Another Day, Another Story Of Rape And Its Consequences.
The weakening edifice of the social contract in India.
Another day, another story of rape and its consequences. This time, the woman is from Unnao in semi-urban Uttar Pradesh. Nestled between Lucknow and Kanpur, the district of Unnao is a hub of small-scale manufacturing – leather, chemicals, and handlooms. The government hopes to develop it as a major industrial hub, sometime in the near future. As in much of India, there are parts in Uttar Pradesh where there is a clear cleavage between modern concepts of rights, especially the right of a woman over her body, and the age-old feudal rights that men have enjoyed for centuries. And, understanding this, gives one some sense of the tragedy that I am about to narrate.
A woman said she was raped by a man and his friends in May last year. The man was important in local political circles -MLA for the constituency of Bangarmau for the ruling BJP Kuldeep Singh Sengar. And, his friends probably glowed in the reflected glory of his power. The man has refuted the allegations, claiming it was a conspiracy to tarnish his reputation.
The rape survivor, who is 18 now, was a minor then. The accused, a 50-year-old farmer (as per his election affidavit) and an elected member of the legislative assembly, for the ruling BJP party. A power equation which just looking at the age and the assets declared in his election affidavit (2 crores +) clearly tilted towards the powerful man. Add to this, the combination of political power, and a popular base – the impact on justice could be potent. The rape survivor alleged that the police would not take action or allow her to file charges against the MLA.
Over the weekend, the rape survivor and her family tried to burn themselves alive, as a protest against this inaction by the police, in front of the home of the current Chief Minister Adityanath. A clash with the supporters of Mr Sengar followed, and the family was arrested. But, not before the father of the rape survivor was beaten up.
Today, the father of the rape survivor died in hospital. The police claim it was an outcome of the clashes with the MLA’s supporters. The family of the victim claims he died in police custody.
This is a tragedy on many levels. But, none more so than the violation of the basic social contract the state has with its citizens. At the core, our social contract with the state is based on us surrendering some of our liberties, in order to achieve social order. And, maintenance of that social order is the primary duty of the state. The starting point of this is the ability for a woman to go out without being afraid of being raped, or indeed, being raped. At the second level, given that crime does happen, if there is a crime, then a suitable redressal method – which in this case is filing of a police complaint, and charges being investigated. The third would be the bringing of the charges to court where a judge decides, and lastly a sentence that would tell the world that justice has not just been done, but seen to be done.
And, what has happened in Unnao, as it has many times in India, is not just the breaking of the social contract, but making an utter mockery of it.
If CM Adityanath is serious about law and order, he needs to tell the police to file charges when complaints are made – and give the policemen the assurance that they won’t be harmed for starting inquiries against the powerful and connected.
Every time, the state breaks the social contract, the edifice of the nation weakens just that little bit more. It is time that is fixed.
Harini Calamur works at the intersection of digital content, technology, and audiences. She is a writer, filmmaker, and teacher, and tweets at @calamur.