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‘Ethos of Justice and Its Adversaries’

Published: 26th Oct, 2020

Rape atrocities tragically suggest that justice is in dire need of egalitarian commitment by every citizen.


Rape atrocities tragically suggest that justice is in dire need of egalitarian commitment by every citizen.


  • Handing over the Hathras rape atrocity case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to proceed with the investigation indirectly questions the Uttar Pradesh (UP) police’s rationality to pursue the case without prejudice.
  • Further, it has been suggested to bring even the CBI inquiry under the supervision of the Supreme Court.
  • The role of police is seen as complementing the partisan position taken by the local Savarnas whose response seems to favour the accused.
  • The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court has been more categorical in expressing its reservation about the role of the UP police in (mis)handling the Hathras rape case of a Dalit woman.
  • According to media reports, the parents of the deceased have accused the police of being soft on the Savarna castes.
  • As was evident from the television reporting, some of the Savarna members went ahead with conducting a mass meeting in support of the accused in the case, thus violating the law and order situation in the vicinity.
  • In this regard, what is more astonishing is the discriminatory response that the members of the Savarna community seem to have offered not in favour of the victim but in defence of the accused.
  • The response is more shocking on two counts: ethical and legal.
    • Ethical conviction, if not compulsion, is necessary particularly for a sentient human being to at least refrain from siding with the accused if not expressing grief over the loss of a human being.
  • It is not the benumbing brutal rape that has emotionalising impact on the Savarna consciousness, but what rules such consciousness is the caste affinity that suddenly jumps out of the Savarna skin.


Caste consciousness weighing more than moral and legal consciousness

  • In the present issue, the caste consciousness trumps both moral and legal consciousness.
  • Caste consciousness weighs heavily on the moral judgment of some the members of the Savarna community, thus making the latter both indifferent and insensitive to the tragedy inflicted on the victim.
  • An ethical initiative taken by the sentient being helps in motivating such a being to actively side with the victim.
  • If this initiative, for subjective reasons overburdened by caste consciousness, finds it difficult to come forth, then one expects the members from Savarna community to respect the judicial system that as a common good is also available to the Savarnas.
  • So, it is in the interest of the Savarnas to be law-abiding citizens to at least side with legal procedures.
  • This does not seem to have happened in the Hathras rape case.

What is the ethos of justice?

  • Ethos is societal; societal resources that have to be collectively nurtured by the enlightened citizen of India.
  • This can be done with the presence of moral conditions; conditions that are constitutive of such ethos.
  • These conditions include
    • the conversion of a caste person into a citizen
    • the citizen’s capacity to develop willingness to recognise the burden of the judicial judgment that is likely to go against the accused and consequently against the collective interest of the community (in the present case the Savarna community).
  • Such ethos demands that the Savarnas as the law-abiding citizen should reconcile with the consequences of the criminal of such a rape allegedly committed by the culprit, in this case the four members who incidentally belong to a Savarna caste.
  • The ethos of justice further expects from the citizens that they be reasonable to share with others, including the Dalits, the commitment to due process of law.
  • This commitment motivates the citizens to respect the universal principle of justice.
  • This universally neutral principle safeguards everyone’s, including the Savarnas’, right to feel safe and secure.

A caste continuum

  • India is primarily a caste society. Neither democracy nor a liberal Constitution has changed that.
  • It’s a caste society that determines its citizen’s access to resources tangible and intangible (such as knowledge), and ownership of the means of production (such as land), almost exclusively on the basis of the family you are born into. 

The two faces of Justice

  • The rape atrocities against women in general and women from the most oppressed castes in particular continue to bear two faces of injustice: active and passive.
  • The rape atrocity to which a teenager from the most oppressed caste in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh, was subjected once again reveals the malignant face of injustice.

Active injustice

  • Active injustice occurs in a conundrum where the tormentor is accused of being directly responsible in forcibly trapping the victim in the heinous act of rape but receives support from various sources.
  • A society that refuses to express its allegiance to the value of justice does not find the efforts that some of its members make to defend the accused morally objectionable.
  • Injustice gets intensified when the accused of rape atrocities continue to get either direct or indirect support from the social groups to which they belong.
  • Injustice begins to acquire an intensified mode when investigating agencies of the state are accused of not taking their public responsibility seriously.
  • The responsibility to stand with the victim can be seen as standing with justice.

Passive injustice

  • Passive injustice, on the other hand, occurs when certain onlookers, by and large, choose to remain indifferent to rape or caste atrocities.
  • Thus, one may not directly support the accused at any level or in any form, and yet, such passive spectators would contribute to injustice to the extent that their indifference to such an act would embolden the accused who then continue to reproduce tragic, traumatising experience for the oppressed.

What needs to be done?

  • Recognise the (Dalit’s) right to live their life with social safety and human dignity: The society needs to consider the fact that the Dalits in India in general and that of Hathras in particular are asking the Savarnas to reciprocally recognise the former’s right to live their life with social safety and human dignity.
  • Equality of rights: Dalits are not asking for special rights for themselves because their rights are as human as Nirbhaya’s. Thus, their appeal for equality of rights is morally minimum.
  • Moral commitment to the judicial system: This appeal for its effective realisation depends on the Savarnas’ moral commitment to the judicial system.
  • Considering justice as ‘a common good’: Justice is a common good that needs to be protected by both the Savarnas and the Dalits collectively. Justice as a common good should therefore motivate the Savarnas to respect such a commitment.
    • And as a part of fulfilling this commitment, they are expected to refrain from diluting the concrete evidence or putting it into a zone of ambiguity by adding surplus details to the genuine narratives of the rape atrocity.
    • This concern has validity not just in the immediate tragic experience of Hathras, but has been generally true in other cases as well.

Concluding thoughts

The state, in order for it to be on the side of justice, has to act on the basis of the premise of justice rather than prejudice. The fate of justice, in the particular case of Hathras, seems to hinge on the elimination of the possibility of injustice that is likely to overshadow the investigation. When rape consciousness gets reinforced by caste consciousness of the socially dominant, such overlap should add strength to the investigation heading towards justice for the victim and her family.


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