim reminder of the deep inequalities and injustices prevalent in the society. That the alleged perpetrators were men from a Thakur family, the caste the CM belongs to, lends the crime a sharper edge, especially in the backdrop of increasing reports how this dominant caste now rules the roast, just as some years ago, under the Samajwadi Party governments, Yadavs had called the shots. It is, therefore, all the more important that UP Police apprehend the culprits and bring them to justice at the earliest possible. UP Police has to redeem itself.

Caste and communal prejudices should not come in the way of enforcing law and order. In the Hathras case, it is important to inquire into the complaint of the victim’s mother that despite her repeated pleas, no action was taken against her daughter’s tormentors who had so mercilessly violated her that her spine was broken. That the police performed her last rites in the dead of night without even allowing the family at the cremation site could not have been done without the prior sanction of political bosses.

The fear that the Opposition parties would seek to milk the soul-shattering tragedy of the poor Dalit family for partisan political ends may not be unwarranted, given how vulture-like some politicians desperate for relevance were already trying to swoop down on her village under the glare of obliging news television cameras. But who can blame them when the state police fail to provide basic policing?

The faith of ordinary citizens in the police force everywhere is low, but in the Hindi hinterland it is virtually non-existent. Caste and feudal hierarchies still dominate the administration of law and order and even local governments. It does not help that the representation of vulnerable caste groups in the police and civil services continues to be low, especially in proportion to the large share they command in the population.

The lag may be a function of other age-old anomalies but the corrective measures in the last 70 years to usher an egalitarian order have clearly failed to impart a sense of security to the people of lower castes and other underprivileged groups not only in UP but throughout the country. The Hathras outrage is a challenge for the saffron-robed chief minister. He has set up a Special Investigation Team under a senior official which is supposed to submit its report in three days. Strict action should follow to send out a message that all women, including Dalit women, have nothing to fear while going about their normal lives. It is a big ask but not impossible to achieve.

Put behind non-issue now

The reaction of the political class to the judgment in the Babri Masjid demolition case is on predictable lines. Most mainstream parties have been rather circumspect in their response, given that the issue involves the religious sensitivities of the majority community. The Communists, increasingly irrelevant even in their own traditional strongholds, have been critical of the CBI Special Judge S K Yadav in acquitting all 32 accused. Asaduddin Owaisi and other Muslim voices and commentators have unhesitatingly criticised the judgment, lamenting the lack of justice for the community.

Given that the case had lingered over 28 years in various courts ought to spur a thought. Admittedly, most court cases meander through the court system for decades before reaching some sort of fruition. But the Babri demolition case was no ordinary case. Why successive Congress and other non-BJP governments at the Centre and in UP failed to fast-track the case is a question which holds an answer for the critics of Special Judge Yadav’s verdict.

Right from the word go, no one in the ruling political class was keen on justice in the demolition case for fear of alienating the Hindus. Period. The dismissal of the BJP governments in the states following the demolition on December 6,1992, was considered as adequate punishment. Indeed, the history of the masjid-mandir dispute all through the long decades it lasted was informed by an inherent reluctance of successive ruling parties not to hurt the sentiments of the majority community. They allowed it to fester until L K Advani picked up the baton and tried to resolve it in favour of the Hindus. Eventually, he succeeded, while those who wavered in their self-avowed faith in secularism sat on the fence.

Every Prime Minister in independent India lacked the courage to grapple frontally with the issue, allowing it to become a defining moment in our constitutional system for the inter-communal relations. While secularists sat on their haunches, not appreciating the ticking time-bomb, the Sangh Parivar most audaciously walked away with the gains, finally resolving it as per its wishes. Now, accepting the verdict appears the most sensible course. Let us move on, instead of reopening the wounds of a highly emotive and divisible issue yet again.

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