warranted the cremation at night. With its unprofessional conduct and apathy in the last two weeks on brazen display, the police could not muster enough courage to face the law and order situation and give the victim her right to dignity even in death, by letting the family perform the last rites as per custom in daylight.
Her right to dignity was denied even when she was brought to the police station on September 14, barely alive. Instead of rushing her to the hospital to save her life, the police left the family to take the victim on their own. Such insensitivity and crass behaviour in a case of Dalit atrocity went unheeded in the village and higher echelons of the police and bureaucracy. This, despite several standing orders and guidelines by the state government and laws for stringent action to be taken in such cases. The FIR was registered five days later, and her statement recorded by the magistrate only on the 22nd.
The callousness was compounded when a senior police official held a press conference ruling out rape, knowing fully well that semen does not survive beyond 90 hours and that the dying declaration is sacrosanct. The assertion spoke volumes of police credibility and its investigation. What was more important was, instead, an inquiry into police inaction, availability of investigative officers at that time, forensic back up and also the effectiveness of the UP 100 line, launched by the police with great fanfare for responding to distress calls and monitoring them.
The collector of Hathras escaped suspension while the district police chief and two others did not. As the law and order head, the collector should have been the first to go. Why was the cremation done at night? Why was the family quarantined earlier? Did he check whether ambulance on call was available that day? Did he ever enquire about the status of the victim from the hospital?
The investigation by the local police was handed over to the Special Investigation Team and is now recommended for takeover by the Central Bureau of Investigation. The family wants an investigation monitored by a retired judge of the Supreme Court. Such drastic erosion of faith in institutions is a serious issue, and it will take elaborate corrective efforts to restore their lost credibility.
The Hathras incident reveals a broken system in our countryside — a rural police station lacking basic amenities, human resources and sensitivity; a health care system with glaring gaps; a rudderless panchayat; and social fault lines running deep in a caste-ridden patriarchal society, corroding every institution.
The opposition leaders are baying for the blood of the UP chief minister (CM). Several leaders have visited the family of the victim, under the glare of the media, and hurled accusations against the state government, exhorting the CM to resign — knowing fully well that things do not change at the grassroots with change of CMs.
These speeches did not ask for reforming the broken rural administration. No one cared to look at police infrastructure and functioning even as a Bureau of Police Research and Development report on the issue gathers dust. No one spoke about improving the call for ambulance scheme or inadequate hospitals routinely transferring cases to Delhi. No one referred to the mere 35% utilisation of the fund, set up in the wake of the December 2012 Delhi gang rape incident, by various states so far.
The Hathras shame is a gaping wound in the conscience of a nation aspiring to be a major global power. Even as women scale tremendous heights, much to our pride, other women from remote corners are still subjected to medieval depravity. When will our conscience stir? It is imperative for state governments and the Opposition to come together now to restore our institutions, committed to women’s security and empowerment.
Yashovardhan Azad is former IPS officer and Central Information Commissioner
The views expressed are personal