This is post-independent India's "darkest hour", a group of retired civil servants has said in an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the backdrop of the Unnao and Kathua rape cases while holding him responsible for the "terrifying state of affairs".
Instead of owning up and making reparations, the prime minister chose to remain quiet, breaking his silence only when public outrage both in India and internationally reached a point when he could no longer ignore it, the group of 49 former bureaucrats said.
On Friday, Modi called the incidents of rapes of minors in Unnao and Kathua a "shame" for the country and asserted that the guilty would not be spared and daughters would get justice.
"In post-independent India, this is our darkest hour and we find the response of our government, the leaders of our political parties inadequate and feeble," the letter said.
Referring to the rape and murder of an eight-year-old in Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir, the letter said the "bestiality and the barbarity" shows the depths of depravity the country has sunk to.
The 49 former bureaucrats include former Pune police commissioner Meeran Borwankar, former Prasar Bharati CEO Jawhar Sircar, former Mumbai police commissioner Julio Ribeiro, RTI activist Aruna Roy and former Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah.
"We had hoped that as someone sworn to upholding the Constitution, the Government that you head and the party to which you belong would wake up to this alarming decline, take the lead in stemming the rot and reassure everyone, especially the minorities and vulnerable sections of society that they need not fear for their life and liberty. This hope has been destroyed," the letter said.
Referring to the case in Kathua, the letter said it is the "culture of majoritarian belligerence and aggression promoted by the Sangh Parivar" which emboldened "rabid communal elements" to pursue their perverse agenda.
By giving sustenance to the brutality of one human being against another in the name of Hindus, society has failed as human beings, the letter stated.
"We, in turn, have failed as a nation which took pride in its ethical, spiritual and cultural heritage and as a society which treasured its civilisational values of tolerance, compassion and fellow feeling," it added.
In Unnao in Uttar Pradesh, where a teen alleged that she had been raped by a legislator of the ruling BJP, the "reliance on the worst kinds of patriarchal feudal Mafia Dons" to capture votes and political power gives such persons the freedom to rape and murder and extort as a way of asserting their own personal power, the former civil servants said.
Even more reprehensible than such abuse of power, it is the response of the state government in hounding the victim of rape and her family instead of the alleged perpetrator that shows how perverted governance practices have become, the strongly worded letter read.
"In both cases, Prime Minister, it is your party which is in power. Given your supremacy within the party and the centralised control you and your Party President exercise, you more than anyone else have to be held responsible for this terrifying state of affairs," the bureaucrats said in the letter.
They also called upon the prime minister to reach out to the families of the victims in Unnao and Kathua and "seek their forgiveness on behalf of all of us", fast-track the prosecution of the perpetrators in the Kathua case and set up a court directed Special Investigative Team in the Unnao incident.
"In the memory of these innocent children and all other victims of hate crime, renew a pledge to offer special protection to Muslims, to Dalits, to members of other minority communities, to women and children so that they need not fear for their life and liberty and any threat to these will be extinguished with the full force of state authority," it said.
It also demanded that steps be taken to remove from government anyone who has been associated with hate crimes and hate speeches.
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