Commissions of Untruth

The politics of India’s ad-hoc judicial inquiries

Protestors demand a judicial inquiry into the Delhi Police’s conduct in the Batla House encounter in 2008. Someone, somewhere in India, is always hankering for grey judges to affirm facts and proclaim truths. MANPREET ROMANA / AFP / GETTY IMAGES
31 July, 2021

ON 14 SEPTEMBER 2020, a 19-year-old Dalit woman was sexually assaulted in the millet fields of Bul Garhi, a village in the Hathras district of Uttar Pradesh. Relatives towed her paralysed body to the nearby Chand Pa police station. Speaking with a gnashed tongue, the victim narrated her ordeal and named the alleged perpetrators, but the policemen on duty disputed her account and rebuffed her plea for assistance. The family admitted her to the local medical college in nearby Aligarh. With public rage soaring, the authorities registered a case and recorded the victim’s statement. A delayed forensic examination—conducted some eight days after the alleged crime—did not reveal evidence of rape, the police claimed.

With her vitals wavering, the family removed the victim to Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital. A day later, on 29 September, she died. Her autopsy listed “injury to the cervical spine by blunt-force trauma” and “rape and strangulation.” The family never received her body. Instead, the police bussed it back to Bul Garhi, cordoned off the locality and hustled through a cremation without her relatives present.

These events fuelled national headlines. Officials denied any wrongdoing. The Uttar Pradesh government invited the Central Bureau of Investigation to conduct a probe, but opposition parties dismissed this as a charade. The communist parties demanded an independent judicial inquiry. The Bahujan Samaj Party, the Congress and the Samajwadi Party urged having a Supreme Court or High Court judge monitor the probe. The Bhim Army, a Dalit rights organisation, insisted that a retired Supreme Court judge investigate the police.

The family demanded the same. “We want an investigation to be held under a retired Supreme Court judge,” they told reporters. Later, responding to an offer of state compensation, the victim’s father told a BBC reporter, “I want justice, I don’t want money. I’m a daily-wage labourer, I earn two hundred rupees a day, I can live on fifty rupees. But I just want justice.”