CJ Werleman argues that the rape and murder of a Dalit woman in Hathras is another alarm bell indicating the extent of the human rights crisis in India

After being harassed by a gang of upper-caste males outside her home in Hathras for months, the 19-year-old Dalit shook off her fears to help her family cut grass for their animals in a nearby field, where she was followed by four men belonging to the Thakur caste, one that enjoys privilege, patronage and impunity in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

The men grabbed the girl, held her down, tied her up, and then tortured her before taking turns raping her over the course of the next hour or so, leaving her to die in agony and alone on 14 September.

With multiple fractures and cervical injuries, she was found and transported to a district hospital, where she gave a statement on 22 September, describing the attack and her perpetrators, before being moved to a hospital in New Delhi six days later, where she died.

Rule of Law Breaking Down

In a healthy and functioning democracy, one in which all are equal before the law, the story of this heinous crime would predictably end with the arrest, trial and conviction of the attackers.

But this is India, a country led by a Prime Minister and a Government that has not only embraced a Hindu nationalist agenda, but also caste supremacism. As a result, the wheels of ‘justice’ are being spun to favour the upper caste Hindu rapist-murderers at the expense of the Dalit victim.

Uttar Pradesh police have gone to extraordinary and obvious lengths to shield the perpetrators by forcibly cremating the victim’s body (destroying evidence in a capital case) and then later declaring she had not been raped, with the Government hiring a public relations firm to help it solidify the lie and conceal its efforts to obstruct justice.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders and members, accompanied by right-wing Hindutva organisations, including Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Bajrang Dal and Karni Sena, are now holding rallies to express solidarity with both the rapist-murderers and authorities in Uttar Pradesh. This is the sanctification of ethnic cleansing by any other name.

“There was no rape,” said BJP leader and former parliamentarian Rajveer Singh Pehelwan at a rally on Sunday. “Why did the victim’s family name only one person initially and then add three more names? All their allegations of the girl being strangulated, etc are false.”

Sounding the Alarm

India’s apparent drift towards fascism under the guise of Hindu nationalism is well documented, as is its year-on-year spike in hate crimes against religious minorities, particularly Muslims.

But it appears that matters have now reached the stage where the Government is conspiring with the country’s security forces to hide and destroy evidence of their participation in the rape and murder of non-Hindu minorities.

Earlier this year, the great Indian novelist Arundhati Roy warned that “the situation in India is approaching genocidal”. More than 50 Muslims were murdered during February’s Delhi Riots. But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, which made the country’s 200 million Muslims the target of further conspiracy-based suspicion and hatred.

Human rights groups such as Amnesty International have also been sounding the alarm bell, but now Amnesty International is gone, closing its operations in India after enduring what it called a two-year campaign of harassment, citing the Government’s freezing of its bank accounts and heavy-handed interrogation of its executive staff.

The Modi regime is “treating human rights organisations like criminal enterprises and dissenting individuals as criminals without any credible evidence,” said Avinash Kumar, executive director of Amnesty International India. Its aim is to “stoke a climate of fear”.

India becomes only the second country to have forcibly pressured Amnesty International into leaving its soil. The other being Vladimir Putin’s Russia, where human rights violations against minorities and political opposition have become business-as-usual, which gives one a sense of where India finds itself today under Modi’s leadership and BJP rule.

The Looming Humanitarian Crisis

There is a rising danger that Muslims and other religious minorities in India find themselves ever closer to the brink of genocide, and the international community ever closer to being confronted with what would be the world’s largest humanitarian crisis ever, the number of displaced people that could potentially be displaced dwarfs any refugee crisis that has come before.

The international community should be especially alarmed about the fate awaiting 8 million Muslims in Indian Occupied Kashmir, where India’s Hindu settler-colonial project is well underway, and where journalists and protesters are routinely detained, imprisoned, tortured and disappeared. 

New Delhi’s stripping of Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status a year ago represented the start of the current phase by the Government to transform the country’s secular democracy into a tyrannical Hindu theocracy, as does its crackdown on journalists and activists who spoke out and protested against its anti-Muslim citizenship laws, otherwise known respectively as Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens.

Targeting journalists, critics, and human rights organizations is the Government’s strategy to dim the lights and keep the rest of the world in the dark, as it continues to make the space for democracy and individual right ever smaller, but while making no secret of its intent to drive non-Muslims out of the country within the next decade. 

Indian journalist Shoaib Daniyal says the Government’s role in covering up the rape-murder of the Dalit girl and expressions of support for her murderers is a “wake up call” for how just how “brutal” India has become for women and religious minorities, asking, “When will this race to the bottom end?”

It will end only at such time the international community ends its silent opposition or participation with the Hindu nationalist agenda, thus making a global boycott movement against BJP government officials, BJP friendly corporations and those affiliated with RSS and other Hindutva organisations a matter of urgency.


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