A series of rape and murder cases in Uttar Pradesh has pricked the nation’s conscience, reminiscent of the heart-wrenching Nirbhaya tragedy. The insensitivity of the police administration has once again been exposed in Hathras and Balrampur incidents in which Dalit girls were the victims. The hasty cremation of the Hathras teenager and the callous treatment meted out to her family are matters of collective shame. The Yogi Adityanath government has a lot to answer for the hurried funeral in the dead of night, forcibly by some policemen, denying the grieving relatives this right. The death of another Dalit woman following her gang rape in Balrampur a day later adds to the cycle of tragedies. It would be a bigger offence if these two cases end up as just another set of cold statistics in the expanding list of crime against women in the region. A National Crime Records Bureau report reveals the shameful fact that Rajasthan and Haryana accounted for the highest number of gang rape cases in 2019. With conviction rate at a dismal 16% in Haryana, it is no surprise that the epidemic of atrocities continues. A sense of impunity that such perpetrators feel must end. Sadly, such cases are emblematic of the hard truth that a shift to an upbringing of boys encompassing a respectful attitude towards girls is agonisingly slow in our culture.
As per the statement made on the floor of Parliament last year, Uttar Pradesh accounted for 43% of the total number of cases of harassment against minorities and Dalits. It also tops the rape chart, reporting the highest number of cases of gender violence in 2019. Though there have been innumerable reports of expert committees in the past advocating comprehensive police reforms and freeing the police force from political interference, nothing much has been done to improve accountability and efficiency. An entire gamut of issues—from filing an FIR in time to proper forensic investigation and meticulous gathering of evidence — needs to be addressed in a professional and impartial way to instil confidence among the people. Despite the Supreme Court’s directive to set up a police complaint authority at the State and district levels, compliance is still a far cry. The apex court had even recommended separating investigation and law and order functions so that the police could be freed from a partisan grip. Excessive control by the political executive over the police has the inherent danger of making them tools for subverting the process of law, promoting the growth of authoritarianism and shaking the very foundations of democracy. The police being integral to the criminal justice system, almost all its actions have to be ultimately placed before judicial officers.
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