Updated: October 3, 2020 8:03:08 am
What makes a powerful government so insecure that it must build a wall of policemen to barricade from public view — and cut off access to — a village in which a traumatised Dalit family grieves the death of a 19-year-old daughter brutalised by upper caste men? That question is answered in the heavy-handedness of the Uttar Pradesh government of Yogi Adityanath as it clumsily tries to brush, under countless carpets, its callousness and ineptitude. The crime in Hathras was heinous. But what has followed in its wake, the hurried cremation by the police in the dark, the denial of the family’s right to perform the last rites, followed by boorish police action to prevent anyone, including Opposition leaders of the Congress and TMC, from reaching the young woman’s family, has added up to a sordid spectacle that should deeply embarrass the Yogi Adityanath regime in UP. Reassuringly, the court has stepped in to restore a semblance of civility, uphold the law. Taking suo motu cognisance of incidents that have “shocked our conscience”, and calling it a matter of “immense public importance and public interest”, the Allahabad High Court has promised to look into allegations of “violation of the basic human and fundamental rights not only of the deceased victim but also of her family members”.
It remains to be seen if the court’s rightful outrage, and mounting public indignation, are successful in making a dent in a wider culture of impunity that appears to be deepening in UP. The police’s grave missteps in Hathras have been preceded by a series of warning signals. The number of encounters grows in the state — 115 at last count — even as there is no action against any policeman for the extrajudicial killings. They receive political sanction, in fact, from the ruling party. Two police officials have been chargesheeted in the Vikas Dubey case — featuring the gangster in whose rise and death the police evidently played a dubious role. Three police officials stand chargesheeted by the CBI in the Unnao rape case of 2017. The lines between those whose responsibility it is to uphold the law and those who break it have been blurring dangerously in UP. Here, the police routinely invites allegations of conducting itself as an arm of the ruling party, not the state. And of standing with the powerful and targeting the vulnerable who most need protection of the law — those who belong to a lower caste or class, a minority religion, or take a dissenting political position.
The Hathras case is a test for the UP Police, and also for the Yogi Adityanath government that it reports to. All of the government’s determined efforts to project and promote UP as a well governed state will amount to naught if it is unable to send out a simple message — that it is fully committed to upholding the law and bringing to book those who think they can brutalise a woman and get away with it.
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