How Delhi Police’s Fear Of Being Called ‘Communal’ Almost Got A Minor Dalit Girl Trafficked
- A minor Dalit girl went missing along with her neighbour in Delhi three weeks ago. Just because the accused was a Muslim, the police did not even name him in the FIR for fear of being branded “communal”.
Swarajya brings you a detailed on-ground report.
For three decades now, the Indian government has been making amendments to the the laws relating to sexual offences to make them tougher. In what seemed like a strong deterrent to crimes against minors (children below 18), it enacted a special legislation in 2012 called the POSCO or the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.
Several reports have told us that such crimes have only increased since, and that the blame lies with the police failing in the proper implementation of the laws and pursuing these cases with rigour. Now add to this inefficiency a fear against touching minorities, thanks to sustained scaremongering by the media-activists-politician nexus, and what you get is an atmosphere where criminals from a particular community perpetrate crimes with impunity.
This is really how a recent case in capital city New Delhi – already called one of the most unsafe cities for women – looks like. The case is of a 32-year-old man luring his 14-year-old neighbour into eloping with him. The girl, a Dalit, remained missing for three weeks. She was rescued late on Wednesday night and details on this are yet hazy.
Here’s how the police messed up the case right on day one:
- The local police refused to name the man in the first information report (FIR) fearing the case would turn “communal” as he is a Muslim
- Living up to the police’s dubious reputation of dealing with Dalits, the SC/ST Act (Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Prevention of Atrocities Act) wasn’t invoked
- Displaying shocking insensitivity and ignorance of laws, a senior Delhi Police officer has been recorded as saying that the girl “eloped of her own will” even when the law doesn’t recognise consent of minors and treats such cases as kidnappings
- The crucial POSCO wasn’t applied
Little attempts were made to find the girl in the first two weeks, until activists from a rights organisation stepped in. Thanks to sustained pressure from them and subsequent intervention of National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC), the matter has been referred for top-level investigation now. No less than the National Investigating Agency (NIA) has been asked to intervene. A reward of Rs 50,000 was announced on the accused.
Here’s the detailed story of the shocking case told in five sequences:
1. Girl Missing, So Is Accused’s Name From The FIR
Swarajya met the victim’s family on Wednesday, who live huddled in one room in a decrepit multi-storey building in Sultanpuri. Each room houses a separate family; incidentally all other families in the building are Muslims. The victim’s mother Mamta (name changed) narrated the events of the fateful day on 13 August, the day the youngest of her three daughters went missing: “My daughters left for school like any other day, around 6.30 am, after which I also left for work (Mamta works as a househelp while her husband is a driver). Two of them returned on their usual time around 1.30 pm while my youngest daughter didn’t. It was only when I returned in the evening around 5pm that they told me she is missing. They told me that our neighbour, Saddam Ansari, met them on their way to the school and took them to a park a little faraway in Rohini, where they all stayed till afternoon. They never showed up at the school that day at all. When the girls decided to return home from the park, Saddam told them to leave the youngest one behind. When my girls resisted, he threatened them with dire consequences.”
The eldest daughter, also a minor, told Swarajya that Saddam and their missing sister had planned the outing in the park the previous evening. In the morning, she told her sisters to take a casual dress along so they could change and sit in the park without raising suspicion of passersby and cops. They went to the park as planned though they didn’t change into the casual clothes. Around 1 pm, Saddam called up one of his friends, Kailash, to escort the girls home. “When we realised that my sister wasn’t returning with us, we held her arm forcefully but Saddam shouted at us. He said she is not coming with us. We were scared but we thought he would drop her home later,” she told Swarajya. She said Saddam had been routinely talking to the girls over the phone secretly, and had gifted the youngest daughter a wristwatch recently.
Mamta said, “I looked everywhere, in the parks, in the neighbourhood, but didn’t find her. I went to Saddam’s house but his parents rudely told me they don’t know anything. Around 8 pm, we went to the police station.”
Thus began a cycle of humiliations for the family. Mamta’s 24-year-old brother Deepak, who accompanied her sister and elder niece to the Sultanpuri police station, told Swarajya that assistant sub-inspector Dharam Singh registered an FIR but refused to note down the details of the accused after hearing his name. “He asked us why we are even talking about the man when our concern is only our daughter. He said he has nothing to do with the man and told us to bring the girl’s photograph on our next visit,” he said.
Contents of the FIR (a copy of which is with Swarajya) reveal the police’s questionable approach to the case right from day one. It records the mother’s statement that “she fears that an unidentified man has lured her daughter and took her away” (translated from Hindi by Swarajya). This is despite Mamta’s elder daughter, who went to the police station as an eye-witness, mentioning Saddam’s role in front of the cop. The FIR says the girl went to school in her uniform but carried a green-coloured salwar suit with her.
The next day, Mamta handed the cops a photograph of the girl. But when the family visited Dharam Singh again a day later to inquire about the progress in the case, he told them the photograph had been misplaced and the family must furnish a new one. Mamta said, “They want the photograph in a particular format that cost Rs 500. We are already poor and their negligence forced us to spend twice the amount.”
She said that on her insistence, the cops called Saddam’s younger brother Afsaar to the police station but “were soft on him and let him get away easily”. Two weeks passed, and the case didn’t move forward, she said.
That’s when activist Satish Vaid, who is associated with a Hindu rights organisation named Agniveer, approached the victim family.
2. Activists Step In, Police Calls Them “Communal”
Vaid, a resident of Delhi, told Swarajya that he got to know about the case through a post on social media, after which he somehow traced the family’s phone number, contacted them and went to the police station with them on 23 August. “When I questioned the cops on why they had not named the accused in the FIR, Anil Kumar (SHO) said we are making it a Hindu-Muslim issue,” Vaid said. Mamta told Swarajya that Kumar accused her of attempting to give the case a communal colour.
On 23 August, the girl’s father, with the help of Vaid, wrote a letter to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Deputy Commissioner of Police (outer) Seju P Kuruvilla, a copy of which is with Swarajya. The letter says that Saddam kidnapped his daughter forcibly and that the Sultanpuri police station refused to accept the details and photograph of accused Saddam Ansari, which makes him wonder if the police has entered into a compromise with the accused’s family. The father says in the letter that he fears that the minor may have been trafficked and pushed into prostitution.
3. Finally A Raid, But Victims Must Provide For ‘Petrol Money’
In what the family says was the result of the pressure by the activists, the police acted and retrieved the call details of Saddam that were traced to Bijnor in western Uttar Pradesh. Dharam Singh, along with two other police officers, Afsaar and Deepak, started for Bijnor on 24 August. On the way, the cops got the car’s fuel tank filled for Rs 1,300 and havaldar Ravindra Chauhan asked Deepak to give him “petrol money”.
“I was carrying Rs 1,000 for food and other expenses on the travel. But he took it away. Afsaar said he wasn’t carrying any cash so he was spared,” Deepak told Swarajya. (Ravindra Chauhan is under NCSC’s scanner for this gesture, details of which will come later in the story). More humiliation followed. “The cops even asked me to clean the car’s carpet,” he said. As per Deepak, when the team finally reached the house of Saddam’s grandfather in Bijnor – where they found only the elderly couple – Singh asked him to go carry out a search of the house by himself.
“I felt like a fool looking for my niece under the bed, inside the almirahs, behind the furniture. The whole time, I was worried that a woman might be inside one of those rooms,” Deepak said.
“The law requires lady police to accompany the raiding teams in such cases. Not only this was not followed, the cops relaxed on the cot while making Deepak do their work,” Vaid said.
The team didn’t find anything and went on to visit other relatives of Saddam in the district. The same drill was repeated, said Deepak. “When we entered Saddam’s uncle’s house, he said he doesn’t know anything. We had not even mentioned the purpose of our visit yet. Doesn’t it sound like they knew something? But the police didn’t question them,” said Deepak, calling the raid a “sham”.
After two days, the team returned, empty-handed. But by then, the NCSC had scheduled a hearing on 28 August where several officers were pulled up.
4. NCSC – First Hearing
On 28 August, NCSC vice-chairman L Murugan held its first hearing in the matter with Joint Commissioner of Police Madhup Tiwari, Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police (outer Delhi) Rajendra Singh Sagar, and the victim’s parents.
He made some scathing observations on the conduct of the police as recorded in the minutes of the meeting (a copy of which is with Swarajya).
- The NCSC took grave objection to the fact that when it contacted Seju P Kuruvilla to inquire the status of the case, the latter said she eloped of her own will, even when the law states clearly that in the case of minors, it is treated as kidnapping. The NCSC called Kuruvilla’s statement “highly regrettable and irresponsible”
- The NCSC asked the police to provide an explanation for its inaction in the first two weeks, and why POSCO, SC/ST Act and other sections of the IPC weren’t invoked
- The police was asked to provide an explanation for why they didn’t name the accused in the FIR and also why they asked for money for the petrol during raid
- The NCSC observed that the police have acted with “grave insensitivity” and “carelessness” in the matter
- It asked for action against Sultanpuri station house officer (SHO) Anil Kumar and havaldar Ravindra Chauhan under Section 4 of SC/ST Act that deals with neglect of duties by a public servant.
Meanwhile, the police announced a reward of Rs 50,000 on Saddam and advertised it in Bijnor on auto rickshaws. This was reported by local newspapers in Bijnor too.
5. NCSC – Second Hearing
Several developments in the case are recorded in the minutes of the meeting of the NCSC hearing in the matter on 4 September (a copy of which is with Swarajya) where the commission asked for no less than NIA to step in.
- The police added SC/ST and POSCO Act to the original FIR. The accused’s aunt (chachi) filed for anticipatory bail but it was rejected.
- The NCSC asked Home Ministry to refer the case to India’s premier anti-terror probe agency, National Investigating Agency (NIA), observing that girls have been found to be trafficked to other countries in several similar cases.
- It also asked the ministry, under which the Delhi police functions, to ensure that the SC/ST Act is invoked in all cases of kidnappings of Dalit girls and POSCO in cases of all minor girls.
- The NCSC has asked the Delhi Police to retrieve the bank details of the accused, his family members and even relatives to see if there was any major transaction in the days prior to the kidnapping. The NCSC said the case looks pre-planned as even the accused’s sisters were found to be missing after the kidnapping and were found in Bijnor by the police.
- The NCSC observed that it has been found in the past that abducted girls have been used in human smuggling and sold to terror organisations. So alert must be sent out at borders with Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
- The NCSC has also asked the madrassa, where one of the accused’s sister studies, to be raided and the maulvi questioned. It also noted that police have been found guilty of harassing the victim’s family by asking the uncle to pay for the petrol and that the police’s explanation that the girl’s uncle paid for the petrol on his own will, is rejected.