Late last month, a 19-year-old woman died in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) after reporting she’d been gang raped and and brutally assaulted. A 48-second video filmed at the scene was shown to the BBC.
She tells the policeman her attacker tried to strangle her and the policeman asks her why. “Because I wasn’t letting him do zabardasti,” she says.
Zabardasti is an Urdu word that literally translates into “coercion” or “force” and is used by women specially in parts of India as slang for rape.
The victim is seen repeating the same sentence in a second video that was recorded just hours later.
She also names an upper-caste neighbor as the perpetrator.
The evidence backs up her story, so why do officials keep insisting she wasn’t raped?
The rape victim was a Dalit – men and women formerly known as “untouchables” who languish at the bottom of India’s harsh caste hierarchy. On average 10 Dalit women were raped every day in India last year, according to official figures, and UP has the highest number of cases of violence against women of any state.
The young woman’s two allegations of rape, made within hours of being attacked, were not entered into police records.
“There were very serious lapses on the part of the police,” said SR Darapuri, a former police officer and now vice-president of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) in Uttar Pradesh.
“The police did not write a complaint – they instead asked her brother to do it. They did not include what the victim told them. They didn’t even call an ambulance to take her to hospital, even though she was in a precarious condition,” he said.
The victim who belonged to the Valmiki community is of the lowest rung of the Hindu caste order; the four accused men are Thakurs, an upper-caste warrior community. The crime has only deepened the divide in Hathras where the victim used to live and where lives are divided by a caste hierarchy as rigid as it is old.
But state governments have potential political motivations to play down divisive incidents which could effect politics –rape figures are one of them. Law enforcement authorities and other state institutions fall in line to political governments, a civil liberties activist says.
Caste, crime and more recently “Hindutva” is the new combo for tribalism in caste-ridden Indian society, and therefore, politics is a hotter mix for power grab. “Crime pays”, he says, and shares this video:
When asked to comment on the video, a Pakistani analyst says, “(It is) equally applicable to our political scene as well”. “Replace the word India/Indian with Pakistan/Pakistani and the description is ditto good of our system”, says the analyst.
Village council elections and assembly elections are all due in the Indian state of UP in the next 18 months and “the government does not want to give a handle to the opposition”.
Hariom Kumar, a brother of an accused, insisted his brother was away at his workplace at the time of the alleged attack.
Other Thakur men chipped in, accusing the victim’s family of lying. “It’s all rumor,” said Kumar. “There was no rape.”
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, one of India’s most controversial right-wing politicians, who is also a Thakur, is facing criticism for his BJP-led government’s handling of the case. Some of his BJP party colleagues have held large rallies in support of the accused men attended by their relatives. Mr Adityanath has accused the opposition of “doing politics over the dead bodies of the poor”, and has not visited the victim’s family.
On Tuesday, state authorities claimed to the Supreme Court that there was an “international plot” to cause caste and religious riots in UP and topple Mr Adityanath’s government.
On the night of February 23, 2020, a series of riots and violent incidents began in a neighborhood of North East Delhi (Delhi is India’s capital). Over 50 people were killed and more than 200 people injured. Some members of the Delhi Police actively participated in the communal riots, according to Huffpost and other independent reports.
It’s now an intolerant India, The Economist said in its cover story early this year. Hindutva (Hindu State) is the new national narrative in secular India, a social scientist says.
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Original report appeared in BBC