Himachal gangrape agitation spreads like wildfire, could topple Virbhadra
“Gudia ke hatyaron ko, goli maaron saalon ko (Shoot the killers of Gudia).”
“Police, prashashan murdabad (Down with the police and the administration).”
These slogans reverberating through the hills of Shimla district as well as some other parts of Himachal Pradesh sum up the public mood over the gangrape and murder of a 15-year-old schoolgirl in Kotkhai around 10 days ago.
Attempts by the state government to douse the fire by announcing the handing over of the probe to the CBI, after the SIT formed by the state police arrested six people, has failed.
Instead, the agitation is spreading like wildfire.
Rage against the machine
Rajeev Khanna/Catch News
Politically speaking, many people in the state believe this issue has the potential to put an end to the innings of Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, although the public is also annoyed with the manner in which the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party is trying to politicise the matter.
People are feeling letdown and cheated by the government and the administration. This feeling is fuelling the protests, where people are turning up spontaneously with their children.
To begin with, no one is buying the arrests of the six people made by the police SIT. The general perception is that while two of the accused might have been involved in the case, the remaining four, who are Nepalese and Garhwali labourers, have been framed. The public believes the real perpetrators of the crime are from well-connected families and are being saved.
“Do you expect these labourers to continue living at the same place if they had committed such a heinous crime? They would have fled. The trend is that even if these labourers commit a small theft, they just flee the region. This clearly shows that how the police, while working under some pressure, has made such hasty arrests,” pointed out Priyanka Negi, a student at one of the protests on the Ridge in Shimla on Saturday.
“Even otherwise, the general tendency in the villages of the hills is that if an outsider is even suspected of a crime, his entire community is hounded and thrown out. Nothing of this sort has happened in either Theog, from where the victim came, or in Kotkhai, where she lived with her uncle and where the crime took place,” said another resident of Shimla.
Theog saw a massive traffic blockade by locals on Friday. They also went on to heckle senior police officers, damage police vehicles and also vandalise the local police post.
“The villagers should invoke their local deity in the matter, as no one dares to oppose the writ of the deities,” suggested Kamla Devi from Chaupal, as she stood as part of the protest on the Ridge.
Protestors have pointed out the differences between the photos of the accused that had been posted on Virbhadra's Facebook wall and later deleted, and those who have been held. They are also very annoyed with the insensitive attitude of the politicians, particularly the Chief Minister who, according to them, did not take the matter seriously and came out with unwanted statements in the matter.
“Just look at them, neither of the MLAs from Kotkhai or Theog have come out with any statement on the issue. The CM saying that people of Kotkhai must 'act smart' is another example of their insensitivity,” said another girl protesting outside the DC office in Shimla.
Theog is represented by Congress heavyweight Vidya Stokes, while Rohit Thakur, also of the Congress, represents Kotkhai.
The people say the government and the police have tried to take them for a ride by first being careless, and then trying to save the well-connected accused. They want heads to roll in the state police.
Students, meanwhile, are demanding that gender sensitisation committees be formed in every educational institution.
The central issue
Observers believe that this case has the potential to become the main issue in the forthcoming state Assembly polls.
Virbhadra reportedly said on Friday that the protests were 'politically motivated'. But state Congress chief Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu said on Saturday: “There has been some carelessness somewhere in handling the matter by the police that has led to the public outburst. The posting of the pictures of some of the accused on the Facebook wall of the CM and their subsequent withdrawal has further complicated the issue, and the government must clarify on this.”
The BJP is trying its best to exploit this emotive issue, which has fallen in its lap just a few months before the polls. Former CM Prem Kumar Dhumal has blamed it on the deteriorating law and order scenario in the state, while calling for Virbhadra's resignation. But this is not amusing the agitated people.
“This is a very emotive issue with far-reaching social implications. They should not use it for vote politics. This is a time when people have to rise above parties and political affiliations and demand action from the administration,” said a shopkeeper in the Lower Bazar area of Shimla.
Observers say that with the Congress already on the back foot, this issue may lead to Virbhadra's downfall. “Shimla has been the political 'karmabhoomi' of Virbhadra, and the upper Himachal region has traditionally been a Congress bastion. If protests on this scale are taking place in the CM's political backyard, they can spell an end to the political innings of this octogenarian politician, who is already facing charges of money laundering,” said a senior mediaperson in Shimla.
Whatever the outcome in the case, one thing is sure: it will cast a long shadow on the forthcoming polls.
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