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Wednesday, June 12, 2024

A Shaheen Bagh encore was neutralized at Hathras

Bharat’s social fault lines are more deeply entrenched than often imagined. Hathras like killings will therefore keep happening till stronger laws allowing for summary trials and swift sentences are legislated regardless of caste, creed, or religion, and implemented with impunity. This is virtually impossible in a slack and corrupt judicial system easily manipulated by political interests. Which is why all the huffing and puffing by civil society and others over bringing the guilty to book arouses more contempt than anger.

The basic question on whether a gangrape occurred at Hathras (those in the know say no regardless of the dying declaration) on September 14 became secondary the moment the Congress, communists, Maoists, and the thuggish Bhim Army acting in concert with internal enemies like the Popular Front of India (PFI) sniffed a chance to create a Shaheen Bagh like spectacle. A tissue of lies was unleashed in the national media by anti-Modi TV channels like India Today to besmirch the state government’s reputation and that of their superiors in Delhi.

The leaked audio recording of an overzealous India Today reporter badgering the victim’s brother to record a video statement of the father saying he was under pressure from the district administration is indicative of the extent even the mainstream English media can stoop to spread a fake narrative. The allegation that the police had the corpse cremated in the still of night on September 29-30 without the presence of kin was also found to be false. The larger conspiracy behind the tamasha was the usual: stoke caste riots by taking advantage of the anti-upper caste passions resulting from the death of a 19-year-old Dalit girl.

The political games began a week after the incident. The original FIR mentioned attempts by the alleged accused (just one) to strangulate her. Scores of mobile calls attested that they were in a relationship. Neither caste nor rape was at issue till a villainous local Congress leader of the Dalit community, a Rahul Gandhi flunkey named Shyoraj Jivan Valmiki, met the victim at an Aligarh hospital where she had been shifted. Sexual assault was added to the list of charges at his behest. Since the forensic report did not suggest rape, the findings and other surrounding facts needed to be overturned to establish sexual abuse. Three more names were promptly plugged on as alleged co-partners in crime to substantiate the incidence of not just rape but gangrape. Though chief minister Yogi Adityanath took the wind out of the Opposition’s sails by calling for a Supreme Court monitored CBI probe and ordering an inquiry by a Special Investigation Team (SIT), the larger conspiracy was clear.

A sting operation conducted by Republic TV on Shyoraj Jivan Valmiki gave the game away. A bloody plot was being stitched. The Dalit leader gave the low down on how the violence would be executed. To quote: “…national leaders will come. PL Punia can come. Mukul Wasnik can come. We can call anybody from Congress. From the Samajwadi Party we can get Akhilesh Yadav. Rahul will come when bullets are fired. Two people should die from each side. A leader should die or some common man should die…”.

A minimum number of deaths, Shyoraj explained, was necessary to cause a large-scale caste conflagration. “Riots are unstoppable. You can attack us in villages because there are two to four houses. You can gherao us. Many will be slaughtered, many killed. But we have large numbers in the city.”

The role of the victim’s family came under a cloud after they began making contradictory statements to the media. The presence of a woman with supposedly Maoist connections posing as bhabhi (sister-in-law) of the family deepened the broader political conspiracy. Inquiries revealed that she was an assistant professor (name: Rajkumari Bansal) with a Jabalpur-based medical college. She had gone to Hathras of her own accord to support the victim’s family and lived with them for several days after the strangulation incident was first reported.

The doctor denied her Maoist links or hiding her identity from the police. Call records of conversations between the doctor and the real sister-in-law, however, pointed to a family complicity. Some suspect the doctor was acting in tandem with the Bhim Army which had posted 2-3 of its goons at the victim’s home to feed the media with false stories. When Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra visited Hathras, it is the doctor who briefed her first. Suspicions of her Maoist links stem from her manner of operation. Not many professional doctors, regardless of how strongly they feel about social injustices, would take leave from their jobs to stay in a village with a Dalit family, and willingly pose as bhabhi to outsiders. This is exactly how urban Naxals function.

Selective and manufactured outrage is the main reason why incidents like Hathras arouse cynicism. The focus is not on looking for antidotes, solutions, or even haul the real perpetrators over the coals, be they rapists or murderers. Making political capital is the principal motive. There was none to be made at Balrampur (Gonda) where no question mark hung over the gangrape of a 22-year-old Dalit woman on the same day the Hathras victim succumbed to her injuries. But the Congress’ Bunty-Babli team did not deign to visit her kin. The Bhim Army did not post their scums at the victim home because no TV channel had the slightest interest in spinning multiple yarns on the incident. Why, because the rapists were two Muslims whom the New York Times referred to as “men” as opposed to the accused “upper castes” in the Hathras tragedy. Both cases involved Dalit women.

Again, there was no hand wringing or shock over the brutal killing of an 18-year-old Hindu boy in Delhi on October 9 by the brothers (and four others) of a Muslim girl he was in love with. The boy was badly pummelled in the abdominal region. He died in hospital. The stabbing to death of a 23-year-old Delhi based photographer Ankit Saxena in February 2018 by the father, uncle, and brother of the Muslim girl he was in a relationship with still arouses strong emotions. No shocks were registered in the compromised Lutyens media.

Brutal crimes must be dealt with the same alacrity and concern. Murders and killings cannot be weighed on different scales. Why should the murder of an upper caste or OBC Hindu boy or girl be considered less horrendous than the rape/hacking of a Dalit woman or man or a Muslim of either sex? The surround sound around rape and caste violence in the secular media has followed a time-tested pattern.

If the victim belongs to the Dalit community, blame it on ‘Brahmin hegemony’ and oppressive upper caste domination. Should he/she hail from another caste, the response depends on the color of the state’s ruling regime. If it is saffron, attack communal forces, worsening law and order, otherwise ignore. If it is Muslim, shout from the rooftops that minority rights are under threat, abuse Modi, RSS etc., petition the United Nations, sponsor edit page articles in liberal bastions like New York Times, Washington Post, and Guardian bad mouthing Hindu nationalists and the country’s descent into a majoritarian hellhole.

Harsh laws akin to anti-terror measures need to be enacted to prevent violation of a woman’s body. Rapists need to be denied access to basic human rights. Novelist Ashwin Sanghi put it best in his brilliant TOI article dated October 8: Let India never forget the vow of Krishna to Draupadi when she narrated her humiliation at the hands of the Kauravas to him. “The heavens may tumble; the mountains may be razed; the oceans may dry like a corpse’s bones; earth herself may rupture, but I shall keep my oath to you. To avenge the crime against you, there will be a war to end all wars.”

Ensuring justice for Dalits, be they victims of rape or otherwise, is just one of the many challenges confronting us. It is the dangerous Break Bharat conspiracies being hatched under the umbrella of incidents like Hathras that need as much if not greater attention.

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Sudhir Kumar Singh
Sudhir Kumar Singh
Sudhir Kumar Singh is an independent journalist who has worked in senior editorial positions in the Times Of India, Asian Age, Pioneer, and the Statesman. Also a sometime stage and film actor who has worked with iconic directors like Satyajit Ray and Tapan Sinha.


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