January 28, 2024

Hathras: Metaphor for Manuvadi Injustice

Brinda Karat

“IT is we who are the prisoners. Those who gangraped and murdered our sister, committed terrible atrocities on her, are free. They are walking around the village like victors. But we cannot step out of our home.” These words were spoken by Satinder Kumar, the 33 year old elder brother of the girl known as the Hathras victim to Subhashini Ali and myself when we travelled to their village Bul Garhi, on January 17. We had made the trip to inquire about their welfare. What we found was a shameful subversion of justice and the implementation of an unspoken caste code.  Our visit brought home to us in very stark terms that the fight for justice for a dalit in today’s Uttar Pradesh, is a herculean task, which makes a mockery of the constitutional prohibition of discrimination on the basis of caste.We understood, while getting the details of the family’s continuing trauma, that there have been four phases of the implementation of this Manuvadi caste code.


The first was the crime itself, committed in September 2020 – the gangrape and murder of a nineteen year old dalit girl belonging to a poor family, by four upper caste men. Her existence was at the centre of the unique “made in India” social crossing, where the exploitations and oppressions of caste, class and patriarchy combine. Balmiki. Dalit. Poor. Woman. 19 years old. It was a caste crime; it was a crime against a woman; it was a class crime against a poor woman by powerful rural elite; it was a crime based on entitlement and therefore not to be considered a crime at all.


The second phase was the caste driven cover up of the crime by the administration and the UP government. The crime had occurred in September 2020. The administration and the UP government did everything possible to sabotage the inquiry. From the beginning, the lie was put out that there was no rape and whatever happened was consensual. The FIR was not filed for five days. The medical test was delayed and vital evidence lost. The urgent medical treatment required was delayed and the girl’s health deteriorated. She was shifted to a Delhi hospital too late. After she died her body was forcibly taken away by the police and she was cremated at dead of night by the police without the permission of her family. By cremating her, the police prevented any demand for a second post mortem.  After national protests and outrage the case was handed over to the CBI.


The third phase of the Manuvadi caste code has been in the judicial process and in the continuing bias of the government.

The CBI chargesheet had a detailed account of the atrocities against the young woman and charges were made under the relevant clauses of gangrape, murder and conspiracy. The chargesheet had relied on the dying declaration of the victim and that given by her mother, who had been the first person to have found the girl in such a tortured state. The case was heard by the special district court designated to hear cases against SC/STs under the Prevention of Atrocities Act (PoA). The victim’s dying declaration was discounted by the court, with no reasons given. The mother’s statement was also brushed aside. Three of the four accused who had been named by the girl were exonerated. The fourth was convicted for a lesser crime under Sec 304 – that is culpable homicide.

In UP, members of the caste brotherhood of the chief minister Adityanath, enjoy a special impunity.  Suppose that the caste equations had been reversed. Imagine if the victim was from an upper caste community and the accused were dalits or from a minority community. In that scenario if the girl had made a dying declaration as the Hathras victim had, it would have been accepted without argument and they would have been given life imprisonment if not capital punishment. A dying declaration is always given weightage by the court as it should be. But in Hathras, the girl belonged to the Balmiki community and she was accusing members of the caste brotherhood. Pressure was brought on the family to compromise and accept the verdict. Their hopes that the government would appeal against this blatantly unfair judgement were belied. The UP government refused to appeal. Moreover equally condemnable, the CBI which had framed the chargesheet and was the main prosecution in the case also refused to appeal. Has there been such a precedent? A chargesheet which contains such grave charges such as gangrape, conspiracy and murder filed by the CBI which is rejected by the lower court and the CBI refuses to appeal in defence of their own case? The CBI is under the central home ministry. It can be assumed that the decision not to appeal has the sanction of the home ministry and its powerful minister Amit Shah. In the light of the refusal of the government and the CBI to file an appeal, it is the family, defying the pressure, who have filed an appeal before the Allahabad High Court. The case is pending.

The second case is of the Lucknow bench. After the terrible crime in September 2020, the Lucknow bench had taken suo moto notice of the case. The victim’s family were called before the court in October 2020, and the court gave directions to the government to provide one member of the family a government job, to ensure security for the family and to make arrangements to shift the family out of the area to a safer place for them. The UP government which refused to file an appeal against the verdict of exoneration, behaved in the manner of a petty vindictive bully, by going in appeal in the Supreme Court against giving any job or alternative residential arrangements for the family, as directed by the Lucknow Court. The family again had to make arrangements to fight the case in the Supreme Court. In April 2023, the Supreme Court three member bench headed by the chief justice rejected the government appeal for a stay on the Lucknow Court judgement. However, the government has refused to implement the judgement. The next hearing in the Supreme Court is scheduled later in January 2024. In both cases it is the family that bears the burden, the tension, the expenses of the legal process. In both cases they are having to fight the government.


The fourth and continuing phase is the day-to-day struggle, just to survive in the face of the continuing hostility of powerful forces from the village level to the topmost levels of government. The brothers, Satinder and Sandeep told us of the scenes last year when the accused were released. It reminded us of the VHP organising celebrations when the rapists and killers in the Bilkis Bano case had been released. They said “the men were released very soon after the judgement on March 3, 2023. It was a few days before Holi. But it was as if Holi was being celebrated. There were celebratory drums and flowers being thrown on them and they were taken around in processions being garlanded by members of their community.” There are only six dalit households in Bul Garhi village. The majority of the households are thakurs, the caste to which all the accused belong and a substantial number in the village belong to the brahmin community. The family says they were terrified and isolated.

The government had in the initial days given Rs 25 lakhs as “compensation” to the family. It had implemented the court order to provide 24 hours round the clock security for the family. When we visited the family we saw a camp of the central forces in one section of the compound where the family lives. We were told that a company had been deputed for the family protection and at any given time there were 15 or so personnel posted for security. One of the constables told us that were it not for their presence, the family would have been killed. “There is lot of anger in the village that this family is fighting in court” they told us.

However, the security has also proven to be a double-edged sword. Both the brothers have lost their jobs. Satinder used to work in a manufacturing factory in Noida and his younger brother Sandeep in a mobile company in Ghaziabad. They had to come home to their village to protect their parents. They cannot leave their home now without security and no employer is willing to employ them because they will have to be accompanied by armed police personnel. The family has five bighas of land given to them during the land distribution programme for dalits several decades ago. Two bighas have been illegally occupied by upper castes. They till three bighas of land. Even when they go for agricultural operations, they are accompanied by the police. They cannot step out of their home, even to buy vegetables. They said that when they go to the market they are kept in the middle of two sets of police. This attracts unwanted attention and as a result they are easily identified as “the Hathras case” family. In the household, there is the grandmother Shanti Devi over 80 years old,  the girl’s parents Om Prakash and Rama Devi. Om Prakash had been a worker in Asansol for decades and was familiar with the red flag. He said such gross injustice could never have happened in Bengal under Jyoti Basu. Satinder’s wife Sandhya and their three children and the younger brother aged 23, Sandeep. Because of security reasons the children have stopped going to school. The eldest child has been sent to Sandhya’s parents. The right to education for the younger two has been blocked by these circumstances. The family is in deep financial distress. Over these three years, the compensation amount has been spent on expenses related to the case. Even when sympathetic lawyers do not charge fees, every trip to the court costs upto Rs 15,000-20,000. The family has to hire a vehicle not only for themselves but also for the security guards. Sometimes, especially in the earlier days, they were having to go to the various courts, in Lucknow and Allahabad several times a month. Every time the family attends a social function, there are similar expenses. All travel arrangements have to be made by the family. As a result, the family has stopped going out at all. Last year Sandhya fell seriously ill. She had to be admitted to a hospital in Agra. Apart from the high expenses for her medical treatment, the family had to make arrangements for a separate room for the security guards which cost a lot of money. Rama Devi broke down several times while talking to us. She said that she sees images of her beloved daughter’s brutalised body and finds it difficult to come to terms with the injustice of the perpetrators of the violence being released. She wept saying it is not just her daughter, but now the entire family is being destroyed. Pointing to her sons she said “what crime have they committed to have their normal lives snatched away from them…how can we live if they do not find employment.” It was then that Satinder said that the compensation money is almost exhausted. He said that they had kept some aside for the legal costs and have tried to cut down on all other expenses. “We require at least Rs 15,000 a month for our food and minimum expenses” he said “but without an income the situation is becoming desperate.” Pointing to the clothes he was wearing he said even our clothes are given to us by relatives, we feel ashamed to speak about our difficulties.”

The Lok Sabha seat is a seat reserved for the SCs. The sitting MP is from the BJP, a man called Rajvir Diler. He did not visit the family even once. When asked about their plight he said the government has given Rs 25 lakhs, what else can it do. We were told a story that reportedly, when he goes to upper caste houses, where dalits are not served tea in the same glasses used in the house, he carries his own glass and drinks his tea from it so as not to offend his upper caste constituents. These are the caste codes shamefully adhered to by a BJP SC MP. These are the codes that are expected to be followed by all dalits. 

This dreadful plight is the punishment meted out to a dalit family. The punishment is because they have refused to compromise with the rapists and killers of their sister, their daughter. Hathras is a metaphor for injustice, cruelty and the implementation of the Manu code against dalits and women by the BJP double-engine government.

On behalf of the CPI(M), we assured them of all help in their brave struggle for justice.