Hathras gang rape: Easy to say ‘hang the rapists’ but who will hold Yogi Adityanath accountable?

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Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh
Image Credit: Reuters

Brutal gang-rapes and murders happen all the time. When they become big news, as in case of 19 year old Manisha Valmiki in Hathras, some people start demanding death penalty for the rapists. It is easy to do that. The tough thing to do is to look at how the government of Yogi Adityanath handled this case from day one. Even a cursory examination will tell you that the Yogi government was more concerned about headline management than saving the young woman’s life or getting her justice. The BJP’s single-minded focus on PR and image has reached the level of becoming a disease so bad the UP government and police have not even pretended to behave with dignity with the family of the dead girl, nor did they allow Manisha Valmiki any dignity herself in death.

First, the UP Police didn’t register a case of gang rape for days even though it was obvious. Instead they tried their best to downplay the incident by saying it was just a small dispute arising out of an old enmity. That was true, but doesn’t mean it wasn’t a caste atrocity or that the police should have tried their best to not see gang-rape. Then the police went on a spree arguing with journalists and activists on social media that her tongue had not been cut or that her spine had not been broken. Fake news, fake news, they screamed.

Since Hathras is near Agra, the initial news reports were datelined Agra. So when some people on Twitter, such as journalist Rohini Singh, expressed outrage over such an atrocity in Agra, the UP government again screamed fake news! Fake news! No such incident in Agra! Chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s media adviser could have simply explained the incident being talked about was in Hathras. Instead, he used the ‘fake news’ opportunity to say that police cases are being lodged against those spreading fake news. To intimidate and silence those asking tough questions on this case, he added that 105 cases had been lodged and 26 people arrested so far!

The body of Hathras rape victim was hastily cremated by police at night
UP police took the dead body of the rape victim and cremated her forcibly without any family members present
Image Credit: TV screengrab

Kidnapping a dead body

A government that delays filing an FIR on gang-rape is so alert in arresting people over alleged fake news. The obsessive headline management also meant they were reluctant to send the woman to a Delhi hospital for a better shot at survival. Delhi would mean national media attention. So they were having her treated at a hospital in Aligarh. It was only when Dalit politician Chandrashekhar Azad of Bhim Army jumped into the issue that the UP government transferred her to Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi. When she was in Aligarh the administration was going to great lengths to point out that she was getting free treatment! Compare this to the high-profile case of Jyoti Singh who was sent to Singapore by the Congress-led government in Singapore.

Until Manisha Valmiki died, the UP government and the ruling BJP did not visit her family, did not issue any serious statements. They ignored her plight. As they had feared, her being in Delhi caught national media attention. Her family sat on a protest outside the hospital. She succumbed to her injuries. At this point, something truly bizarre and unprecedented happened. Her body was taken away from the hospital in an ambulance that immediately started driving towards Hathras. This amounts to kidnapping a dead body. This forced Manisha Valmiki’s family to also drive back to Hathras.

Recording the sordid scene

In their village the police was forcing the parents to cremate the body at night itself, in violation of Hindu rituals. Gutsy journalists witnessed and recorded the sordid scene, with the police keeping the family away, and cremating the body with just one distant relative present. The parents tried to block the ambulance, demanded they be allowed to see the face one last time, bring the body home, cremate in the morning — all of these are essential to Hindu customs. But the police burnt the body at 2:30am.

Why would they do such a heinous thing? Again, headline management and nothing else. The UP government wanted, it seems, to prevent the death of the woman from becoming a media circus. They didn’t want an elaborate cremation ceremony, opposition leaders present, media broadcasting live, family members wailing. All of that would mean elaborate air time making people think about the quickly deteriorating state of law and order in Yogi’s Uttar Pradesh.

They treated her like Osama bin Laden, who was ‘buried at sea’ to prevent his burial site from becoming a memorial. But Manisha Valmiki was not a terrorist. This also reminds us of how the British advanced the hanging of Indian freedom fighter Bhagat Singh by 11 hours and secretly cremated him because they were afraid of the rising sentiment in favour of him. The British saw Bhagat Singh as a terrorist. How did Yogi see Manisha Valmiki?

As we outrage over the incident, it is easy to demand death penalty for the culprits. Very few are asking tough questions about the role of the Yogi government. It takes guts to do so. His poor hold over law and order suddenly becomes strict when he sees people criticising him.

Shivam Vij
Image Credit: Gulf News 2020

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