UP: Justice Moves Further Out of Reach for Dalits, Especially Women
In Hathras, cops barricade a raped woman’s home,
hijack her corpse, set it afire on a murderous night,
deaf to her mother’s howling pain. In a land where
Dalits cannot rule, they cannot rage, or even mourn.
This has happened before, this will happen again.
…This has happened before, this will happen again.
Sanatana, the only law of the land that’s in force,
Sanatana, where nothing, nothing ever will change.
Always, always a victim-blaming slut-template,
a rapist-shielding police-state, a caste-denying fourth estate
(Hathras, by Meena Kandasamy)
Newspapers and channels reported that a 17 year old woman consumed poison in the office of the ADG Police, Bareilly on March 5th. Her sister who had accompanied her said that the young woman had been raped by two men in their village in Pilibhit six months ago but the local police had refused to register a case. The ADG had also been informed. In their pursuit of justice, the sisters came to the ADG’s office where an inspector told them flatly that their case would not be registered. As a result, the survivor consumed poison. She was then rushed to the hospital. It is not clear whether a case has finally been registered.
This is just one more example of the fact that rape victims in Uttar Pradesh have little or no hope of accessing justice. The fact that the young woman from Pilibhit was a minor and that her case should have been registered under the POCSO Act and then pursued with diligence, seems to be of no interest to the powers that be in the state. The attitude of the Yogi government towards those accused of rape who belong to his own party, the BJP, like the Unnao MLA, Sengar, and the former MP and minister of state for home in the Vajpayee government, Chinmayananda, has been protective and supportive. The Supreme Court itself had commented during Sengar’s trial that ‘justice was not realisable in Uttar Pradesh’ and had transferred the case along with the survivor and her family to Delhi.
Most of the victims of rape and rape combined with murder in the state belong to the dalit community. While rape figures for dalit women dropped by an average of 6.2 per cent across India, in UP they rose by 3.4 per cent between 2019 and 2020. If we go further back to 2017, the spike in the state is of 13.6 per cent. These figures conceal more than they reveal. Most cases go unreported or unregistered and if an investigation does take place, the experience is likely to be humiliating, tortuous and hopeless, ensuring that others will be discouraged from attempting to access justice.
The Hathras case in which a young woman belonging to the Balmiki caste who accused four upper-caste men of gang-rape died of her injuries in hospital two weeks later was one which attracted notice across the country and world-wide. It was widely written about and commented upon, political leaders and activists staged protests in Hathras and elsewhere and the chief minister promised that justice would be meted out promptly and with severity. Despite all this, the judgment delivered by the SC/ST Special Court district judge on March 2, 2023 was met with widespread shock and despair. The charge of rape was denied, three of the four accused were let off and the fourth was sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of manslaughter not murder.
The judge delivered a 176 page judgment which, while it dwells repeatedly and in great detail on facts, evidence and submissions that strengthen the arguments he makes in support of his conclusions, it is a document that leaves out much that would have not just weakened but demolished those same arguments.
The judgment, for example, pays no heed to the chargesheet submitted by the CBI enquiry set up by the government of Uttar Pradesh which was concluded in December 2020. The CBI stated that if the local police had counselled the victim on the day of the assault and provided her with a sensitive environment, she would have been able to speak about the sexual assault at that stage itself. It also opined that the victim did not get any respect at the local police station because of her dalit identity and said that the police investigation had been shoddy. The CBI chargesheet held that the victim had been gangraped and murdered by Sandip, Ravi, Ramu, Luvkush and recommended their prosecution under Sections 376 and 302 of CrPc.
The judgment does, however, concentrate on various contradictory statements made by the victim’s mother and brother who had taken the brutalised victim to the police station, Chandpa, in the morning of September 14th, 2023. There is no attempt to understand the mental state of the three persons, one of whom was suffering life-threatening injuries and unbelievable trauma. The judge repeatedly refers to the fact that none of the three mentioned rape or sexual assault at the police station. He has nothing to say, however, about the fact that the victim was placed on a stone platform and that she and her family members were treated with contempt by the police personnel present who told them that they were ‘creating drama’. The victim’s brother himself had to organise transport to the district hospital.
A few journalists had arrived at the police station and they made short video interviews with the victim and her mother. The victim was in great distress and hardly conscious. The judge refers to two videos in which there is no reference to rape but conveniently ignores a third in which the victim mentions ‘zabardasti’ (being forced). This is the way in which sexual assault is often referred to.
From the police station, the victim was taken to the district hospital and then to the Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital at AMU, Aligarh but was not medically examined at either place on that date. Nor were her clothes taken into safe custody. Since all evidence of rape would have been destroyed after three or four days it is not surprising that when the clothes were sent for forensic investigation after September 22, no such evidence could be found. A senior police officer, however, held this fact up as conclusive evidence that no rape had occurred.
The judge states repeatedly that the victim alleged gang-rape and named the three men responsible for this in addition to Sandeep (whom she had named on the 14th itself) only on the 22nd. He makes the most objectionable charge that she has been tutored to do so by her family and by various political figures who met her during this time. The fact that the victim was unconscious for much of the time when she was admitted in Aligarh and that, when she gained consciousness on the 16-17th night, she told her mother of having been gang-raped. When the hospital authorities were informed of this, they told the family quite erroneously that they could carry out a medical examination only after additional sections were added to the FIR.
The victim’s father, meanwhile, went to inform the CO and the SP on the 18th itself and finally her statements were recorded on September 22. The incredible shoddiness with which this was done resulted in the suspension of the CO later. The fact of gang-rape and the names of the three men were, however, recorded. Before this, the victim also recorded a video in which she clearly named the perpetrators and their crime. She did this probably because of a fear of death and also a lack of faith in the authorities.
It was after this that the first thorough medical investigation was made and the report clearly states that the victim has stated that rape took place. It ends stating that ‘On the basis of local examination I am of the opinion that there are signs of use of force however opinion regarding penetrative intercourse is reserved pending availability of the FSl (forensic) report.’ This last point is, however, meaningless since the doctor knew that after so many days the clothes would not retain any evidence.
After the medical examination, the dying declaration of the victim was recorded by a naib tehsildar rather than a magistrate and, despite this also being done in a shoddy, haphazard manner, the judge himself states that in the dying declaration the victim says that she was dragged into the bajra (millet) field by the four accused. He goes on to say that rape, however, is not mentioned. He seems to be ignoring her other statements including her statement on video of September 14th itself where she mentioned ‘zabardasti’ or forcible assault. In other words, he seems hell bent on helping the accused and treating the victim who had died a horrible, painful death with contempt and disbelief. He has not a word of sympathy for her and her family and not a word of criticism for the district magistrate who was recorded browbeating the family and who, along with the SSP, ordered the cremation of the victim disregarding the protests of her family who were not permitted to attend her last rites.
The judgment is only one of the many grievous blows that the victim and her family have been subjected to, in life and in death. Since that fateful day of September 14, 2020, no one in the family has been able to go to work, none of their children can go to school, they can leave the house and meet visitors only with the permission of the CrPF. After two long years, three of the accused have been set free despite the fact that the judge has admitted that the victim had accused them of dragging her into the millet fields. Despite that, the three of them are free while the victim’s family remains incarcerated in their hut, surrounded by barbed wire and CrPF guns. The government job and house that they were promised remain as unattainable as justice.
For dalits in UP, especially women, justice just moved even further out of reach.
Courtesy : People Democracy
Note: This news piece was originally published in peopledemocracy.com and used purely for non-profit/non-commercial purposes exclusively for Human Rights.
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