Why UP Police Downplayed Hathras Rape & What It Means For Society

A retired senior IPS officer breaks down for us why the UP Police committed egregious errors in Hathras rape case.

Published
Opinion
6 min read
Image used for representational purposes.
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[Trigger Warning: rape and murder – some parts of the analysis below may be too graphic for some audiences. Reader’s discretion is advised.]

The shocking gang rape and murder of a SC/ST (Dalit) girl in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh is not just another heinous crime; it will also be remembered as a classic example for the police – how not to handle a case like this.

The police showed rank insensitivity in this case, and from the very beginning, strove to downplay its severity.

The police say that, in her first statement, the girl ‘had not mentioned’ rape. Let us, for the sake of argument, accept that it is true. However, it begs a question: the victim’s mother says that she had found her injured and unconscious daughter stripped of her clothes in the crop fields and that she was bleeding from her private parts as well. Since the victim could not be taken to the police station in that state, her mother covered her up.

Is there any reason to disbelieve the mother’s version? I do not think so.

That is where the police failed.

Why Didn’t The Police Take A More Holistic View Of Circumstantial Evidence?

If a woman is found stripped and brutalised in the crop fields – a scenario historically associated with rape / sexual violence – what should have been the first impression in the minds of the police? Sexual assault, obviously. The police should have suo motu registered a case for attempt to rape or molestation and modified it later as necessary, even if the injured girl was unable to articulate ‘rape’ at the time.

It is entirely possible that she was unconscious or in a semi-conscious state at the time of rape, due to injury to her spine and being choked by her dupatta by the perpetrators.

So, it is likely that when she regained consciousness and the ability to communicate, the first thing that came to her mind was one of the accused choking her, which she mentioned. She did realise the act of rape soon after, and mentioned it in her subsequent statement.

The police, in this case, failed to take a holistic view of the circumstantial evidence.

Why Did The Police Downplay The Incident?

Why did the police fail in the above? The first reason is their desire to please their masters. By downplaying a rape, and that too concerning a victim from a disadvantaged community, they were trying to keep up the narrative of ‘excellent’ law-and-order in the state.

The second is their desire to keep their own investigation-related workload low.

The victim’s family alleged that she was not given proper medical care at Hathras and Aligarh and that they were kept in the dark about her actual condition. While we do not have any information about the treatment meted out to her, we can indeed believe in the second part. Doctors in India are notorious for extremely poor communication with the patients and their relatives regarding the condition of the patient.

That the police sought to downplay the incident is also evident from the fact that the ADG Law and Order reportedly did speak of the medical evidence from the Aligarh hospital regarding rape being ‘inconclusive’ at that stage.

For their information, according to the definition of rape in Section 375 IPC (as amended by Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013), the definition of rape has been widened to include acts other than only peno-vaginal penetration.

Here, an undue insistence on the medico-legal examination being ‘inconclusive’ about rape is strongly suggestive of ulterior motives.

Inappropriate Cremation – Another Failure Of The Police

The police failed miserably in the matter of the disposal of the dead body also. In the surreptitious cremation acutely reminiscent of the cremation of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru by the British in the dark of the night, they committed a legal faux pas. Even the possible argument – that they wanted to ‘avoid the protest and agitations’ which might have occurred had the victim been cremated at her native place – falters on two counts:

  • First, it is the job of the police to handle such protests. Even terrorists / militants are allowed proper burials.
  • Second, it was very much the right of the family to demand a second post-mortem examination. By hurriedly and, as alleged by the family and supported by TV visuals, forcibly cremating the body, they snatched away the family’s right to demand a second post-mortem. Given the fact that there were allegations of the medico-legal examination having been ‘fudged’, there would have been nothing illegal for them to approach the courts requesting a second post-mortem.

In this connection, we may recall an incident in Bhandara, Maharashtra in March 2013. Three girls aged six, nine and 11 were allegedly raped and murdered by unidentified persons in Murwadi village in Lakhni taluka of Bhandara district, nearly 70 km from Nagpur. Their bodies were found dumped in a farm well.

The post-mortem performed the following day at the Bhandara district government hospital strongly suggested rape. Then another post-mortem by a panel of doctors from Mumbai and AIIMS ruled out rape. The panel concluded it was death by drowning. Never mind that it did not make any sense for the girls to die by suicide that way. Now two diametrically opposite findings could not be true simultaneously. Someone was at serious fault and they were not punished for this lapse.

The point being made is that given the poor state of forensic science and medicine in the country, there is no reason to treat doctors performing autopsies as demigods.

They are all fallible. Hence, a demand for a second post-mortem under suspicious circumstances should not have been dismissed.

What Investigating Officers Must Do Better

The only redeeming feature of the police is that they have arrested the accused promptly. However, even regarding that, it must be noted that the accused had made no attempt to either conceal their identities or flee from the village.

This shows that they were not afraid of any police action and had acted with impunity.

The case is not irretrievably lost yet. It is necessary that the vaginal swab and the victim’s clothes etc be tested for DNA profiling. DNA profiling can be obtained even in cases where chemical tests fail to prove the presence of semen. The victim’s last statement, though not a ‘proper’ dying declaration, would also carry weight in view of several judgments of the Supreme Court.

Investigation of rape or rape-and-murder cases is not rocket science. While conventional techniques and procedures are taught in every police training institution, it is for the investigating officers – if they have any desire to excel professionally – to scan the literature and keep themselves abreast of the latest scientific techniques.

Police officers must not expect to be spoon-fed everything nor can everything be prescribed in the form of an SOP. If some SOP is made at all, it would require constant updating, something I find unrealistic in government departments.

The ‘Biggest Shame’ Of All

The most regrettable part about the shameful episode is that Indian society continues to display a remarkable degree of consistency in its brutality and sexual perversions. Nirbhaya, Kathua, Surat – all such horrors confirm that legislations alone cannot help the “beast within the minds of the men”.

The incidents also show that social reforms have been largely ineffective. All that is ugly, beastly and ghastly in society appears to be immutable because the privileged continue to benefit from it, albeit silently.

Even our outrage has become selective. There was little protest over Kathua and Surat. There is certainly not enough protest over Hathras as well.

The unfortunate daughter of Hathras happened to be raped and murdered twice; first at the hands of the criminals, and second, at the hands of a police force – whose rank insensitivity in handling the case broke her and her family as well.

(Dr NC Asthana, a retired IPS officer, has been DGP Kerala and a long-time ADG CRPF and BSF. He tweets @NcAsthana. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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