Hathras: It has been exactly seven days since the 19-year-old Dalit girl succumbed to alleged assault injuries in a Delhi hospital and the media has been pursuing the story with a madness that is rarely seen.
Despite the fact that hours of footage on TV channels and reams of paper in the print media have been spent on the story, there are still questions that remain unanswered in the Hathras incident where the girl was allegedly raped and strangulated by four men belonging to upper caste Thakur families in Boolgarhi village.
RAPE OR NO RAPE?
The girl, in the video footage taken by TV channels in the Delhi hospital, is heard saying that she was raped before being strangulated. Her own mother makes different claims in videos taken before and after her daughter’s death. In one video, she alleges that Sandeep, one of the accused, tried to strangulate the girl and ran away when the mother called out for help. In another video, she claims that her daughter was sexually assaulted.
The girl’s brother, who is now also being accused of honour killing, has said that his sister was found without clothes in the field.
The question is that why is the family changing its stand repeatedly?
As a family member of the accused says, “It is abundantly clear that the family knows that it will get more money and more sympathy if it pushes the rape angle and that this is what they are doing this. Can rape take place at 9.30.in the morning in a field in a village when everyone is out working?”
ADG Law and order Prashant Kumar, meanwhile, has said that the medical report did not confirm rape on the girl.
Significantly, the incident took place on September 14 and the girl’s medical examination was done on September 22 – eight days later.
Medical experts feel that the delay in conducting the medical examination may have contaminated evidences.
With the state government denying rape and the family insisting on it, opposition parties are naturally using the issue to target the Yogi Adityanath government.
The incident is being projected as a result of a caste war between Thakurs and Dalits. However, both the sides are choosing to ignore the fact that violence had taken place, at least twice in one decade, between the families of the girl and the accused persons.
The girl’s family, apparently, wants to hide this fact because they do not want to dilute the severity of the September 14 incident which led to girl’s death.
The accused are hiding facts because they do not want to attach a motive to the incident.
While the Boolgarhi village has been split wide open on caste lines on this incident, most of the local residents are unwilling to speak and those who agree, request anonymity.
One such resident who spoke to IANS, said, “Everyone knows that the girl was rather friendly with two of the accused. They would often talk on phone and everyone in the village knows about it. The police should take away their mobile phones and check the call records instead of allowing the incident to turn into tamasha.”
Incidentally, on Friday, the police had confiscated the phones of the family members and some of them raised a hue and cry about this on TV channels after which the phones were given back to them.
It is mainly because of this fact that the Thakurs and other upper castes in Hathras, and in the rest of the state, have started rallying behind the four accused persons.
Upper caste panchayats are being held to muster support for the accused and the incident is snowballing into a caste war.
DISTRICT MAGISTRATE’S ROLE
The role of the district magistrate Praveen Kumar Laxar has been under the scanner.
Sources insist that it was Laxar who forced the cremation at night and got the family locked up when they began protesting.
Later, when he banned media entry into the village on Friday, he reportedly misbehaved with the victim’s family which further aggravated the crisis.
Laxar reportedly is connected to a top BJP leader and is this what has stalled his removal/transfer from Hathras?
Another unanswered question in the Hathras incident is the media management by those close to the family.
According to sources, TV channels were asked to reach Hathras before even the girl’s mortal remains could reach there.
The police made a huge mistake by cremating the body in the dead of the night without realising the media presence at the site.
As TV channels went all out to highlight the nocturnal cremation, the government was left red in the face.
The question is, who managed the media presence in Boolgarhi village for the victim’s family to ensure that the issue turns into a national event? Who stands to gain from highlighting the incident and why and how did the media allow itself to be used?
A senior government official said on Monday they had recordings of conversations between the family and mediapersons who are telling them what statements to make.
“We have registered an open FIR and investigations will reveal the truth,” the official said.
The Yogi government launched a damage-control exercise after the damage had already been done.
Yogi Adityanath brought in additional chief secretary Navneet Sehgal to take charge of information.
Sehgal is known for his excellent handling of the media and shares a warm rapport with mediapersons. Though he may not be able to undo the damage that has already been done, he can certainly prevent further damage.
The chief minister has also hired a PR firm that is focusing mainly on foreign media and national outlets. However, the PR agency has not done much till now to redeem the situation.
Even though every political party is pushing the humanity angle in the Hathras case, it is evident that with a year and a half left for assembly elections in UP, the opposition is using the incident to target the Yogi Adityanath government.
The chief minister is single-handedly battling the opposition with virtually no support from ministerial colleagues even the party.
The Hathras incident has become a ‘Yogi versus the rest’ battle and this situation raises more questions than it answers, in politics.