The gang rape and murder by hanging of two minor girls in Badaun in Uttar Pradesh are shocking even by the abysmal standards of law and order obtaining under Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav. The crime, horrific in itself, is magnified by the social context in which it happened. The teenagers paid the price on several counts, including for being female in an environment predisposed to gender violence and discrimination and for their economically dire status. The girls had to go out into the fields at night because of the absence of toilets, an elementary human requirement, in their own homes. That policemen, appointed as custodians of law and order, possibly aided and abetted the crime, is another grisly reality in a country celebrated as the world’s largest democracy and in a state whose regime proclaims its commitment to social justice. From all accounts, the frightful incident was easily preventable by timely police action. A relative witnessed one of the girls being dragged by her hair and reported it to her family, which rushed to the nearby police chowki to lodge a complaint.

The police, as has happened in countless cases, not merely refused to register the complaint but threatened the family with further violence. By morning it was too late to save the teenagers, who were found to have been raped, strangulated and strung up from a tree. The endemic nature of crimes against the socially vulnerable ought to have sensitised the Akhilesh Yadav government to the need to ensure more equitable appointments in the police and administrative structures. Instead, the State government appears to have been partisan in making the appointments, which arguably added muscle and power to existing social malpractices. The incident has been followed by the wearisome routine of political parties crowding into the village ostensibly to commiserate with the victim-families but in actual fact to exploit the tragedy for their own political interests. The State government has since agreed to seek a CBI probe, which is at best a part solution to a long-festering grassroots-level problem. In 2012, the young Chief Minister brought with him a lot of hope, especially with regard to reversing his party’s image as a facilitator of lawlessness. That hope has been belied. Last year, the State government stood mute as a communal riot ravaged Muzaffarnagar, rendering over 40,000 Muslims refugees in their own country. More recently, Mulayam Singh Yadav brought further disrepute to the regime with his atrocious “boys will be boys” justification for rape. The Narendra Modi government, which has promised a hundred smart cities, might also want to look at the countryside where the crying need is for a robust mechanism to address the severe and persisting social and economic inequities.

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