Ranjona Banerji: Time to speak up on Hathras gangrape!

30 Sep,2020

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Has the tide turned? Has the Hathras gangrape and now murder case reached national attention more than a fortnight after the gruesome crime was perpetrated? Has the fact that a young woman was not just gangraped by four men but also that her tongue was cut off and her spine broken infiltrated our national consciousness? Has the subtext that she was a Dalit and the accused upper caste men now become the main text as one more example of caste hatred, discrimination and desire to oppress and suppress? Has the lack of any attempt at justice, done or seen to be done, seeped through our apathy? Has the fact that this happened in Uttar Pradesh, whose chief minister boasts about law and order in his state, floated up to our comprehension? And has this crime against humanity managed to knock off the perpetual television and Kangana Ranaut created melodrama over Sushant Singh Rajput’s death with its convoluted storylines off our TV channels?

It took the death of the young woman to wake the Indian media up and pay attention. Unlike the December 2012 case, where the gangrape itself filled society with anger and sickness. By the time “Nirbhaya” died, politicians had been excoriated, lapses in the state administration were shown up, the people were on the streets, human and women’s rights organisations were organised, and law and order was discussed threadbare.

Compared to that, even the outrage we see now is radio silence. The levels of anger have been slow to rise between September 14 and now, as has been the case in every gangrape since 2012. Who is willing to concede that the reason for this slow awakening is that the rape happened BJP-ruled state of Uttar Pradesh? And further, who will now dissemble that there is not a caste angle to the lack of outrage? Rape is an oft-used tool in caste oppression and suppression. Are we going to now pretend that we did not know that? Caste biases within the media are also well-known. One prominent female TV anchor even put out an argument that the caste angle in this rape case should not be discussed.

It was a series of brave tweets from India Today, Aaj Tak reporter Tanushree Pandey on the forced late night “cremation” of the victim’s body by the UP Police that has set off the current anger on social media. (see screenshots) A flurry of news reports followed that.

https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/hathras-rape-victim-s-body-forcibly-taken-away-for-cremation-by-up-police-alleges-family/story-mFbRkp7cwMLbZlzcMjAgVL.html

https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/up-hathras-rape-victim-cremated-by-cops-family-begged-to-pay-last-respects-2303004

The news is now out in the open and cannot be stopped for the moment. How brave reporters will remain in the face of what will be an enormous pushback remains to be seen. This is where India’s TV anchors have the opportunity to prove that they will support their own reporters and stop acting like government and/or BJP mouthpieces.

The Modi government has continued its assault on dissent and the current action against Amnesty India, which has led to the shut down of its operations in India, has left only a few prominent voices to talk about human rights abuses. TV personalities like Arnab Goswami have made their contempt for human rights clear over the years. But if the media does not speak up now, at least for the victim of the gangrape in Hathras, then what is our larger responsibility to democracy?

https://www.newslaundry.com/2020/09/29/help-us-get-justice-please-dalit-girl-assaulted-in-ups-hathras-succumbs

As the link above demonstrates, the fact that the family were Dalit has made them even more vulnerable and less likely to find justice. Our administrative and political system are part of our social structure and unless we protest, there will be no change. The late-night cremation by the police is nothing but an attempt to put the family in its place by denying them the right to hold their own mourning rituals. It is also a clear move to destroy evidence and further shield the upper caste accused. And as ever, displays our contempt for women.

The media has no option here but to expose further police and administrative cover-ups. Or, will it take the coward’s way out and destroy all the work done by the few reporters and journalists who have followed this horrific case? I don’t trust most of our TV anchors with the most influence, but one can only hope…

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. Her views here are personal

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