Union Minister of Finance Nirmala Sitharaman on Saturday targeted Congress leaders Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi over the rape of a six-year-old Dalit girl in Punjab, saying they visit “every other place that can help them politically,” the Hindustan Times reported.
“A six-year-old child of a Dalit migrant labourer from Bihar is raped, killed and the body half-burnt in Hoshiarpur and it doesn’t shake the conscience of the brother and sister who rush to every other place which can help them politically,” Sitharaman said. Punjab is a Congress-ruled state.
Sitharaman was taking a swipe at Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi’s visit to Hathras in Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled Uttar Pradesh, where a 19-year-old woman was raped and later died of her injuries last month. The incident had led to massive protests by Opposition political parties.
A man and his grandfather have been arrested for raping and setting the six-year-old girl ablaze in Hoshiarpur, the police said on October 22, a day after her half-burnt body was recovered from their house at Jalalpur village in Tanda in Punjab.
Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting Prakash Javadekar also lashed out at Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi and Congress President Sonia Gandhi. “The rape and murder of a six-year-old Dalit girl from Bihar, in Hoshiarpur’s Tanda village, is very shocking,” he said, according to ANI. “Instead of going on political tours, Rahul Gandhi should visit Tanda and Rajasthan, and take cognisance of incidents of crime against women.”
He said neither Sonia Gandhi nor Priyanka or Rahul Gandhi had visited the family of the girl in Tanda, unlike in Hathras. “They do not pay heed to the injustice done to women in the states ruled by their party, but visit Hathras and other places for photo-op with the victim’s family,” he added.
‘No comparison between the two cases’: Punjab CM Amarinder Singh
But Punjab Chief Minister lashed out at Sitharaman and Javadekar for their comments, calling it “political puffery”, PTI reported. Singh said that contrary to what these leaders were claiming, there was no comparison between the Hoshiarpur and the Hathras cases.
He said that in the Hathras case, the Uttar Pradesh government and police not only failed to initiate stern action but also seemed to have tried to make a cover-up to benefit the upper-caste accused. In sharp contrast, the Punjab Police arrested the accused in the Hoshiarpur case within a week, he said.
Singh said he himself had directed the director general of police to ensure that the case was fast-tracked by the courts for swift punishment for the accused. “Had the BJP government in UP responded as effectively and speedily as we did in Punjab, neither the Congress and the Gandhis, nor scores of NGOs [non-governmental organisations], lawyers, human rights activists would have been forced to take to the streets to fight for the victim,” he added.
Singh said that not a single BJP leader criticised the “acts of omission and commission” on the part of the Uttar Pradesh government and police in the Hathras case. “If the BJP had made even an iota of this effort to pressurise the UP government into ensuring justice for the family in Hathras, the Congress would not have been forced to take on the responsibility of doing so,” he said.
The Punjab chief minister claimed that unlike in his state, the Hathras incident and the midnight cremation of the woman’s body was part of a chain of atrocities committed against Dalits in Uttar Pradesh. He claimed that crimes against Dalits are continuously rising in Uttar Pradesh, and they are fleeing the state, while in Punjab the community feels safe and cared for.
The Hathras case
The Hathras case complainant had died of her injuries on September 29. In the events that followed, the Uttar Pradesh government forcibly cremated the body of the woman even as her family was detained in their home by the police, with the aim to stop the incident from becoming a focus of protests.
Earlier this month, Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi attempted to visit Hathras twice, of which their second attempt was successful. The first time, they were stopped in Greater Noida and forced to return to Delhi. The Opposition had criticised the Adityanath-led government in Uttar Pradesh for the way it handled the case.
A three-judge bench led by Chief Justice of India Sharad A Bobde had on October 6 called the incident “extraordinary” and “shocking”. The case has now been handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation, based on a recommendation by the Adityanath government, who has vowed justice for the woman.
Sandeep Thakur, the main accused, has written to the state police chief from jail claiming that the men are being framed. He had also claimed that the woman was a victim of “honour killing” as her family was opposed to their “friendship”.