Why Did The Haryana Govt. And Police Deny The Murthal Rapes?

Posted by Shikha Sharma in Gender-Based Violence, Politics
January 21, 2017

On February 24 last year, a daily newspaper reported the rape and assault of several women near Murthal, a town 50 kilometres from Delhi, during violence that broke out during the Jat reservation agitation.

For a long time, the Haryana government denied any such incident, with the police going so far as to rubbish media reports that first brought the issue to light. Nearly a year later, observations by the Punjab and Haryana High Court that these rapes had indeed taken place at Murthal during the Jat protests clearly raise questions on the role of the state that did everything in its power to pass off the incident as a rumour.

Noting witness statements and the fact that women’s undergarments were recovered, the Punjab and Haryana High Court observed on Thursday that the Haryana police should set up a special investigation team to find the culprits.

Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar. Photo by Manoj Verma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

There is little doubt that the BJP-led Haryana Government did everything in its power to hinder the investigation, rejecting even the faintest possibility of the occurrence of the rapes. The state government team, in fact, said that it could not find any corroborative incident in the media report. The police too stayed in denial mode for the longest time, with reports emerging of the police itself dissuading witnesses from filing cases.

So, why did women’s undergarments strewn on the Murthal highway fail to get the necessary response from Manohar Lal Khattar’s police? Instead of chasing the rapists, why did the police try hiding the crime behind flimsy and ridiculous theories? The answer is two words – Vote-bank Politics.

Jats constitute about 28% of the state’s population (25% of the electorate) and are distributed all over the state. While the ruling BJP didn’t want its image tarnished, the Congress and the INLD who also had a sizeable Jat support base did not want to be seen as those that were targeting the community either.

The reluctance of the state to call out the incident for what it was – a ‘riot’ instead of a ‘movement’ that it was branded as by the state – gave the government even more justification to not take any action, especially in absence of any visible outcry from the public. After all, who rapes women in a movement right?

The result? Not only did the government not take any action, in a sense, it ended up rewarding the Jats for their crimes by announcing a separate quota, and protecting them from the law. (The High Court, later, stayed this quota too).

“The rapes and cover up in Murthal are yet another instance of sexual violence condoned and tacitly encouraged by a BJP government. It’s a shame that (Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal) Khattar who tells schoolgirls to avoid skirts to be protected from rape, is covering up a mass rape on his watch,” Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, had said.

Political interests, in fact, hijacked administrative machinery so badly that law and order came to a complete halt during days of rioting. And this is what poses the real danger to India. Politicisation of the administration and erosion in its capacities, to appease certain groups and communities has been happening in many states in the country, but in Haryana, it reflects the low this can reach.

If India as a nation doesn’t express outrage at the way the state tried to protect its own interests over its citizens, if we don’t express anger over how the state completely let down its women, incidents like the one that happened in Murthal may happen in other parts of the country too. And we will only have ourselves to blame. After all, we are yet to talk about what happened in Chhattisgarh.

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