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Kangana Ranaut Incident Tells Us There is No Uniform Treatment for Crimes in Uniform

rights
While a slap against an actor results in immediate suspension of a CISF officer even without a formal investigation or inquiry, graver crimes against less privileged individuals often go unpunished despite clear findings of culpability.
A screengrab from the viral video which shows two Kuki women being paraded naked.

Last week, a Bollywood actor turned MP, Kangana Ranaut, was slapped by a Central Industrial Security Force officer at Chandigarh airport, sparking a nationwide debate. The incident quickly grabbed headlines, splitting public opinion. One camp expressed massive outrage over the violence the actor faced, while the other argued she deserved it. The immediate suspension of CISF officer Kulwinder Kaur, who now faces termination, might suggest the government follows a zero-tolerance policy towards violence by uniformed personnel in India – as indeed it should. However, the swift action against Kaur starkly contrasts with numerous other incidents where uniformed personnel have committed far graver crimes but faced little to no consequences. These cases often involve victims who are not as privileged as Ranaut and are unable to make enough noise to bring attention to the injustices they endure.

Take, for instance, the horrific incident in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh. A 19-year-old Dalit woman was gang-raped, allegedly by four upper-caste men, in September 2020. She was brutally assaulted, sustaining severe spinal injuries, and succumbed to her injuries two weeks later. The local police and administration forcefully cremated her body in the dead of night, despite her family’s desperate pleas to allow them to perform the last rites according to their traditions. The family couldn’t bid a final farewell to their daughter, who had died a brutal death, because the police and government decided otherwise. I was there as a reporter, recording the crime despite threats from the police. Their brazen actions, laughing at me while I filmed, showed their confidence that no repercussions would follow. Orders from above shielded them, and the rights of the victim’s family were easily dismissed.

Only after the video of the forced cremation went viral did the Allahabad high court and the Supreme Court take notice. Five police officers, including the Superintendent of Police, were suspended, and the District Magistrate was transferred. Yet, despite this high-profile intervention, no one has been terminated, and the key official, Vikrant Vir, was reinstated after just five months. He is now serving as the Deputy Commissioner of Police in the Varanasi Police Commissionerate.

Another recent case which I covered as a reporter involved two women in Manipur, paraded naked and allegedly gang-raped by a mob in May 2023. The incident surfaced two months later, only after a video went viral, forcing the Supreme Court to intervene. The FIR was filed more than a month later, and the police were criticised for their inaction. Despite the gruesome details in the CBI chargesheet, which highlighted police complicity, only a few officers faced suspension and even those have not been questioned so far. The CBI investigation found that the police had driven the victims in their vehicle towards the violent mob and left them at its mercy. Despite the women seeking their help, the police refused assistance and abandoned the area. The mob paraded the women naked, killed the father and brother of one of the victims, and gang-raped them. The three main accused remain free, and the chief minister continues in office, with the prime minister claiming normalcy. In reality, over 200 people have been killed, 70,000 displaced, and justice remains a distant hope for the victims of sexual assault and murder in Manipur.

In the Naxal-dominated belt of Chhattisgarh, the National Human Rights Commission confirmed in 2017 that security forces had committed gang-rapes, sexual assaults, and physical assaults on tribal women. These horrific incidents occurred between October 19 and 24, 2015, in the villages of Pegdapalli, Chinnagelur, Peddagelur, Gundam and Burgicheru. Eight women were raped, six were sexually assaulted, and two were physically assaulted by men in uniform. Despite this confirmation and an ongoing investigation, not a single person in uniform has been suspended or transferred. The women, living far from any major urban centre, still await justice. They face immense challenges even to attend court hearings, often obstructed by the same forces accused of violating their rights. One victim recounted that she was two months pregnant when she was gang-raped by security forces. Her daughter was born with a blocked anus and urinates and defecates from her vagina. The mother of the child told me that there might be a possibility that the child’s condition was due to the brutal assault she endured. These women continue to live with the trauma and the knowledge that their perpetrators walk free.

These stories highlight a disturbing contrast. While a slap against an actor results in immediate suspension of a CISF officer even without a formal investigation or inquiry, graver crimes against less privileged individuals often go unpunished despite clear findings of culpability. This double standard raises critical questions about justice and accountability in India.

I remember a poignant moment in Chhattisgarh, where a young boy, listening to his mother recount her gang-rape, vowed to kill the officer who hurt her. His mother stopped him, saying, “Violence is never a solution. Have faith in the judiciary.” Yet, years later, justice remains elusive because the system is doing nothing to help her get it.

No sane person supports violence but the ‘system’ has a selective approach which has led to a massive imbalance in the scale of justice. While news channels amplify Ranaut’s story, many other cases languish in obscurity, victims waiting for justice that never comes. When CISF constable Kulwinder Kaur said, “My mother was sitting on the streets in the farmer’s protest,” the country resonated with her pain and helplessness. Yet, even among those who empathise with Kaur, there is a broad consensus that she deserves punishment for her actions – once an investigation and trial confirms the facts as narrated by Ranaut, that is.

At the same time, the justice system must also ensure that all uniformed personnel who take the law in their own hands and violate the rights of people face the consequences of their actions.

Tanushree Pandey is an independent journalist.

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