The nation has been shamed and outraged by two very different incidents in the past few days. The Unnao rape case blot is not going to be washed away for many moons to come. The ruling BJP has finally ‘expelled’ the accused, an MLA who represented the party in the Assembly. What can’t be overlooked is that the party had dragged its feet, till the decision of the Supreme Court (SC) left it with no other face-saving option, hoping that the chronic defence of ‘political conspiracy’ hatched by frustrated opponents would suffice to whitewash and exonerate the tainted colleague. Had it not been the brazen disregard for the laws of the land with which attempts were made to browbeat and silence the victim’s family, this design may well have succeeded. The murky details of this case are enough to send shivers down anyone’s spine. If it’s your misfortune to be a resident in the badlands of Uttar Pradesh where moneyed musclemen rule—duly elected to power—God save you, if He can.
The rape survivor’s father who was arrested in a case registered after the gruesome crime against a minor was allegedly badly beaten in custody and died due to the injuries. Her uncle too has been implicated in several cases of heinous crimes. The poor aggrieved girl was constrained to try immolating herself near the CM’s residence before some cognisance of her complaint was taken. Threats to the family and the victim’s lawyer continued. Her distressed appeals mysteriously failed to reach the Chief Justice of India despite widespread media coverage. Now a road ‘accident’ has left her and the defence lawyer critically injured with two of her aunts dead. The ‘accident’ stinks of a conspiracy to high heavens.
The SC has transferred all the related cases to Delhi, ordered a time-bound investigation with instructions to the CBI to keep the apex court informed and for whatever solace it can provide ordered a compensation of Rs 25 lakh to the victim. Let these interim legal remedies not relive us of our responsibility. The pressure should not be off the accused. It is well known that an accused is presumed to be innocent till proved guilty and until the last appeal has been exhausted. But in cases where the rich and powerful— specially politicians and elected members of legislature enjoying statutory privileges—are concerned, such presumption can’t be allowed to be misused as an impenetrable shield. The investigations are routinely interfered with, trials—if the case reaches that stage—are long drawn, witnesses die or dramatically turn hostile. Media attention also shifts to some other more recent outrageous incident. The Kathua rape has already slid much lower down from the headlines and the shocking ‘Nirbhaya’ case is a distant, fading memory. The Conscience of the Nation has become numb due to frequent shocks.
This is not the time to indulge in political partisanship. The issue is the Rule of Law versus Jungle Raj. None of us is safe if predators are allowed to prey unchecked. Specially when cases involve lawmakers. Remember Shahabuddin, the uncrowned king of Siwan who could terminate with extreme prejudice and impunity the promising life of Chandrashekhar, the JNU Students’ Union president? One knows not how many other faceless victims suffered during his reign. Can one say with confidence that the days of terror unleashed by him are over in his realm? Come elections and the residual political clout is calculated carefully by contestants. There are many other ‘mafia dons’ of different hues, from saffron to green and red, who have secured acquittal or continue to abuse bail and parole. In majority of cases where politicians are concerned, criminals escape punishment. What a shame!
It is not only heinous crimes that make us hang down our head in shame it is also the sacrilegious behaviour of persons like Azam Khan in the Lok Sabha. PM Modi may touch the threshold with his forehead as he enters the hallowed precincts of the Temple of Democracy, the MP from Rampur is not inhibited from making scandalous, sexist remarks while addressing the chair. What he said has been expunged from the records and by now he has offered a reluctant and qualified apology but the damage has been done. The honourable lady member who was in Chair when this most disgraceful incident took place has refused to accept the apology of a serial offender. The Speaker in wisdom has decided to move on. With all due respect we wish to submit that this is a case where apology even if unqualified isn’t enough. The arrogant member deserves to be expelled and disqualified. Punishment must always be proportionate to the crime committed. Defending himself, Azam Khan has read a long litany of his qualifications— linguistic proficiency, parliamentary experience etc. None of this washes. He can’t keep playing the minority card all the time.
Former professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University