ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Ethos of Justice and Its Adversaries

Rape atrocities tragically suggest that justice is in dire need of egalitarian commitment by every citizen.

Handing over the Hathras rape atrocity case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to proceed with the investigation indirectly questions the Uttar Pradesh (UP) police’s rationality to pursue the case without prejudice. Further, it has been suggested to bring even the CBI inquiry under the supervision of the Supreme Court. The role of police is seen as complementing the partisan position taken by the local Savarnas whose response seems to favour the accused. The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court has been more categorical in expressing its reservation about the role of the UP police in (mis)handling the Hathras rape case of a Dalit woman. According to media reports, the parents of the deceased have accused the police of being soft on the Savarna castes. As was evident from the television reporting, some of the Savarna members went ahead with conducting a mass meeting in support of the accused in the case, thus violating the law and order situation in the vicinity. In this regard, what is more astonishing is the discriminatory response that the members of the Savarna community seem to have offered not in favour of the victim but in defence of the accused. The response is more shocking on two counts: ethical and legal. Ethical conviction, if not compulsion, is necessary particularly for a sentient human being to at least refrain from siding with the accused if not expressing grief over the loss of a human being. It is not the benumbing brutal rape that has emotionalising impact on the Savarna consciousness, but what rules such consciousness is the caste affinity that suddenly jumps out of the Savarna skin.

What is at issue here is the caste consciousness that trumps both moral and legal consciousness. Caste consciousness weighs heavily on the moral judgment of some the members of the Savarna community, thus making the latter both indifferent and insensitive to the tragedy inflicted on the victim. An ethical initiative taken by the sentient being helps in motivating such a being to actively side with the victim. If this initiative, for subjective reasons overburdened by caste consciousness, finds it difficult to come forth, then one expects the members from Savarna community to respect the judicial system that as a common good is also available to the Savarnas. So, it is in the interest of the Savarnas to be law-abiding citizens to at least side with legal procedures. This does not seem to have happened in the Hathras rape case.

As the digital media showed, some of the members of the Savarna community from Hathras and the villages in the vicinity were seen pronouncing the judgment, thus unilaterally acquitting all the four accused. These proceedings were held in the very presence of the police. When their act of discrimination became too stark favouring the Savarnas, the police were forced to take action against the Savarna members who did violate the curfew order under Section 144. This shows that the penal power lies not in the post facto action of the police but in the Savarna’s social confidence to violate the curfew order. The power of caste thus makes the Savarnas co-sovereigns with the law enforcers such as the police. The upper-caste people becoming co-sovereigns does have serious implication for the future of the justice system. Co-sovereignty seems to undermine the possibility of harnessing the ethos of justice.

What is the ethos of justice? Ethos is societal; societal resources that have to be collectively nurtured by the enlightened citizen of India. This can be done with the presence of moral conditions; conditions that are constitutive of such ethos. These conditions include the conversion of a caste person into a citizen; the citizen’s capacity to develop willingness to recognise the burden of the judicial judgment that is likely to go against the accused and consequently against the collective interest of the community, in the present case the Savarna community.

Such ethos demands that the Savarnas as the law-abiding citizen should reconcile with the consequences of the criminal of such a rape allegedly committed by the culprit, in this case the four members who incidentally belong to a Savarna caste. The ethos of justice further expects from the citizens that they be reasonable to share with others, including the Dalits, the commitment to due process of law. This commitment motivates the citizens to respect the universal principle of justice. This universally neutral principle safeguards everyone’s, including the Savarnas’, right to feel safe and secure.

In this regard, what we need to consider is the fact that the Dalits in India in general and that of Hathras in particular are asking the Savarnas to reciprocally recognise the former’s right to live their life with social safety and human dignity. We should also remember that the Dalits are not asking for special rights for themselves because their rights are as human as Nirbhaya’s. Thus, their appeal for equality of rights is morally minimum. This appeal for its effective realisation depends on the Savarnas’ moral commitment to the judicial system. Savarnas’ commitment does not result from their sense of social generosity. This is because justice is a common good that needs to be protected by both the Savarnas and the Dalits collectively. Justice as a common good should therefore motivate the Savarnas to respect such a commitment. And as a part of fulfilling this commitment, they are expected to refrain from diluting the concrete evidence or putting it into a zone of ambiguity by adding surplus details to the genuine narratives of the rape atrocity. This concern has validity not just in the immediate tragic experience of Hathras, but has been generally true in other cases as well.


Updated On : 20th Oct, 2020


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