Unnao and Kathua rapes reflect the utter failure of our state machinery today, particularly highlighting how justice is under attack, asserts Amritananda Chakravorty.
In the last one week, the country has been rocked by the reports of two horrific rapes, one in Kathua, Jammu & Kashmir, and the other one in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh – both of which indicate the considerable complicity of the State/politician machinery with the accused persons, and the impunity with which law is routinely violated in our country. In Kathua, Jammu, an eight-year-old girl, from the Bakarwal (nomadic) community was kidnapped, sedated, gangraped, and tortured for over eight days in a temple before being eventually killed. The crime was apparently masterminded by Sanji Ram, a retired government employee, as a part of a larger communal conspiracy to 'terrorise' the Bakarwal community and force them out of the area. The others accused include four police officers, including Special Police Officers, Deepak Khajuria, and Surinder Kumar, and police officials, Anand Datta and Tilak Raj. Sanji Ram's son and nephew, who is allegedly a juvenile, are said to be involved in the ruthless perpetration of this disturbing crime that is a direct impingement upon the dignity and the very right of a citizen to life. The macabreness of the crime is highlighted by the fact that Deepak Khajuria was apparently assisting the police to find the missing victim, while he himself continued to rape the girl inside the premises of the supposedly holy temple.
The case in Kathua turned more ghastly when the lawyers of the Kathua Bar Association overwhelmingly supported the accused persons, with unequivocal support extended by right-wing outfits such as the Hindu Ekta Manch, who took out grand rallies and organised bandhs in Kathua and Jammu. They were even joined by two Ministers from the state belonging to the ruling party at the Centre, who were seen reading divisive and communally charged speeches against the innocuous Bakarwal community. The President of the Kathua Bar Association also passed a resolution to keep work under suspension until April 12, while also calling for and supporting a complete Kathua and J&K bandh on April 11.
The local lawyers even tried to obstruct the police from filing a charge sheet in the case, and have repeatedly threatened the victim's lawyer, Deepika Singh Rajawat, for taking up the victim's case. This aside, the supporters of the crime have not spared the victim's family or even the lawyer's family, who have also received repeated threats of violence. Rajawat had to get an order of protection from J&K High Court. The Supreme Court took suo motu notice of the actions of the lawyers and issued a notice to the Kathua Bar Association, the Jammu Bar Association and the Bar CounciI of India [In Re Kathua Rape Case, Suo Moto (Criminal) No. 1 of 2018, date of order: 13.04.2018]. On 16.04.2018, on a petition by the victim's family seeking protection for them and the victim's lawyer, the Supreme Court directed police protection to be provided to both, while also issuing a notice on the plea to transfer the trial from Jammu to Chandigarh High Court, in order to get a free and fair trial [Md. Akhtar vs. State of J&K, Writ Petition (Crl.) No. 85 of 2018, date of order: 16.04.2018].
In Unnao, the victim is a 17-year-old girl, who was allegedly raped by the MLA from the ruling party, again, Kuldeep Singh Sengar in 2017, and had been trying to persuade the police to investigate the FIR. Since the accused were politically influential persons, the police refused to initiate any action. Fed up with the non-action, the victim tried to self-immolate before the Chief Minister's residence on April 8, 2018. Thereafter, her father who was still in police custody was brutally beaten up by the accused MLA's brother and his goons and eventually succumbed to the injuries. After a national outcry, the MLA's brother was arrested by the UP Crime branch, while no action had yet been taken against the rape accused. Only when a PIL was filed in the Supreme Court seeking for the transfer of investigation to the CBI, did the Allahabad High Court take suo motu notice of the case, and asked the UP Government why the accused was not arrested in due time. The UP Government had transferred the investigation to the CBI, but even then the CBI failed to arrest Kuldeep Sengar. Finally, facing flak from all corners for sheltering the accused, including facing reprimand from the Court, Sengar was finally arrested on April 13, by the CBI and sent to judicial custody.
The High Court passed strictures against the State government that "the law and order machinery and the government officials were directly in the league and under the influence of Kuldeep Singh." The Court also pointed out how the police were refusing to register her complaint, the medical examiner did not examine her and, essentially, none of the required safeguards under the CrPC was fulfilled, even though the State had created an SIT in the matter. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued a notice to the Uttar Pradesh government and the state police chief, seeking a detailed report on the death of the father, and directed the authorities to ensure that "the aggrieved family is not subjected to further harassment". The victim had to be at the edge of self-immolation and her father had to die an unfortunate death for her injustice to deserve the attention of the national media, the state government, the court system, and even the police, who made one arrest after the lapse of one entire year. The idea of conducting a fair and just investigation still hangs by the thread.
Both these cases bear testimony to the fact that the basic administration of justice is under attack in our country today. Though both are cases of gruesome sexual violence, one cannot equate Kathua with Unnao. Kathua is the borne result of years of vitrolic communal cauldron that has been rampantly practised across time, especially in sensitive areas like Jammu.
The rape and murder of the eight-year-old victim was an instrument of war to subjugate the entire Bakarwal community and to evict them from their own lands and pastures. This is the first time in the history of India that the rape accused were justified in the name of 'nationalism' and 'patriotism', and a child was raped and killed, precisely because of her religious identity. It is up to the Courts now to see that the axis of justice does not favour the powerful accused, but provides the succour of justice to the victims and their families. It is a tall order, but the entire country is watching. Here it is imperative that justice is not only done but also gets seen being done.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)