While the entire nation was outraged over the gangrape and hanging of two Dalit sisters in the Katra Sadatganj village of Badaun district in Uttar Pradesh, there are still some pertinent questions about the case that have not been answered convincingly.
First, one of the most brutal and bizarre aspects of the case was that the girls were hanged from a mango tree 500m from their house after they were raped. The tree was visible from the house of the main accused, Pappu Yadav, and that of his brothers, Avadhesh and Urvesh. The post-mortem report confirms that they were alive when hanged. Clearly, it would have required the effort of 12 or more people. Until now, only five people, including the three Yadav brothers and two policemen namely Sarvesh Yadav and Chatrapal Singh, have been arrested.
Seeing that the perpetrators could have disposed their bodies in the river Ganga that flows nearby or adjoining forests indicates that it was a clear message to the Dalits. It was not merely a crime driven by lust but a political statement by the winnable Yadav residents of the village that any challenge to their supremacy by the lower caste Dalits would invite harsh punishment.
They were confident that law enforcement agencies would not heed the cries of the victims’ families for help after their forcible abduction. The fact that the police did not register a case against the accused under the Scheduled Caste and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities Act) shows police bias in favour of the accused even after the case came into the limelight.
This is not the first case with inefficient police response and investigation of rape by the Uttar Pradesh police. According to recent media reports, a woman who was gangraped by four men during the Muzaffarnagar riots not only continues to fight for justice eight months later but is also facing threats and pressure to withdraw her complaint—from policemen, no less.
Appalled by the Badaun incident, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has demanded “urgent action”. Other world leaders have also expressed their shock, reflecting on poor record of laws for protection of women in India.
UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav may be right in pointing out that the menace is not confined to his state but is equally virulent in other states too, but the reaction of his government and the statements of his father and SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav to the issue show that those who rule India’s most populous state are not even conscious that the incident highlights the failure of the state machinery to prevent crimes against women.
Similar administrative failures have been detected in other parts of the country. Such an attitude is encouraged by inappropriate comments typified by Mulayam’s “boys will be boys” approach to dilute implementation of anti-rape laws. The rub is that Mulayam is not alone to harbour such a mindset. This has been brought to fore by the recent statement of senior BJP minister Babu Lal Gaur, tacitly endorsing Mulayam’s attitude. Quite a few state police chiefs and heads of political executive have aired similar views, some even imposing dress code on young girls.
It is true that crimes against women can’t be curbed by law alone and a multi-pronged strategy is required. Despite its imperfections, however, law enforcement remains one of the most potent weapons in the armoury of the state. Instead of rushing to the victims’ families for a photo-op, political leaders will do well to build a consensus that such crimes against women should be dealt with expeditiously and sternly.
State government must also issue clear directions to the law enforcement agencies that any laxity in handling such cases would not be tolerated. Unless the upper echelons of India’s political and administrative executive ensure better enforcement of laws for women’s protection, it is unlikely to have a deterring effect on those who perpetrate such crimes.