Kathua and Unnao rapes to Gauri Lankesh murder: Why is the public ready to defend horrific crimes?
For a large section of the society, it is not the crime, but the accused’s affiliations that seem to matter.
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Most of us familiar with mainstream Hindi cinema will be able to identify this typical scene. A defiant local goon is apprehended by an honest police officer and put behind bars. But in no time at all, a paan-chewing corrupt local politician arrives on the scene, and sets him free by calling up some higher-up in the police force.
Gauri Lankesh was killed allegedly by men with affiliations to the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti.
The rest of the film is wish fulfillment, with the honest cop going berserk and going rogue, meting out wild justice to the criminal nexus of anti-socials and corrupt politicians, much to the audience’s satisfaction and catharsis. Now let us imagine an alternative scenario where the audience hoots and cheers for the ruffian and boos the honest cop for doing his job, because of no other reason than the fact that the ruffian happens to belong to a particular political party they support or that he belongs to a religion they belong to.
It is not his crime that matters to them, but his affiliations. Absurd though this may sound to us, this is exactly the point where civil society in India has reached today. Gauri Lankesh’s killer has apparently been caught and he has confessed. For those who could (or were willing to) join the dots, it was a foregone and predictable conclusion considering the nature of the work she did, the death threats she received, and the kind of people she received them from.
Sources in the Special Investigation Team have said that the accused, Parshuram Ashok Wagmare, has admitted that he gunned down Gauri Lankesh, and described the events in detail. The team is now on the hunt for the murder weapon as well as his handlers.
Four others — Kale (40), Manohar Edve (30), Sujith Kumar alias Praveen (37) and Amit Degwekar — were apprehended and they are suspected to be part of the plot. They are all part of the Maharashtra-based Hindu Janajagruti Samiti.
In March this year, the SIT had arrested KT Naveen Kumar, a Hindutva local leader in Bangalore, on the charges of providing logistical support to the murderers. The law, as they say, will take its own course. Hopefully.
The justification for a CBI inquiry into the Kathua gangrape and murder case, offered by the Hindutva website ShankNaad.
But one recalls the kind of denial that was doing the rounds on social media in the aftermath of the murder, whenever one would suggest that this could have been the work of Hindutva fundamentalists. The denials ranged from explanations about random robbers to a family dispute involving Lankesh’s brother.
Carefully skirting the obvious, the conversations would end with each party accusing the other of bias. These debates left a not just a bad taste in the mouth for trivialising the death of a firebrand activist and ignoring the issues that surrounded her in life, but also a sneaking suspicion that there were vested interests and agendas in this kind of refusal to meet facts in the face.
One was not talking to the perverse and rabid trolls who celebrated her death as a victory in their “cause” of saffronisation, the kind who did not know the difference between “Patrick” and “Patrike”, but educated “people like us” who one would expect to be objective and rational on all counts.
The suspicion grew when the very same class of people made the same kind of noises during the Unnao and Kathua rapes. So what if there were BJP lawmakers marching in support of a rapist? Freedom of speech. There were a few from the Congress too. Why be selective? Did the rape really happen in a temple? Various witnesses would suggest otherwise, said the fence sitters. Even the forensics was doubted.
Advocate Deepika Rajawat, the lone defence counsel for the eight-year-old Kathua victim, feared for her life and informed the court that several elements, including a few members of the Jammu Kashmir Bar Association, had threatened her with dreadful consequences (that included rape) if she continued to fight the case.
Kavinder Gupta, one of the participants in the HEM rally in support of the alleged rapists, was made the deputy chief minister of the state. In his first media interaction after assuming the office, he termed the Kathua incident as a “small incident” being blown out of proportion.
In the Unnao case, BJP Bairia MLA Surendra Singh came out with a statement saying that he was speaking from a “psychological point of view, no one can rape a mother of 3 children. It is not possible, this is a conspiracy against him (Kuldeep Sengar).”
And now, Pramod Muthalik of the Ram Sene denies any ties with Parshuram Ashok Waghmare inspite of documented evidence, including photographs of them together. There are enough fellow travelers to come out with inventive rationales of their own to justify and defend him.
The Hindu Janajagruti Samiti too has denied its role in the plot. One of its functionaries issued a statement in a local TV channel, “Our organisation has become a soft target. Our image is being tarnished for political reasons.”
The coffin of one of the Dadri-lynching accused had the Tricolour draped on it.
Groups of people on social media have posted messages with slogans like Jai Parashuram, Jai Mangal Pande and Jai Nathuram Godse, terming Parshuram a “Dharma Rakshak (protector of the faith”).
The intersect between law, politics, and religion has become so toxic that even reasonable people who would have been sensible only a few years ago indulge in false equivalences, comparing an Arnab Goswami with a Ravish Kumar and claiming that they are the “same” in terms of partisanship, and the handling of issues. It is “Our Arnab” vs “your Ravish” in an openly biased game of nods and winks, suppression of facts, and denial of circumstances.
However, when Bisada residents drape the national flag on the accused in the Dadri lynching case, or Nishikant Dubey, a BJP lawmaker from Jharkhand, offers to pay the legal expenses of four men in Jharkhand accused of killing two others on suspicion of cattle theft, or when Sri Ram Sene appeals to the people through social media sites to extend financial support to the family of Parshuram Ashok Wagmare and support the “Hindu cause” – does it not convey a message loud and clear to us?
When a lawyer takes up cudgels for accused parties, criminals whose complicity and guilt are practically a bygone conclusion, it is his/her duty to do so. It would seem that the public has taken up that role too, with the deftness of a Jethmalani or a Subramanian Swamy.
Politically driven crimes have a meta context, a larger climate. To deny that context and take refuge in legalisms, playing devil’s advocate, is the sign of an invested party with his skin very much in the game. It is neither being neutral, nor being objective.
It is undeniable that men like Kuldeep Sengar, Sanji Ram, and Parshuram Ashok Waghmare are entitled to have their day in court, with the right of being represented by defence counsels and until hard evidence proves otherwise, they cannot be pronounced guilty by media trials.
But it is also true that we cannot and should not blind ourselves to the socio political circumstances that have brought them to this pass. And we ignore at our collective peril the convergence of interests on a scale hitherto unprecedented, where normal ordinary citizens cheer on, and encourage horrific atrocities.