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'Hathras rape-murder' not forgotten, Dalits say polls test govt's inclusion

Hathras rape-murder not forgotten, Dalits say polls test govts inclusion

In 2010, a 19-year-old was cremated in the wee hours of the night of September 30 under police surveillance, at her home with her family members confined to their homes, and the village was restricted for days following, keeping out the media and Opposition.

As for Hathras, it hasn't forgotten. There is a noticeable caste dynamic in the context of 'security' in the three constituencies of the district, Hathras-Sadabad, Sikandra Rao and Hathras (SC), as a result of the rape of the Dalit 19-year-old.

It is especially noteworthy that the accused in the murder-rape are Thakurs, who receive the blessing of the government under Yogi Adityanath.

According to Rajpal Singh, former pradhan of Garha Kasbi, a village that has a majority Jatav population, "What happened to that girl was unfortunate. We could not sleep for days. This was a nightmare. For Dalits, there are many nightmares anyway. While a lot of work has been done under the present government, this incident really shook us. And there is every reason to believe this will manifest itself in the polls."

As for the woman's constituency, Sikandra Rao, senior BJP leader Birendra Singh Rana had won it before. The BJP also won the Hathras (SC) seat (Harishankar Mahaur), while Ramveer Upadhyay of the BSP won the Sadabad seat, the third in the district. Each of the three seats votes on February 20.

As allies, SP and RLD have focused their campaigns on the Hathras incident. Both SP and RLD protested for days at the village of the victim, while images of RLD convenor Jayant Chaudhary being lathicharged help generate support. At his rallies, Chaudhary tells people he is fighting for justice.

Among BSP supporters, Rajendra Singh believes the incident sends a message that there is community support for the accused. "We already feel marginalized and afraid, and the Thakur solidarity alienates us even more." Therefore, we must remain loyal to those who will preserve our fundamental identity, he added.

In Sadabad, the RLD holds a substantial lead, having won it twice before, in 2002 and 2007. However, Pradeep Kumar Singh faces a formidable challenge in Ramveer Upadhyay, running for the BJP. Formerly a leader of the BSP, he has been a legislator five times including from Sadabad in 2017 and from Hathras before it was declared a reserved seat.

Similarly, caste divides also run deep in Hathras. A Jatav colony in the city's heart, Tamanna Garhi, defies the claims of the Adityanath government on equality and safety. "The BJP says it has done a lot for the security of the people. But incidents like Hathras remind us that we are the 'others'," claims Amar. In addition, where are the jobs, he asks? "This election is a test whether the government really thinks of everyone in society or just a particular section."

Hathras (SC) was a BSP stronghold until the 2012 elections, winning it four times in a row since 1996. The party is once again fielding a local candidate in Sanjeev Kumar to run against the BJP's Anjula Singh Mahaur, the former Agra mayor who changed parties six years ago.

According to the BJP, gangrape will not be an issue and "development" will prevail over other concerns. "The BJP has won before from here and Adityanath thinks of all communities. The alliance (SP-RLD) has no presence in the region except one constituency. The Jatavs have also realised that their leader has not done any work. The BJP has made an outreach to all sections and they are the best option, for roads, law and order, employment," says Amit Varshney, a Hathras local.

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