Hathras murder case shows UP govt's claims about improved safety for women are tenuous
Over the past year, the Uttar Pradesh police's response to a number of brutal crimes has cast serious doubt over its efforts to curb offences against women
In the nearly four years that the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh has been in power, a recurring point of criticism against it has been its handling of crimes against women. Two recent incidents in Aligarh and Hathras have brought the spotlight back on the issue.
In Aligarh, the body of a 16-year-old Dalit girl was found in a field, following which villagers clashed with police and indulged in stone-pelting. In Hathras, a 50-year-old man was shot dead allegedly by an accused out on bail after his arrest in 2018 for molesting the victim's daughter.
In the Aligarh case, even as the girl's body was reportedly found in a semi-nude condition in a field, the police have said that the postmortem report has not indicated any clear evidence of rape. District SSP GA Muniraj has said that in view of the inconclusive evidence, the police has decided to conduct further microbiological tests using vaginal swabs.
The police's eagerness to cite the postmortem report even as the results of the forensic test are awaited is particularly troubling in the context of its response to an alleged sexual assault case in Hathras in September 2020.
Past allegations of violations
Last year, the alleged gangrape and murder of a 19-year-old Dalit girl in Hathras had sparked nationwide outrage. It is worth recalling that much of the public anger over the case was over the alleged delay in registering a case of rape.
The police had also cited a forensic report showing the absence of sperm in the victim's viscera sample to claim that no rape took place. However, crucially, the sample was 11 days old, while government guidelines say that such evidence can be found only up 96 hours after the incident. Even that holds true only if there has been no urination, defecation, bathing or changing of clothes.
The police also organised a hasty cremation of the victim's body in the dead of night against the wishes of her family. Commenting on this aspect, the Allahabad High Court had observed that it was 'prima facie an infringement upon the human rights of the victim and her family.'
In 2018, a rape case of a woman from Unnao grabbed national attention due to the involvement of then BJP MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar. The woman had attempted to immolate herself in front of chief minister Yogi Adityanath's residence protesting against inaction in the case. The following day, the victim's father died in police custody and video clips of him being brutally beaten by Sengar's brother Atul emerged on social media.
In March 2020, a Delhi court sentenced Sengar to 10 years in prison and directed him and his brother to pay Rs 10 lakh each as compensation to the victim's family.
In both cases, while a part of the public outcry was due to the brutal nature of the incidents, protests over the cases were also driven by the response of the law and order machinery to them.
While Uttar Pradesh is often in the news for brutal crimes, especially sexual offences, official figures would suggest that sexual offences against women have declined sharply under the Yogi Adityanath-led government. These figures, however, do not necessarily reflect a better state of law and order, particularly when seen in the context of widespread allegations about the police refusing to file FIRs.
As per NCRB data, registered rape cases (under Section 376 of the IPC) fell from 3,467 in 2014 to 3,065 in 2019 — a decrease of 11.6 percent. There is a marked decrease in reported cases of rape since 2017, which was when the Yogi Adityanath-led government came to power in the state. From 2017 to 2019, rape cases reduced from 4,246 to 3,065 -- a reduction of 27.8 percent.
Similarly, from 2014 to 2016, molestation cases increased from 8,605 to 11,335—a rise of 31.7 percent. However, from 2017 to 2019, molestation cases reduced from 12,607 to 11,988 in 2019 -- a reduction of 4.9 percent.
Curiously, however, crimes under 498A of the IPC (cruelty by husband or relatives of a husband) rose from 10,471 in 2014 to 18,304 in 2019 — an increase of 74.8 percent.
As noted in a Firstpost article from November 2020, it would seem implausible that crimes of rape and molestation reduced sharply in the same period that saw a massive increase in incidents of cruelty against married women by husbands or their relatives.
Further, a recent study by NGO Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) sheds light on the phenomenon of refusal to file cases of sexual assault. The report detailed several alleged violations of law by the police -- including male officers recording the statements of the women, officers discriminating on the basis of caste, and putting pressure on complainants to settle or compromise with the accused. In two cases, police officers allegedly advised the survivors to marry the perpetrators.
With inputs from PTI
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