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Crime Matters, not Religion

An ill wind is blowing, which has got right thinking citizens hitting the streets in spontaneous protest across the country. There has been an outpouring of public anguish over the horrendous rapes at Kathua in Jammu and Unnao in Uttar Pradesh, though States as far apart as Gujarat and Assam too have suffered similar incidents lately. The Kathua incident is particularly chilling, for it shows clearly that a mindset is growing in this country to deliberately use rape as a weapon to target and terrorise a community, the sort of tactics the ISIS is known to advertise. The victim was an eight-year old girl belonging to the nomadic Bakarwal community, who are Sunni Muslims by faith. Seeking to drive out members of this community en masse from Kathua district, the caretaker of a village temple, who happens to be a retired revenue official, allegedly hatched the plot to get the child abducted last January. What followed was diabolical to the extreme, with the victim kept sedated and without food for a week in the temple as the conspirator’s nephew, son and even a cop taking turns to torture, rape and then bludgeon her to death. It speaks volumes that the country has come to know of this ghastly incident over two months after it occurred, such was the local police station’s effort to destroy evidence and hush it up. When the news did break, people across the country were treated to the sight of lawyers in Jammu agitating in support of the accused; the two BJP MLAs who joined their protest have since been made to resign by the embarrassed party leadership. Incensed at lawyers obstructing the judicial process, the Supreme Court had to issue a sharp rebuke to the Jammu and Kathua Bar associations. While the J&K government has completed preliminary investigations and prepared the chargesheet, it has thought it expedient to appoint two Sikh public prosecutors so as to avoid more Hindu-Muslim polarisation once the trial begins. Sadly, this is the ugly reality in J&K and in many other parts of the country now, where a victim’s religion has begun to matter. The Kathua incident is a vicious crime perpetrated on a child, a horrific abuse of human rights. The guilty need to be handed exemplary punishment — considering the stringent laws the country has armed itself with to penalise rape. 

But laws are one thing, their enforcement another. The political will must be there to administer rule of law without fear or favour. The Unnao rape incident has not only exposed the feudal, bahubali setup that operates with impunity in UP and controls its politics, it has also blown sky high the Yogi Adityanath government’s claim of re-establishing law & order after the “Samajwadi Party’s jungle-raj”. The 17-year-old rape survivor — allegedly subjected to the ordeal last year by Bangarmau MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar who she had visited in connection with a job — had to demand justice outside the UP CM’s residence on April 8 last. Going public with her humiliation at the hands of the police, the girl threatened self-immolation. While the Adityanath regime put the ball in the Centre’s court because Sengar happens to be a four-term BJP MLA, it so happened that the girl’s father was beaten to death in police custody on April 9, allegedly by the MLA’s brother with other goons. It turns out that the police, who had consistently refused to register the girl’s complaint for nearly a year, had acted with alacrity to jail the girl’s father under the Arms Act after her family moved court on February this year seeking to include the MLA’s name in the rape case. Finally it took the Allahabad High Court (taking cognisance of the case on its own) to come down heavily on the UP government for not taking timely action when the girl had sent her complaint to the CM’s office last August itself — ‘for which reason she had to lose her father’ immediately after she protested in front of the CM’s residence this April. 
Lambasting the UP Advocate General for his plea that the accused MLA could not be arrested “unless the investigation officer found sufficient evidence to establish the charges levelled against him”, the High Court noted how the doctor failed to examine the girl and the circle officer concerned refused to register the crime even after the CM’s office forwarded her complaint to him. It was only after the High Court’s strong order for the MLA’s arrest that the CBI took him into custody, putting both the Central and UP governments on the backfoot. Meanwhile, Gujarat has been on the boil over the rape and murder of a child at Surat, while a BJP leader has questioned why the rape and burning to death of a 12-year-old girl in Assam (at Batadrava) did not get the same kind of coverage in national media. While the Batadrava incident was certainly as grisly, it was unbecoming of certain Members in the Assembly raising the issue of religious identity of the rapists. Whether of victims or of perpetrators, their religion is beside the point. Rather, their religion is being raked up to cynically confound the issue. Despite all the big talk about governance, the real issue is failure to ensure that everyone is equal before law and no one is above it. This failure, in turn, has led to the country being saddled with a conviction rate of just 5 per cent. Crime investigation is failing big time, which needs to be dealt with before we put all blame on overburdened courts.

About the author

Ankur Kalita