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Anshul is a Political Science and Law graduate from the University of Delhi. He is interested in political, legal and policy developments and frequently writes on related themes. You can contact him on anshulkumarpandey [at] gmail [dot] com.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Horror Postcard from Uttar Pradesh

The picture of two low-caste girls hanging from a tree in Badayun powerfully conveys the sense of urgency that is required to curb the crimes against women taking place all over the country.

The non-stop media coverage of the terror of rapes and molestations that women in Uttar Pradesh are living under for the past few days have rained down as hammer blows on the conscience of our nation. Scarcely had we begun to condole the family of the two unfortunate girls in Badayun who lost their children in such a reprehensible crime, that we were told about the manner in which such violence was taking place all over the state in some or the other form. In Aligarh, two men tried to rape a civil judge in her well protected home and forced her to drink pesticide. Exactly a week after the incident in Badayun, another girl was found hanging from a tree in Sitapur district in the state. A minor girl was thrown off the train near Bareilley when she tried to resist the advances of three youngsters.

There is a lengthy list of such crimes. According to a report by Center for Social Research, in 2010, out of a total of 213585 crimes against women recorded by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 20169 were in UP (9.44%), the highest in the country. According to a Times of India report, the state recorded 23,569 crimes against women in 2012, which included 1,963 cases of rape, 7,910 cases of kidnapping, 2,244 cases of dowry death, 3,247 cases of assault on women with intent to outrage modesty, 505 cases of Dowry Prohibition Act, 7661 cases of cruelty by husband apart from other acts of violence against women. In 2013, the state registered 126 rape cases in one week alone.

Despite such chilling statistics, the state government headed by Akhilesh Yadav, son of Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, is smug in its defense. Akhilesh's uncle Ramgopal Yadav blamed the media for disproportionately focusing on the crimes in Uttar Pradesh and ignoring other states. During the Election season, Mulayam Singh himself caused an uproar by casually stating that "boys will be boys and they will make mistakes" and promised his supporters that if his party was voted to power, he would change the law prescribing death penalty for those convicted of rape and murder. Akhilesh Yadav too tried to brazen it out of the current crises by asking a journalist to worry about his safety and to leave the safety of the women in the hands of the state government.

Such responses do not surprise anymore. It became apparent after the December 16 gang rape incident that the instinct of those in power in times of crisis is not to solve that crisis, but is instead to shift the limelight so that they can cling on to their power. Although not surprising, this behavior is disappointing as it comes from a government headed by a Chief Minister who was considered a part of the country's younger generation and hence embodying the hopes and aspirations of millions of his counterparts. Yet, instead of taking strict action that could have helped in healing the wounds of the aggrieved families, the Akhilesh Yadav led government has been following the routine investigation-is-going-on track. It took a week for a state government official to even visit the family of the two girls in Badayun to offer his condolences and to assure them of speedy justice in the matter.

Apart from leaving the state government red-faced, these incidents have also pointed to an urgent need to improve the sanitary conditions in India's countrysides. Various reports published in the aftermath of this incident (see, for example, here, here and here) have pointed to the absence of toilets as one of the primary threats to the safety of women. The central government slammed the Uttar Pradesh government for not utilizing Rs 293 crores out of a total of Rs 543 crores allocated to it under the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan scheme for building toilets in the state. Considering that the new Prime Minister himself had outlined his policy of "Toilets first, Temples later" during the election campaign, ensuring an end to the practice of open defecation should become one of the top priorities of the new administration.

As news of the horrific incident in Badayun spread, political leaders from various parties made it a point to visit the grief stricken family for a photo-op. It is an image that people in India have grown accustomed to. One can say with some surety that what the public would really like to see is the image of the culprits, heads lowered in shame, being sent on their way to long prison sentences. It is up for the new government to decide which image will prevail by the time its term comes to an end.