Two revolting crimes have laid to rest all the claims of civilisational superiority that have become a leitmotif of political rhetoric. Not because the revenge rape and slaying of an eight-year-old nomad girl in Kathua, or the systematic exploitation of an 18-year-old woman in Unnao, and the fatal beating of her father, are extraordinary events. To be human is, among other things, to dream up horrific things to do to other humans. What sets these vile crimes beyond the pale is a common thread. In both cases, elements of the establishment — political interests, the bureaucracy, the police or lawyers — have sought to protect the aggressor. The Kathua case is particularly flagrant. A violent crime against a child was indifferently pursued by the police, until the aggrieved Bakharwal community began to protest. The influential community of lawyers has sought to prevent the filing of a chargesheet. And Hindu political interests in the state are trying to score by forging a communal instrument out of a sordid crime.
The matter in Unnao is on more expected lines. Impunity for a ruling party MLA is not really surprising in a dispensation which is focused on the personality of the muscular chief minister rather than reliable systems, and which thinks that promoting encounters is a good way to tackle the crime rate while also cutting down on the paperwork. But the manner in which the district administration was used to restrain the victim is certainly extraordinary. And the assault on her father by the perpetrator’s family is impunity at its most audacious. It is also surprising that the father was in judicial custody when he should have been hospitalised instead.
In both cases, administrations and the elites close to them seemed to be more than willing to move against inconvenient victims, or to go out of their way to help the perpetrators. Never before have government officials and political interests colluded to rally in support of rapists. All the goodwill earned by the BJP’s beti bachao campaign stands annulled by the response to these two crimes, one characterised by political impunity, the other by a readiness to communalise what is merely an unspeakable crime, in which a small girl was drugged, raped and killed. More significantly, India’s standing among the leading democracies is threatened, if the scales are weighed so heavily against victims of rape. The impression that Establishment impunity is out of control is pernicious, and these multiple fallouts may be contained only if the BJP, which has an overwhelming mandate in Uttar Pradesh and is a partner in Mehbooba Mufti’s government in Jammu and Kashmir, pushes for a proper investigation in UP and restrains communal lobbies in J&K.