Tongue cut, Spine broken: that’s our democracy

By Cleofato A Coutinho
14 October 2020 23:03 IST

What happened at Hathras was barbaric. Her tongue was cut (probably to silence her), Her spine snapped. There is a dispute over rape. It was certainly a traumatic death. She was not a Covid-19 victim or a victim of some contagious disease for family/ villagers to be kept out.  It   was not an unwanted body to be ‘burnt’ that way. The   family   could not get the last glimpse of her. They may have wanted to destroy all evidence. The criminals are from same clan as CM.   The destruction of evidence was not even done in a more nuanced way. There was not even a façade of decency and fairness. She deserved a dignified ‘cremation’. Dead animals get better treatment. Even in war the victorious forces would not treat their enemy’s daughter that way. She would have got a decent ‘last rites’ .,

The upper caste   violence against dalit women   has been lethal for centuries. The bigger issue is how the UP Empire struck back. The UP government declared a war on the family and anybody who attempted to stand by them. Instead of the criminals, the family members were threatened   with narco analysis- a test not accepted the world over .The opposition leaders could not reach the family. The opposition leaders were   detained   to prevent a meeting even in faraway Ahmedabad. The CM  who is also state’s home minister claimed an international conspiracy and nineteen  FIRs including one under sedition and unlawful  Activities Prevention Act ( an anti-terror law  ) for creating a narrative  of inciting caste based conflict. A Kerala Journalist and his colleagues were arrested under UAPA. Another narrative of the family playing a role in the crime is now getting   built up.

 The counter narratives built by the ruling party and backed by a formidable social media infrastructure   with the largest reach and   huge influence is voiced ad nauseam with the fond hope that Hathras would be drowned in the din. It is just a   reminder of the ruling Party’s pathological belligerence arising from the mandate in Uttar Pradesh and at the national level. The foundation stone laying ceremony this year and the inaugural of Ram- mandir in three years’ time are expected to bring in rich dividends for the future.  The opposition is also split beyond repair. There is a belief that such incidents do not affect politically and the lower sections can always be manipulated.

The brazen manner in which the CM and the U.P. administration acted with total impunity with total silence from the Prime Minister and the all-powerful home minister, says it all. Who remembers Rohit Vemurla  or Payal Tadvi  or for that matter Khairlanji muders anymore? The lynching of Mohamed Aqlak over beef storage provided a bounty in the next elections. If muslims lives do not matter, how do it matter if the victims belong to the dalit community? After all an ex BJP MLA managed a successful upper caste meeting in the village!

What is frightening in this case is the section of society looking at the tragedy through a political prism and their sensibilities being shaped by majoritarian narrative. The answer is what about rapes in Rajasthan?. The bogey of anarchists working against the country   finds resonance allover in that majoritarian narrative. The counter narrative of an international conspiracy is laughable but there are many takers for that view.

The hysteria around Nirbhaya brought the old empire to the knees. But the rapes at Katua and Unnao did not create the same impact as Nirbhaya.The perpetrators belonged to the powerful community. The habeas Corpus petitions seeking liberty rotted for months till they are forgotten. Sambaji Bhide the prime mover of Bhima Koregaon goes scot free while Anand Teltumbde, Ms.Sudha Bharadwaj, and other social activists remain incarcerated for months  with no courts coming to their aid. Umar Khalid gets arrested under UAPA while The ‘goli maro…” sloganeer Kapil Mishra goes scot free. The Courts were expected to stand up. What happened need not be repeated.   It is this overall atmosphere that has emboldened the ruling party. Democracy’s back is already broken   with the collapse of the institutions built to safeguard it. What we now have is only the façade of the constitution.

The death of 1371 children in 2017 due to shortage of oxygen in Chief Minister’s constituency had no chilling effect on the people of Gorakhpur . In any self-respecting country, so many deaths   would have been enough to show him the door. The state which could be classified as Jungle Raj state gets the best state award for two years in a row from prestigious media house. A  vehicle overturned at the right time to get rid of an inconvenient gangster Vikas Dube. In three years’ time there were number of encounters and 119 alleged criminals dead. We all clapped hands at that feat. The saffron clad CM got the best CM   award and in fact is seen as a successor at the 7, Lok  Kalyan   Marg, New Delhi. PR firms are always available to build or destroy images (Prisca Rodrigues of a Mumbai PR firm phoned select media professionals to tell the CM’ counter narrative story).  Why should the CM not act so brazen?

 A silver lining-A report of freedom house released last week shows the conditions of democracy and human rights have worsened in 80 countries as a direct consequence of the cononavirus pandemic. We are one of them. The good news is that despite restrictions on public protests in 158 countries, 90 countries saw significant protests even in pandemic. The Hathras and the  farm laws have also built public resistance movements of the type seen  against CAA/NRC even in pandemic conditions. Can this be a ‘Belchi’ moment for the opposition? The problem is there is no Indira Gandhi now.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Cleofato A Coutinho

Cleofato Almeida Coutinho is a senior lawyer and one of the constitutional expert in Goa. A member of Law Commission of Goa, he also teaches at Kare College of Law in Madgao.

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