Citing the importance of upholding human rights, the law minister appeared to have done well in calling for nationwide judicial and administrative action to ensure that undertrials were not held in custody longer than legally necessary. Alas, the commitment to human rights would appear hollow, and his “appeal” could seem just a cheap way of earning brownie points by his silence on the boast of his ministerial colleague, Miss Uma Bharati, on how she had dealt with alleged rapists during her rather short stint as chief minister of Madhya Pradesh. To be fair to the law minister he was not alone in keeping his lips cravenly buttoned on an embarrassing admission, for both the Prime Minister and the home minister would also be expected to spell out their position on sharing “space” in the union cabinet with a person who makes a virtue of downright barbaric methods that run counter to the ministers’ oath to honour the Constitution.
The National Human Rights Commission would also invite the charge of impotent inaction if it does not initiate a probe into the manner in which Ms Bharati has recommended making an alleged rapist scream in agony. There must be no time-bar on taking to task persons in authority who have scant respect for the law. And Mr Narendra Modi must understand that allowing Ms Bharati to get away with her boast only fuels the criticism of those who contend that the present government imagines it is a law unto itself. That Mr Modi has done little to rein in other vicious members of the parivaar is no excuse.
Nor is there any validity to the theory that Ms Bharati made her comments out of a sense of frustration at being reduced to a bit-player in the current political drama, or that she in her election speech was attacking the questionable law-and-order record of the Samajwadi Party’s government in UP. It is worth noting that the top police officer who served under Ms Bharati has denied her claims outright; also the figures provided by the national authority suggest that the instant punishment she said she had inflicted had no positive impact on the law and order situation when she called the shots in Bhopal. That non-BJP parties have not raised a stink over what Ms Bharati has said might underscore her decreasing political clout, but that is of trivial consequence.
Mr Modi’s contention that providing quality governance is high on his list of priorities is punctured by Ms Bharati’s recommending that rapists be hung upside down, their skins flayed and salt and chilli be rubbed into their wounds. It is doubtful if even the rape victims would find satisfaction in such methods. Yet in opting not to condemn them, Modi sarkar seems to reveal its mindset.