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June 18, 2014

Rethinking Rule Of Law In The Times Of Rape Bid On A Judge

An attempt to rape a judge, that too in Judges’ Compound in Aligarh which remains under twenty four hour vigil of the Provincial Armed Constabulary speaks volumes about the status of law and order in Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state of India. Who will be safe on the streets when even a judge is not spared by the rapists? No one, in fact is, as evidenced by the recent spate of incidents of sexual violence against women from marginalised and dispossessed backgrounds. The gruesome gang rape and murder of two minors in Badaun, the most ghastly of them, has caused a national outrage just a few days before this incident. The brazen attack on the mother of a rape survivor in order to force her to withdraw the complaint against the accused, currently in jail, in nearby Etah was another glaring example of total collapse of rule of law in Uttar Pradesh.

Sadly, the state has never been known for maintaining even law and order, forget enforcing rule of law. It has rather had the dubious distinction of being the proverbial Bad Lands, the countryside run by might and not by rulebooks. With both political and bureaucratic leadership oscillating between the denial to dodging mode, the recent cases of sexual assaults have merely reinforced the image. Think of a Chief Minister saying that rapes were common and a Google search would return many “Badaun like incidents’. Think of his father, a former chief minister and current parliamentarian, terming rape as minor mistake. The Director General of Police of the state, however, took the crown by justifying the incidents of rape as ‘normal’ in a state of the size and population of Uttar Pradesh.

There were others, largely in the secular liberal intelligentsia of the country, who saw a political conspiracy hatched by the Hindu right behind defaming the state. They came up, rightly, with the data from the National Crime Records Bureau that shows Madhya Pradesh as the rape capital of India and raised questions over the undue scrutiny of Uttar Pradesh. The intelligentsia, unfortunately, seems to have got it wrong once again, first time being its silence on the cases where victims came from dispossessed and marginalised communities. The lack of outrage over sexual violence against women from Dalit, tribal, minorities and other such communities until the cases are really gory, as Badaun was, has led to a section of people losing faith in them, it would do better not to lose all.

The question, however, is if the failure of a state in providing security to its women can be used as an excuse to defend the total collapse of rule of law in another? Should not a single case of rape be horrifying enough for the state to wake up and fix the system? Can a state really take refuge in competitive statistics and shirk from its responsibility of maintaining law and order, at least? This is exactly where that the government of Uttar Pradesh has failed and failed absolutely. That’s not bizarre if one sees the number of criminals in it right from its ranks and files to the ministry. After all, the state has a dubious distinction of seeking the withdrawal of rape charges against a minister in ‘public interest’.

It is in this context that the rape attempt on a sitting judge must be seen as a wakeup call for both the citizenry and the state. No people can live in perpetual fear of violence against women and state's inaction will merely increase both vigilantism and control of the mobility of women in the name of safety, a dangerous thing for a democracy. Parrying away the questions over the state of governance in Uttar Pradesh is not going to serve any purpose, only bringing the criminals to justice will. The state government must ensure speedy and impartial justice to the victims and their families to restore their faith in the system.

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