All 4 Accused Acquitted Of Gangrape In Hathras Case – Where Is the Outrage?

Only 1 of 4 in the Hathras case have been held guilty under Section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) by a UP court. All four are held not guilty of gang rape.

Trigger Warning: This deals with violence against women, caste based violence, gang rape and murder, and may be triggering to survivors.

This is news that some of us would have missed entirely – I would have if I hadn’t come across Live Law’s tweet while scrolling through my Twitter feed.

This is a case that is so horrific and shrouded in such murky circumstances that the acquittal decision should have hogged the news cycle and social media for days. However, the usual social media outrage that would follow something like this is stark by its absence.

A horrific crime

UP Court acquits three accused, finds one guilty. Sentence to be pronounced shortly.#HathrasCase #Hathras

— Live Law (@LiveLawIndia) March 2, 2023

In September 2020, a 19-year-old Dalit woman was allegedly gang-raped by four men of an upper caste community: Sandip Thakur, Ramu Thakur, Lavkush Thakur and Ravi Thakur, in what was clearly caste based gender violence. The perpetrator(s) also tried to strangle her with her own dupatta. The violent assault left her with broken bones, a severed tongue and a spinal injury that left her paralysed.

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Was justice done by this verdict?

Only one of the accused, Sandip is now held guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and is sentenced to life imprisonment. The other three accused have been acquitted. All four are acquitted of the charge of gang rape. This, in spite of the fact that the victim had named all four in her dying declaration to the police – she said she was raped and strangled when she tried to resist.

The charge of mishandling

She died in Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital weeks after the attack. In a bizarre incident, the body of the 19-year-old was hurriedly cremated by the police in the middle of the night without consent or knowledge of her family, allegedly to destroy evidence and favour the accused. Siddique Kappan, a reporter from Kerala had travelled to cover the story, when he was apprehended and jailed for two years without any charge. He was recently released after the Supreme Court intervened.

Apart from the fact that this matter was clearly badly mishandled, we also have to acknowledge the limitations of the fast track courts. These courts are set up with the desirable objective of enabling victims to get speedy justice, but there are many limitations.

With pressure from the political class to do ‘something’ quickly to assuage pressure from the public, these matters are often hurriedly disposed of. The evidence and witnesses are sometimes inadequately examined before reaching a conclusion. The courts also tend to be understaffed and under-resourced.

The evil of caste casts a long shadow

While a lot of people have tried to deny the caste angle in this matter, this was very much a vital aspect of this violent crime. Sexual violence has long been one of the ways in which caste hierarchy is asserted; a way of ‘showing people their place’ in the social order. In the Hathras case, this was unambiguous since charges were also filed under SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act.

The powerless in India are far easier to punish than the powerful and the resourceful. As such Dalits and other marginalised communities disproportionately bear the brunt of a brutal law enforcement system that finds it easy to pick up and lock up those from the weakest sections of society.

Our prisons are populated by people largely without the means or the power to obtain justice. Lakhs of under-trials languish in prison for years, often without being charged. Many are released years later, actually being found innocent. There is no accounting for the years lost in an opaque and inimical system that is hostile towards the powerless; which kowtows to the powerful.

Our selective outrage

In the Nirbhaya case, the perpetrators were swiftly caught and brought to justice. While public pressure was a big part of this, the fact that the accused were poor people with few means was a big factor why the criminals were punished swiftly and comprehensively.

In the Hyderabad gang rape case, the authorities had no compunction in devising an ‘encounter’ where all the accused were eliminated – because there was public pressure and because they had no one powerful or resourceful on their side. I am not talking about guilt or innocence here, merely the swiftness of ‘justice’ when it is directed at the powerless.

The fact that the acquittal of the accused in the Hathras case has attracted little social media outrage should make us introspect. Our outrage seems to have become selective – we look at the ‘full names’ of the accused and the victim before we decide whether to be angry and how angry to be.

When some on social media insist that caste played no part in the Hathras crime, what are we to think? When the convicted rapists of Bilqis Bano are released early by the authorities and welcomed with garlands, and there is a deafening silence of some parts of social media, what other conclusion can we draw?

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About the Author

Reena Daruwalla

A former lawyer, now freelance writer, fauji wife, mother, singer, knitter and lover of my own cooking, I have altogether too many opinions and too few convictions. The more I learn the more I am read more...

38 Posts | 27,651 Views

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