On Thursday, with nationwide anger growing over an alleged case of gang-rape and murder of a Dalit woman by upper-caste men in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras, the Adityanath government doubled down, claiming that the woman had not been raped.

Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Prashant Kumar claimed that the woman’s postmortem report showed there was no evidence of sperm. He threatened anyone making allegations of rape with legal action for trying to “stir caste-based tension”.

PR push

At the same time, a Mumbai-based public relations firm Concept PR went on to email journalists across the country with the same line argument, stating that it was distributing a press release “received from Uttar Pradesh Government”.

“Hathras girl was not rape, reveal Forensic investigation, Preliminary Medical and Post-mortem report,” read the PR company’s email message. “The reports also revealed the conspiracy to push the state into caste turmoil.”

The fact that a public relations firm was pushing the Uttar Pradesh government’s line that the woman in Hathras had not been raped caused some consternation on social media.

“Can a PR agency send out press releases saying the Hathras victim was not raped despite the girl’s dying declaration?” tweeted out journalist Rohini Singh. “Who is trying to cover up and importantly why?”

While the use of public relations firm by governments is not unusual, their frontline role in a controversy that is as high profile as the Hathras tragedy is not routine. In a case of this significance, government bureaucrats or politicians usually liaise with the media.

Media management

On its website, Concept details its work with the government of Odisha-run Industrial Promotion & Investment Corporation of Odisha. “Getting the media to write positive stories on Odisha was a challenge,” says its case study. The solution: “Interviews lined up for each announcement with national media.”

In another case study, Concept details how it helped manage the media fallout for a real estate company when a water pipe gave way and fell on a security guard, killing him. Detailing its success, Concept claims: “Media did not mention builder’s name in the stories.”

Scroll.in has contacted the Uttar Pradesh government as well as Concept PR seeking more clarity about their relationship. The article will be updated if they answer.