Hathras gang-rape: BJP stares at the return of Dalit unrest

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By
Sep 30, 2020 03:12 PM IST

The incident has given the Opposition the arsenal to attack the BJP and the Yogi-led administration

The protest against the cremation of a Dalit woman (19), who was gang-raped and murdered allegedly by four upper caste men in Uttar Pradesh’s (UP) Hathras district in the dead of night on Wednesday, could spell the return of a Dalit unrest that can have an adverse impact on the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) fortunes in the upcoming Bihar assembly polls.

Relatives of the rape victim mourn her death, at her village in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras district.(ANI)
Relatives of the rape victim mourn her death, at her village in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras district.(ANI)

Though UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath on Wednesday announced the setting up of a three-member Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the alleged crime following his talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, there is a public outcry against the coercive action of the UP Police.

UP Police performed the last rites of the gang-rape victim at around 2.30 am on Wednesday in the absence of her family members.

The incident has given the Opposition the arsenal to attack the BJP and the Yogi-led administration.

BSP chief Mayawati tweeted that the last rites, which were conducted by the UP Police, created “doubts and resentment” about the role of the UP administration.

She said it would be better if the Supreme Court (SC) took appropriate action by taking suo motu (on its own motion) cognisance of the case.

She blamed the callous attitude of the UP administration and the UP Police and expressed doubts that the perpetrators of the heinous crime would not be punished and the victim’s family members would be denied of justice.

Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Congress have also attacked the government. Congress’s Sushmita Dev said the way the victim was cremated and she was left to languish in a hospital ward for over six days, despite the serious nature of her injuries, was a gross violation of human rights. “No first information report (FIR) was filed for eight days. Even after it (FIR) was filed, what sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) did this hopeless and ruthless (UP) government invoke?” Dev asked.

The ruling BJP has been quick to dub these statements as attempts to create misgivings about the UP government and stoke a raging controversy.

However, a few functionaries, who spoke on condition of anonymity, admitted that the party could be bracing for the return of a Dalit unrest.

“If the protests continue, it will have an impact in neighbouring Bihar as well. The UP government is taking action, but the opposition will certainly raise the issue,” said a functionary from UP.

Bihar has 18% of Dalit population and the sizeable vote bank can sway the state’s electoral outcome.

On Wednesday, protests were also reported from some parts in poll-bound Bihar.

This is not the first time that the BJP government has been confronted by caste-based protests.

In 2017, ahead of the Gujarat assembly polls, the BJP government was accused of not taking action against Dalit atrocities in Una, where a group of cow vigilantes were accused of flogging Dalit youth in public view.

In January 2018, the Bhima-Koregaon clashes had led to violence and casualties during the congregation of Dalits to commemorate the 200th anniversary of an Anglo-Maratha war against the then Peshwa rule.

Dalits constitute a little over 16%of the country’s population and the BJP has been assiduously trying to woo the caste groupings. “The BJP is making concerted efforts to reach out to the dominant castes, who come under the SC category. In the new national team, which was announced on Saturday, Dalit leaders, who belong to the Jatav caste and are considered to have political clout, such as Dushyant Gautam were given key posts,” said a second BJP functionary.

However, Lal Singh Arya, who was appointed the SC Morcha chief, said that the BJP has given a platform to representatives from all castes since the party’s inception.

He said, “I was the district general secretary at the age of 26 in 1989. Whether it is appointments within the BJP or for constitutional positions, the party ensures representation for all castes.”

Arya also dismissed concerns that the Hathras incident would lead to the resurgence of a Dalit unrest. “The state (UP) government will take all the necessary steps to ensure severe punishment for the perpetrators of this heinous crime. The protests are being orchestrated by the opposition,” he alleged.

However, Chandrabhan Prasad, a Dalit author and an ideologue of the community, took potshots at the BJP for being “anti-Muslims and Dalits”. He blamed the party for polarising the country in a bid to boost its electoral fortunes.

He alleged that the Dalit representation in the party was “notional” because it did not “want to empower us”.

He added, “The Dalits are paying a price for the freedom they had enjoyed in the country for the past seven decades.”

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    Smriti covers an intersection of politics and governance. Having spent over a decade in journalism, she combines old fashioned leg work with modern story telling tools.

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