Upper caste crime against Dalits is a part of popular culture in Uttar Pradesh. That is why the four Thakurs who attacked a 19-year-old woman in Hathras did not stop with raping her. They dragged her around, strangulated her with her dupatta and roughed her up violently enough to break her spinal cord, paralysing her. Then they cut her tongue. The police abused the family when they complained. The mutilated girl died in hospital and the authorities conspired to cremate her body at 2 a.m. without the knowledge of the family. Then the Thakurs and Brahmins joined hands and said the Dalit woman was killed by her own family, that they were blaming upper castes to get money from them.
The Allahabad High Court took suo motu cognizance of the horror, saying it “shocked our conscience”. The Agra police had started out by calling it “fake news”. A senior police officer cited the forensic report and said there was no rape. This was in the face of what was recorded by Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College and Hospital in Aligarh where the woman was admitted. The record said there was use of force and “complete penetration”.
The “no rape” idea apparently was the brainwave of public relations professionals. A PR firm run by Prisica Rodrigues in Mumbai had been engaged by the Uttar Pradesh government to handle the case. That Adityanath needed a PR agency to argue for him told its own tale. The irony was neatly summed up by Sankarshan Thakur, the bright young journalist from Patna. As he put it: “When news of the [Hathras] savagery breaks, district authorities damn it as ‘fake news’. But the girl survives the multiple assaults and the slur of official lies. She struggles for life a fortnight, shifted from hospital to hospital, and eventually dies in Delhi. She can no longer be dismissed as ‘fake news’, she has become a dead body.”
It may be that the authorities in state capitals and Delhi have become immune to atrocities by the upper castes and do not care about the sufferings of the under-privileged. There is not even a hint anywhere that our Prime Minister is aware of the extent of the horror. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) has official figures to prove the immensity of what is a national scandal. In 2019, the Bureau says, a rape occurred in India every 16 minutes; a woman got trafficked every four hours; an acid attack against a woman took place every 2.3 days, a dowry death happened every hour and a gangrape-murder every day.
The world takes note of these things. Which is natural because our Prime Minister has been keen on the world appreciating the greatness of India. Remember the great hullabaloo, the Howdi Modi show in Houston? So, influential news disseminators like the BBC provide extensive coverage to Hathras and similar developments. It was not off the mark when it reported that Dalit women “continue to be stalked, abused, molested, raped and murdered with impunity”.
The good news, however limited, is that the yearning for social transformation has become a fact of life in India in recent years. Contemporary slogans like “Dalit Lives Matter” have changed the ground situation. But it won’t be easy. When a young man named Kabira bought an autorickshaw and started a new career in his home state of Gujarat, he was beaten up. His parents were scavengers while most autorickshaws were run by upper caste men. Kabira left the village, later sold off his autorickshaw and started work as a cleaner in a pharmaceutical factory. Gujarat’s dignity was restored.
There is a philosophy here and if only people accept that philosophy, all will be well. It was best articulated by an Uttar Pradesh MLA of the BJP, Surendra Singh. He said: “Incidents of rape will cease if parents instill sanskar and good values in their daughters.” Please note, sons can have any sanskar they like. It is only daughters’ sanskar that parents should take care of.
Actually, this man’s mentality and the ideas he expresses show how deep-rooted is the problem. It boils down to a matter of culture. Values that are considered fair and honourable do not come naturally to all people. Uttar Pradesh’s hardcore Hindi belt has never been known as fair and honourable. And men like Adityanath are doing nothing to make things better. In fact, they make things worse. Rejecting a contemporary outlook, the Adityanath kind of sectarian leadership negatively impacts not only Uttar Pradesh but India as a whole. A pity.