The Bharatiya Janata Party has gone to astonishing lengths to try to cover up the mishandling of the gangrape and murder of a Dalit woman by upper-caste Thakur men in a village in the Hathras district of Uttar Pradesh.

This has included the administration imposing a near-curfew on the village, thinly veiled threats to the family by a senior official and assaulting Opposition leaders. However, even by these standards, the saffron party hit a new low when on Friday, the head of its powerful IT cell, Amit Malviya, published a video that disclosed the identity of the victim.

The graphic video tweeted by Malviya is not only insensitive and factually incorrect in the manner in which he framed the text – it violates Indian law.

Under the Indian Penal Code, disclosing the identity of a rape victim is a crime punishable by a jail term of up to two years.

The victim had alleged rape in a dying declaration recorded before a magistrate on September 22. Furthermore, the first information report has been filed under an IPC section that deals with gangrape.

Graphic politics

In the video, the victim can be seen in a state of shock stating that she was strangled since she resisted efforts at “zabaradasti” (literally force) against her. In Hindi, the word “zabaradasti” is often used as an euphemism for sexual assault. She consistently repeated this allegation in another video too.

However, Malviya misrepresented the contents of the video, claiming she only says there was an attempt to strangle her. He did not mention her allegations of sexual assault.

This is a part of the BJP’s strategy to deny that the woman was raped. The party has pushed this narrative in spite of the fact that a medico-legal examination report prepared by the Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College Hospital at Aligarh states that the victim’s vagina had been penetrated by a penis and the use of force.

As the ruling party in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP should be putting its all behind investigating the crime. Instead, the BJP has doubled down on backing Malviya. Priti Gandhi, the person in charge of BJP Mahila Morcha social media, came to Malviya’s support on Saturday.

“Can you elaborate which law is violated if video of the victim is posted??” Gandhi argued. “Not one report suggests that she was sexually assaulted. It is only a fiction of Lutyen media’s imagination. Are we governed by rule of law or the hallucinations of a few??!!”

Protestors at Delhi's Jantar Mantar demand justice for the victim of the Hathras gang-rape on October 2. Credit: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

Even the National Commission for Women seems to be influenced by this line of thinking. Speaking to the Indian Express, the organisation’s chairperson Rekha Sharma argued that what Mavliya did was a crime only on the condition that the offense of rape was proved: “If it turns out that she was a rape victim, then the NCW will take the issue forward to its logical end.”

Both Gandhi and Sharma have misinterpreted the law. The law on non disclosure of a rape victim has nothing to do with the offense being proved. It kicks in as soon as legal allegations of sexual assault are made. The identity of a person against whom the crime of rape “is alleged or found to have been committed” can not be disclosed, states the law.

There is, thus, no doubt that the woman’s identity needs to be protected.

In spite of the law being so clear, there has been no censure against Malviya from any legal authorities. In fact, two days after he posted it, Malviya has not even found it necessary to delete the video from his social media feed.

The Hathras incident has been a wake up call for how brutal India is when it comes to both women and Dalits. At first the incident reflected the shocking state of law and order and administrative apathy. If that wasn’t bad enough: now there are active attempts to openly target the deceased victim by none other than India’s ruling party. Where will this race to the bottom end?