Media especially the audio-visual variety thrives on sensationalism. Thus the horrific imagery of two girls raped and left hanging from a tree in Badaun, Uttar Pradesh has expectedly found disproportionate attention. It has ensured that a slew of politicians including Rahul Gandhi visited the place. The outrage is expected to die down as soon as it did in the Nirbhaya case. But this incident has again reignited a debate on women security (or the lack of it) in the most populous state of India.
Currently, Akhilesh Yadav is facing flak for failing to prevent atrocity against women in the state. Even as I write this article reports are emerging of rape of a 13-year-old in Greater Noida. Just a day before, a judge was raped in Aligarh at Uttar Pradesh. Thus from urbane Noida to the rustic fields of Azamgarh, women cutting across social status are being systematically targeted. It is worthwhile to note that violence against women is not an Uttar Pradesh-centric phenomenon.
According to data published by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in 2011 alone staggering 24,206 cases of rape cases were registered of which around 9% were from Uttar Pradesh (2042). But what makes the condition in Uttar Pradesh precarious is that it is not merely an issue of law and order here.
Just to blame the Akhilesh government will be too simplistic. There is a deep social malaise underlying this brutal assault against women in the state. Deep-seated patriarchy coupled with misogyny and endless bigotry has made women a very soft target. This is accompanied with the complicated caste cauldron making Uttar Pradesh an extremely tricky state to govern.
According to public perception, Mayawati was much better than Akhilesh at providing safety to the women. But the figures of NCRB paint a different tale. From 2007 onwards crime against women in Uttar Pradesh has consistently been above 20,000 per year. It has seen a steady increase even in BSP rule. In nearly one third of these cases, the perpetrators are family members or relatives of the affected women which make it even more difficult for any government mechanism to intervene.
Mostly callous comments by top SP leaders have invited the wrath against Akhilesh Yadav. The CM is right when he says rapes happen elsewhere also but rarely top politicians make flippant comments about such sensitive issues. The way Mulayam Singh Yadav spoke out against giving death penalty to rapists saying boys sometimes do mistakes was in poor taste. Only in UP an entire battery of police force is deployed to search for lost buffaloes of political leaders instead of maintaining law and order!! All these have built up the perception that the government is guilty of omission if not of commission for failing to provide adequate security.
Strictly going by the NCRB data, when judged on the basis of crime rate (per million women) Uttar Pradesh is in the fifth position nearly 2.5 times less than “leader” West Bengal. But the locals don’t agree and allege that police don’t even register FIR in most incidents. Even in the case of double rape and murder in Badaun family members have alleged that FIR was not taken by the police. There has been constant murmur that police thanas now have predominantly Yadav representation that turns a blind eye to criminals belonging to the same caste. While there is no definite proof to validate this theory even such perception is enough for hooligans to run amok. Thus despite tough rape laws post Nirvaya incident lack of fear in the police has ensured no dip in the crime rate against women.
Often many of these incidents are hate crimes motivated by caste and religion. Riot affected Muzaffarnagar will testify to this statement where dignity of women was mauled routinely. The fact that a riot accused (Sanjeev Baliyan) is now a Cabinet Minister in the Union government also doesn’t inspire faith among commoners.
There is unlikely to be any quick fix to solve the complex social issues plaguing the state. But governance and safety mechanism can certainly be tightened. It leads us to a question whether UP with 20 crore population is too big a state to be ruled effectively. It is a debate for another day but already Mayawati has advocated about dividing the state into 4 parts. The suggestion is certainly worth pondering. Politicians have to act and act fast to make women safe in Uttar Pradesh.