Rapes in Uttar Pradesh no longer shock — neither the political masters, nor the government and not even the people. Even as there was a national outcry against the recent twin gang-rape, brutal assault and ghastly murder by hanging from a tree in Badayun's Katra Sadatganj, forcing even the UN to sit up and take note, the powers that be in the state are unfazed.
Soon after the incident, opposition parties bayed for the blood of the state's Samajwadi Party government but forgot that the situation during their regimes in the past was no different. Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi rushed to the village in the company of national and regional TV crews to express his condolences. "This situation is not acceptable. Women are not safe in this government," he declared.
Little did he remember, and others present realized, that in 2011 he had said the same thing when a minor while herding her cattle was gang-raped in a Lakhimpur Kehri police station and then hung by a belt inside the premises. The only difference between then and 2014 is that the reins of the state have shifted from Bahujan Samaj Party's "Behenji" (Mayawati) to the SP's "Bhaiyya ji" (Akhilesh Yadav).
In 2011, the Congress-led UPA-II government at the center did nothing as it depended on the support of the 43 MPs of the SP and the BSP.
This time, BSP supremo Mayawati broke from her tradition of not visiting crime scenes and flew into the village to meet the bereaved family. Before flying off in a private chopper she held a presser to claim that it was her sustained pressure that forced the SP government to okay a CBI probe into the incident as demanded by the family of the victims.
She also conveniently forgot that visits by Congress and SP leaders to meet and console rape victims and their families during her stint as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh had drawn sharp rebuke from her. She even termed as "nautanki" (drama) every time some opponent dropped by to meet rape victims. Five of her party's legislators were named in FIRs for allegedly committing rapes.
For the Samajwadi Party government in the state, incidents of rapes continue to be treated with shameful trivialism.
Soon after the Badayun incident, a senior police officer, speaking on behalf of the state government said, almost casually, that rapes happen at a rate of 10 per day in the state. He seemed to question, rather brazenly, on why there was so much media glare on the Badayun incident or, for that matter, a series of rapes that happened thereafter in Azamgarh, Etawah and Aligarh. He also blamed the "lack of toilets" in the countryside for the rise in rapes and molestations.
What to say of the police force this officer represents? For not only has the force, which boasts of being the world's largest such in uniform, with over 128,000 men and women, it is the same police of which more than 18 senior and junior rung officials and constabulary have been accused of raping women with impunity. Last July a woman was allegedly raped by a police sub-inspector at Kushinagar, 320 km from here.
The woman, a resident of Gaunahi village, had come to report a crime when she was held hostage and raped. The same month, another woman was allegedly raped by sub-inspector Kamta Prasad Awasthi in Lucknow.
What makes Uttar Pradesh stand out from other states in crimes against women is the total impunity and lack of fear for the law. No one seems safe and no place sacrosanct.
The mother of a rape victim was recently thrashed and intimidated in Etawah for "daring to go to the police." In Nagla Preetam in Farukkhabad district, neighboring Kannuaj, the parliamentary constituency of Dimple Yadav, the wife of Akhilesh Yadav, a 14-year-old girl was torched by a young man, Shrawan Jatav, after he failed to rape her.
In SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav's Azamgarh constituency, a girl was gang-raped a week ago. The latest incident has happened in his nephew Dharmendra Yadav's parliamentary constituency of Badayun, and one of the accused is a police constable.
A rape victim, dejected at the accused not being arrested by police, consumed poison at an election rally being addressed by Akhilesh Yadav in April. The incident took place at the KM Inter college grounds in Bijnore, when the rape victim was trying to reach a point near the chief minister but was prevented by the security personnel present at the rally.
A girl was force-fed acid in Bareilly after a gang of youngsters raped her and then burnt her body with acid to prevent it being identified. The MP from the area, Santosh Gangwar of the BJP, is a minister of state at the center with independent charge. Not a word from him so far. His party leaders are, however, chest beating on the Badayun case on Lucknow's streets, facing water canons and cane charges.
Small girls, infants, teenagers and young girls are being brutally and sexually assaulted in the state and nobody seems to be care beyond their statements to print and television reporters. Many rue that things were not going to change at any time soon.
Not certainly as long as Mulayam Singh Yadav's infamous "boys will be boys and rapes are small mistakes" and his son Akhilesh Yadav's "you are safe so why worry" statements continue. Not only that, in January, Akhilesh Yadav had recommended that a rape case against one of his ministers be withdrawn in the "public interest.”
Of the 4,917 rapes committed in Uttar Pradesh in the last three years, more than 3,421 have been reported from the villages. In the last 10 months alone, more than 1,723 rape cases or attempts to rape have been logged with the police, of which 1,300-plus are from small towns and villages.
Official statistics reveal more than 13,263 cases of rape are being heard in various sessions courts across the state. In the last three months, 563 cases have been concluded with 40 of the accused convicted.
Police officers say the law is lax; the government says it has acted on rapes after they have happened; the opposition says the government must go and the people continue to hope against hope. No wonder rapes in Uttar Pradesh do not shock any more. Sadly!
(Mohit Dubey is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal.)