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The pathology in Kathua

In an article in this paper, (‘A case of selective outrage’, IE, May 12), Prakash Singh — the most well-known advocate for police reforms in the country —has taken umbrage to parts of an open letter which 49 retired civil servants wrote to the prime minister on April 16. The letter pertained to crisis of governance and constitutional principles that the two horrifying incidents of rape and murder in Kathua and Unnao represented. As a signatory to this letter and one closely involved with its drafting, I believe it is necessary to rebut Singh’s charge of “selective outrage” and expose his own selective misreading of the letter.

Singh has picked three phrases in the letter to show how our expression of outrage is an overreaction, where we, supposedly staid and sober civil servants, have allowed sentiment and rhetoric to overrun reason. He has objected to our having called this “the darkest hour in post Independence India” and has taken objection to our projecting the current state of affairs as an “existential crisis”. He has also taken exception to our reference to “brutality in the name of Hindus” because we have not in the same breath condemned atrocities by Muslims.

Much of Singh’s argument is confined to the kind of “whataboutery”, which we have come to expect from the apologists of the present establishment. Any adverse criticism has to be countered by showing that the critics did not react with the same vehemence on a previous occasion which according to them were more deserving of outrage. So our terming two incidents of rape as constituting “the darkest hour” was unjustified when, according to him, we had faced many more darker moments in post independence India.

Singh, obviously sees much of contemporary history as a rerun of horror films from which we as a jury of sorts, should pick and choose the one which best fits our sense of outrage. This would have been just a silly argument if it did not mask a far more insidious intent: Normalising the politics of hate and violence.

The Kathua rape/murder, in particular (more than the Unnao one which was primarily a case of abuse of political power) was not just another sexual crime. It was a cold and calculated act of hate-filled ethnic cleansing. Rape was a political instrument with the rapist(s) knowing that there existed social and political sanction for such ethnic cleansing.

Not since the massacres in 1984 in Delhi and the violence in 2002 in Gujarat had a section of the civil society allegedly identified and singled out members of a community as targets for a premeditated attack. However, both were retaliatory actions, with uncontrollable mobs seeking revenge for perceived wrongs. In Kathua, there was no such provocation nor was it a mob run amok. It was a group of individuals executing a premeditated operation designed for inflicting maximum cruelty.

What made it into an unspeakable horror was that we had never witnessed a vocal section of the civil society come out in support of the alleged perpetrators and make every effort to thwart judicial processes. We have never seen such a brazen attempt to rationalise crime in the name of Hindu unity and never before have ministers endorsed such criminal behaviour and encourage carefully-planned brutality against a community. Never before had a prime minister found it unnecessary to offer a word of solace to the family of the victim or a word of reassurance to the community to which the victim belonged dropping even the pretence of compassion towards that community. Still not the “darkest hour”, Mr Singh?

Our letter to the PM was not about rape or sexual crime or the vulnerability of women and children or the weaknesses in our criminal justice system or lapses in the administration of law and order. It was not about the crimes themselves, heinous and horrifying as they were. It was about the pathology of hate and division and the manner in which the body politic has been infected by the Sangh Parivar. It was about the collapse of the values on which our Constitution is based, the systematic destruction of institutions, the climate of fear and intimidation and the propagation of a virulent form of hyper-nationalism, identified with a singular religio- cultural identity. That is our existential crisis.

As citizens, we felt it was incumbent on us to speak out because remaining silent is to be complicit with the viciousness that is getting embedded in our polity. Pity, that in disapproving our expression of anger and subjecting it to his selective whataboutery Singh has allowed his ideological sympathies to overrun his civic conscience.