Age has mellowed me considerably, but I still felt pulsating anger racing through my veins since the macabre story broke about the violent death of a Dalit girl from Hathras in Uttar Pradesh. Despite being dulled into silent acceptance of rampant sexual crimes, including no less than 87 rapes reported in the country a day, Hathras crossed the collective threshold of what we could digest. If the cruelty inflicted on the girl was not enough, what followed her death surely shocked us out of our normalised stupor.
An insensitive state government manned by arrogant babus heaped more indignities on the dead girl—first by hurriedly cremating her in the middle of the night, ignoring desperate pleas from her family. They held the family hostage in their home—barricading the village, preventing both press and politicians from reaching them. In between, officials piled more pressure on the parents, with the district magistrate caught on tape telling them to be cautious about how they conduct themselves.
What transpired in Hathras was revolting, and for once, the nation recoiled in horror. Thanks to tenacious young television reporters who took personal risks to record the travesty of justice, the nationwide outrage that we experienced was perhaps comparable only to what followed the fatal gang rape of Nirbhaya in Delhi in 2012. Stung by the scale of the backlash, the babus retreated hastily and are now seen to be doing all the right things—from removing the police cordon to promising a CBI investigation for fixing responsibility.
But make no mistake: the retreat by those who rule us is only tactical. It’s done to gain reprieve and there is nothing to suggest they have had a permanent change of heart. For that matter, what happened in Hathras was symptomatic of a larger malaise—of administrative impunity fed by unbridled arrogance of those at the helm who consider themselves unaccountable.
Nothing else can explain what we have been seeing, not just in Uttar Pradesh, but elsewhere too in recent times. I am yet to wrap my head around how a senior defence personnel could in a televised press conference weave a story without qualms about a raging exchange of fire that resulted in the death of three ‘terrorists’ in Kashmir, only to be disproved later that they were innocent civilians. Others in similar positions of authority have got away more lightly. Dr Kafeel Khan was thrown into jail for months after a district official booked him under the National Security Act (NSA) for what turned out to be an innocuous speech, but not before the police allegedly beat him black and blue. And gangster Vikash Dubey was ‘liquidated’ after the police stopped journalists from following the convoy and the car carrying him overturned conveniently in the next 10 minutes for executing what betrayed all signs of a staged extra-judicial killing.
Some among our law-keepers have always been lawless, but what sets them apart from their predecessors is the newly acquired degree of brazenness. A largely compromised media, inhibited to a great extent by partisanship and shared cowardice, has been a great enabler. We keep ourselves busy battling for fake causes such as #JusticeforSushantSinghRajput, giving a wide berth to those who have all but derailed a fair and just probe into this year’s Delhi riots.
Amid the injustices that abound, what happened to the Hathras girl is shocking, but not entirely surprising. While we all run the risk of running afoul of our rulers at some point of time, it is the poorest and those at the lowest rung of the perceived social order who are the most vulnerable. In this issue, we turn our gaze on those who have been traditionally weak and historically ignored: Dalit women. Hope they get a voice.