Unnao, Kathua rape cases: Misdirected outrage won't get justice for victims, need to fix India's broken vote-bank democracy

After a prolonged period of administrative apathy that is as atrocious as crimes committed in Unnao and Kathua, suddenly there is an explosion of outrage. Outrage is a good thing. It focuses light on areas of darkness and brings accountability where there is none. Not when it is misdirected though. Instead of being channeled towards real issues that underlie the heinous crime and cover-up attempts at a village in Uttar Pradesh and a hamlet in Jammu, the outrage around Unnao and Kathua is threatening to fuel old fires of political and communal polarisation.

If the gruesome rape and murder of little ***** and the custodial death of Unnao rape victim's father become touchstones for moral grandstanding among apologists of different hues, we will add to the perversity of the crimes. The discourse should not be allowed to shift from crime and punishment to political posturing or tarring communities/faiths based on the acts of a few.

The criminals who raped, tortured and killed the 8-year-old ***** or those who tried to obstruct justice may be Hindus but they do not represent "Hindu nationalists" or Hindus any more than the terrorists who kill in the name of Islam represent Muslims.

 Unnao, Kathua rape cases: Misdirected outrage wont get justice for victims, need to fix Indias broken vote-bank democracy

File image of Kuldeep Singh Sengar. PTI

If Islamophobia denotes conflation of criminality and faith (even if the criminals themselves seek such an equivalence) motivated by racial or political prejudice, then it shouldn't be any different in this case.

If the motivation behind an outrage is political, the purpose of it is defeated which in this case must be aimed at ensuring justice for ***** and the survivor of rape in Unnao who has just lost her father. An article in Firstpost, for instance, correctly diagnoses "majoritarian interests" as the motive behind the lax administrative response to the horrific crimes, but instead of taking it to logical conclusion remains constricted within the majority-minority debate.

The majority-minority debate is, of course, integral to the issue where the perpetrators are Hindus and the victims belong to minority communities. However, majoritarianism is a symptom here, not the disease that ails India's body politic. The real issue is India's moth-eaten criminal justice system and broken vote-bank democracy. The crimes committed in two different parts of India point to the subversion of electoral democracy where the state can be made to bow before any pressure group — be it majority or minority — if the group leaders possess enough bargaining power to blackmail the system.

In both cases, the establishment seemed to be siding with the accused instead of the victims not because they were Hindus but because they represent a political pressure group that wields enormous clout in an electoral system that places group and community's interests above the individual's. This is the real issue.

As Maneesh Chhibber writes in The Print, "Jammu-centric parties realise that supporting the alleged killers of ***** will get you votes, supporting the call for swift justice won’t… Supporting ***** or, to be more factual, opposing her killers could be seen as being anti-Hindu, something that neither the BJP nor the Congress seems to want at this juncture."

As Chibber points out, MoS PMO Jitendra Singh is likely to cross swords with senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad in Lok Sabha elections next year and neither of the two parties would want to antagonise the predominantly Hindu electorate in Kathua which went with BJP in 2014. This is the reason why two BJP ministers in the Jammu and Kashmir government have slammed the police for arresting eight people, instead of calling for strict punishment against the accused who according to investigators kidnapped, sedated, gang-raped, tortured and then bashed the head of an eight-year-old girl to death.

It is difficult to read the chargesheet of the Kathua crime — filed by the crime branch of the Jammu and Kashmir police — without feeling disturbed and nauseated. The perversion is blood curdling.

The lawyers, who obstructed the police from presenting the chargesheet against those accused of raping and murdering ***** to the Chief Judicial Magistrate at Kathua, claim that the chargesheet is motivated by communal hatred against the minority Dogra community. The District Bar Association of Kathua and Jammu High Court Bar Association called for a Jammu bandh on Wednesday and demanded a CBI probe into the incident after FIRs were filed against several lawyers for obstructing the process of justice.

In a release, they announced: "All of the Bar members strongly condemned the conduct of the Crime Branch in dealing the issue. The State Government has failed to deal the issue or understand the sentiments of the people. The agitation of the Bar proved successful and the Crime Branch was compelled to go back and the challan could not be presented in the court of LD Chief Judicial Magistrate Kathua (sic)."

"We will never trust a government led by a Kashmiri, even if its partner is the BJP," 33-year-old Vishal Dogra, a protester who was joined by lawyers on the road few hundred meters from the airport on Wednesday, told Sameer Yasir of Firstpost. "We want the Rasaana case (*****’s) to be handed over to the CBI." Protestors reportedly burnt tyres and patrolled the streets to enforce the bandh.

In Unnao, the BJP MLA, main accused of the rape of an 18-year-old, wields so much clout that despite seemingly incriminating evidence and witness accounts Kuldeep Singh Sengar has so far been able to evade arrest. The UP DGP, perhaps relieved that the case has been handed over to the CBI, has declared that the central investigative agency will take a decision on the arrest of the "honorable MLA".  Meanwhile, the Allahabad high court has wanted to know of the Yogi Adityanath government why has Sengar not been arrested yet.

The answer is not a state secret. As a report in Hindustan Times points out, Sengar belongs to a family of politicians who know how to stay on the right side of power. The four-time MLA became the pradhan of Makhi village in 1997-98 as a member of the Congress party, contested Assembly elections in 2002 on a BSP ticket, joined SP and won in 2007 and 2012 and finally came to BJP before the 2017 Assembly polls.

The BJP understandably doesn't want to antagonise the power broker ahead of crucial Lok Sabha elections next year. This may explain why Yogi's "encounter specialist" cops have suddenly lost their will and way.

The real issues won't be solved unless pressure is brought to bear on the authorities to act regardless of catering to vote-bank politics. That may be easier said than done because under the current system there is simply no incentive (other than moral) for parties to follow the path of justice and fairness at the cost of alienating their bases and upsetting the founts of their power. This is a symptom of the chronic weakness that marks India's much-vaunted democracy.

Your guide to the latest cricket World Cup stories, analysis, reports, opinions, live updates and scores on https://www.firstpost.com/firstcricket/series/icc-cricket-world-cup-2019.html. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram or like our Facebook page for updates throughout the ongoing event in England and Wales.

Updated Date: Apr 15, 2018 22:57:22 IST