Speaking at a rally in the run-up to the 2022 Uttar Pradesh Assembly election, Union Home Minister Amit Shah extolled the improvement in the State’s law and order situation after the BJP came to power. “Now even a 16-year-old girl wearing jewellery can roam around at 12 pm without any fear. The change was possible only after the BJP came to power in 2017,” he said.
However, the rise in the number of crimes against women in recent years and the State Police’s approach to tackling such crimes belie these claims. According to the latest report of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Uttar Pradesh topped the country in 2022 in the total number of crimes against women (such as rape, murder, kidnapping, murder after rape, and gang rape). It recorded 65,743 such cases, compared with 56,083 in 2021 and 49,385 in 2020.
The State recorded the highest number of cases involving kidnapping of women (14,887), dowry deaths (2,138), and torture by husband and relatives (20,371). It was second in the number of rape cases (3,690), after Rajasthan (5,399). Uttar Pradesh also reported the highest number of “murders after gang-rape” (62).
Speaking to Frontline, Roop Rekha Verma, former acting Vice Chancellor of Lucknow University and social activist, said: “The BJP has been making tall claims regarding safety and security of women ever since it came to power in Uttar Pradesh in 2017. Every other day, the party leaders claim that all the criminals have retreated into their rat holes. This is not true. What has changed is that you are no longer allowed to protest against the police and the government when heinous crimes are committed against women and girls.” She added: “Uttar Pradesh society has slightly opened up for women in the past two-three decades. But what is disturbing is the growing incidence of sexual crimes against women and girls. The way their bodies are brutalised after the murder, that wasn’t so common in the past.”
In 2023, the State also witnessed several instances where women were kidnapped and raped and video clips of the crime were posted online. In one such case, a 15-year-old girl died by suicide in Kaushambi district in August after the clip went viral.
In November 2023, a disturbing viral video showed a 25-year-old woman crying for help as some men dragged her into a room at a homestay in Agra. She was reportedly forced to consume alcohol and then gang-raped. The police quickly arrested five people, including a woman. On December 30, the woman in the viral video was found lying unconscious on Agra city’s inner ring road. She was reportedly thrown out of a moving car after being forced to sign a compromise letter.
In the name of ‘protecting’ women
When Yogi Adityanath took over the reins of the State in 2017, he formed “anti-Romeo squads” to curb public harassment of women. His government later enacted the Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021, known as the anti-love-jehad law, in the name of empowering and protecting women.
Notwithstanding such measures and the much-hyped Mission Shakti and Beti Bachao campaigns of the Central government, the State BJP has been denounced for promoting and protecting party leaders accused of sexual crimes against women and children.
A judgment by the Additional District and Sessions judge of the MP/MLA special court in Sonbhadra on December 15, 2023, caused huge embarrassment for the BJP after its MLA from Duddhi, Ram Dular Gond, was sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment for repeatedly raping and impregnating a 15-year-old girl in 2014. (The survivor later gave birth to a baby girl.) Gond was charge-sheeted in January 2023 only after a trial started in the MP/MLA special court following the Allahabad High Court’s intervention. He was disqualified from the Assembly but continues to be a member of the BJP.
Vikas Shakya, the survivor’s advocate and executive member of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties-UP, told Frontline: “During the course of the investigation, several attempts were made to intimidate the survivor. The police and prosecution made every effort to save the culprit. Even after the judgment, the threat perception is still there.”
In another case, the party came under attack after the delayed arrest of three accused persons, Kunal Pandey, Anand alias Abhishek Chauhan, and Saksham Patel, in a two-month-old IIT (BHU) gang-rape case. The survivor, a 20-year-old BTech student, had reportedly identified them within five days of the incident, but the police arrested the accused only on December 31. Initially, the police registered a molestation case, but following angry protests, relevant gang-rape sections were added to the FIR.
Earlier, State Congress president Ajay Rai alleged that the government was shielding the accused as they were associated with the BJP and the RSS. Following this, the police filed an FIR against Rai for promoting enmity following a complaint from a local Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) unit.
“The police had all the evidence, including CCTV footage, but the accused were arrested only after student protests and widespread public condemnation. For BJP, Beti Bachao Beti Padhao is just a slogan,” said Rai, demanding a fast-track court trial of the accused.
Aakanksha Azad, a Varanasi-based student activist, told Frontline: “The police have registered false cases against at least 18 students under several sections of the IPC [Indian Penal Code] and the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act at the behest of ABVP as they were at the forefront of the protests against police inaction.” She accused the district administration, the police, the university administration, and the ABVP of working in tandem to hush up the matter. The three accused people reportedly left Varanasi as soon as protests erupted on the BHU campus and even campaigned for the BJP in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly election.
Uttar Pradesh was also witness to several heinous crimes against Dalit women in 2023. On October 31, the dismembered body of a 40-year-old Dalit woman was found at the flour mill where she was working in Pataura village of Banda district. Her left hand had been chopped off and placed on her naked body, while her severed head was found nearby. The victim’s 44-year-old husband accused the police of shielding the accused as they hail from a dominant caste.
- Uttar Pradesh ranked as the top state for crimes against women in 2022.
- In 2023, multiple incidents involved the kidnapping and rape of women, with video clips of the crimes posted online.
- The State BJP unit faced criticism for endorsing and shielding party leaders accused of sexual crimes against women and children.
One of the most shocking cases was reported in April from Lal Kheda village in Unnao district, where a group of men led by two rape accused who were out on bail set fire to the thatched brick house of a minor Dalit girl aged 14; they had reportedly sexually assaulted her the previous year. While the attackers thrashed the survivor and her mother, two infants of the family were reportedly flung into the raging flames. One of the infants was the rape survivor’s six-month-old child born after she was impregnated in the sexual assault, and the other was her two-month-old sister. Subhashini Ali, former Lok Sabha MP from Kanpur and CPI(M) Polit Bureau member, said: “Dalit women and girls are the worst victims of rape-murder in the State, and they are often denied justice.”
In June 2023, a 17-year-old Dalit girl in Barabanki district died by suicide after the police allegedly forced her family members to arrive at a compromise in favour of the accused persons who had gang-raped her. Later that month, a 38-year-old man died by suicide after the police took no action against the men accused of gang-raping his minor daughter in Akodhi village of Jalaun district. Before taking the extreme step, the aggrieved father is said to have filed a complaint against the local policemen on the Chief Minister’s Jansunwai online portal.
On December 29, a 22-year-old Dalit girl was raped and strangled allegedly by an Uttar Pradesh police constable in Agra town.
Subhashini Ali alleged that there was caste and religious bias in Chief Minister Adityanath’s approach towards criminals. She said: “In the 2020 Hathras case, the victim belonged to the Valmiki caste and the accused were Thakurs, like Adityanath, who announced that the girl was not raped.”
The State government also came in for widespread criticism in August 2023 when it restricted coaching centres from holding classes for girls and women after 8 pm as part of the Central government’s Safe City project. It ended up revoking the order in December.
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi described Delhi as the “rape capital” in his political speeches, he urged Delhi voters to “remember Nirbhaya” when they cast their vote. Subhashini Ali questioned Modi’s silence on the IIT (BHU) rape incident in Varanasi, which is his constituency. She said: “This encapsulates the situation of women’s insecurity and the impunity that sexual offenders enjoy if they belong to the BJP or to the upper castes. If, however, they are Muslims, instant justice will be meted out including bulldozing of their homes.”
Speaking at a public function in Gorakhpur in September 2023, Adityanath stated: “If someone harasses a girl walking on the road, no one will be able to stop us from sending him to Yamraj [the Hindu god of death and justice].”
He made these comments a day after the police shot three Muslim rape accused after they reportedly snatched a policeman’s rifle and tried to escape custody. The three men had been arrested for allegedly molesting and causing the death of a 17-year-old schoolgirl in a road accident in Ambedkarnagar.
Incidentally, Home Minister Amit Shah stated in an election rally in Bahraich in February 2022 that Adityanath “has run the government in a manner that no Baahubali can be seen even through the telescope, only Bajrangbali is seen everywhere”.
To this, Congress leader Dolly Sharma said: “There is no need for binoculars. The culprits are sitting next to you.”