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Uttar Pradesh’s heart of darkness

LiveMint logoLiveMint 03-06-2014 Livemint

Even by Uttar Pradesh’s lawless standards, the gang-rape and hanging of two teenage Dalit girls in the state is singularly sickening. The brutality of the crime is glaring evidence of the impunity of those accused in the case and whatever passes off as the state machinery in UP. What else but the belief that one can get away with any act of barbarism explains the crime in question?

In the discussion on crime and punishment that has rightfully taken over the country, one should not ignore the power and caste calculus at play in this case: Yadavs vs Dalits. The most powerful politician in the state is Mulayam Singh Yadav, his son and the chief minister of the state is Akhilesh Yadav, the Member of Parliament who represents Badaun—the district where the grisly crime was committed—in the Lok Sabha, one Dharmendra Yadav, is the nephew of Mulayam Singh, and finally of the seven accused in the case (the rapists and the police officers who refused to look for the missing girls): five are Yadavs while two absconding men remain unidentified as of now.

In another atrocious case in Etawah, a man (again a Yadav) raped a woman; he was arrested, the woman’s family was pressurized to take back the case and when they refused the accused’s father beat up the mother of the rape survivor. On Monday, it was reported that a 22-year-old girl was allegedly gang-raped, forced to drink acid and strangulated to death in Bareilly.

These are only three of the numerous rape cases which have been reported from the state in the last few weeks.

These incidents tell something about the inversely proportional costs of maintaining law and order in the state and those of committing a crime. In a lawless state such as UP, the former seems to be appallingly high while the latter seems ridiculously low. In any state where the government’s objective is to serve citizens rather than ensuring familial continuity in positions of power the costs should be reverse. UP under the Yadavs has shown no inclination to change this equation.

But clinging to power in itself seems to be an inadequate explanation of the scale of anarchy that exists in the state under the Yadav clan. Besides the arrogance of being in power, is it also the shared outlook towards crimes against women of the father-son duo that is troubling?

Consider Mulayam Singh Yadav’s statement at a public rally before the recent election: “Boys make mistakes, that does not mean you hang them for it.”

He confidently said this to persons whom he was trying to convince to vote for him. Consider also his son’s arrogant and dismissive statement when questioned about the law and order situation in the state: “You haven’t faced any problem, right?”

If the top-most leaders of the state can make public statements such as these then it is worth pondering about the ways in which they would have reassured administrators, policemen or any potential rapist in the state that they needn’t bother about consequences when it comes to rape. When the top leadership’s attitude towards rape can be summed up as “these things happen, why make such a fuss about them”, it is no wonder that safety of women is a non-issue in the state. No law can work when such statements can be issued with impunity. The costs of maintaining law and order rise precisely because of such attitudes. Why would any constable or any police official listen to a victim or her family after the top politicians in the state say what has been said in UP?

The question is how long can this go on?

If the heart-wrenching photo of the body of those two girls hanging from a tree does not lead to a shift in the way women’s safety is seen in UP, probably nothing will. If a crime like this does not spur the state and Union government to action, probably nothing will. If legal impediments come in the way of giving justice to those two girls and their families and punishing those who committed the crime, we might as well start rethinking what we want from the law of the land.

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