Above: Members of women’s rights organisations protest over the Rewari gangrape in New Delhi/Photo: UNI
Barely months after the assembly passed a legislation to award the death penalty to minors’ rapists, the Khattar government watches helplessly as two of the three suspects remain scot-free
By Vipin Pubby in Chandigarh
It’s an image that will remain in the collective memory of an entire nation for a long time to come—that of a man carrying a frail, limp body of a girl covered with a bedsheet to hide her identity. The teenager had been raped by at least three men in Rewari district of Haryana early this month, left unconscious and thrown into a state of deep trauma. The irony is that the incident happened weeks after the Manohar Lal Khattar government in Haryana piloted a bill in the assembly seeking the death sentence for those guilty of raping minors and declaring that it would not leave any stone unturned to book the guilty in rape cases.
Yet, in the latest barbaric incident of gangrape, the state administration did not act with alacrity and let at least two of the main accused escape even after an FIR was lodged and the accused identified. A week after the incident, Khattar, who had said there would be a zero tolerance policy towards such incidents, was rebuking mediapersons who wanted to know about the failure of the government to arrest all the main accused. The chief minister said he would rather talk about the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi than the rape case.
Ironically, it was Haryana from where the prime minister had launched his much trumpeted “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” campaign. It was symbolic because the “progressive” state has one of the worst records in female foeticide, where the ratio of the girl child is one of the poorest in India and where discrimination against females is rampant.
Ironically, the victim in the latest incident is one of the rare CBSE toppers from Haryana. She and her parents were looking forward to a bright future, unaware of the beasts lurking around her. Shockingly, Khattar had the temerity to say that the victim was known to the rapists. What exactly he was trying to convey by such a statement is obvious—that the girl had a relationship with them and perhaps had gone out with them willingly. Or was he trying to say that the accused were “targeted” by her?
The statement was made by the chief minister despite the well-known fact that in over 90 percent of rape and molestation cases, the guilty are known to their victims. Whether they were known to her or not in this case, or any other case, is immaterial.
Khattar, a greenhorn chief minister with no administrative experience, has been stumbling from one blunder to another. His inept handling of the agitation by followers of Baba Rampal, which led to half a dozen deaths, or the Jat agitation, which left behind a trail of destruction, or the mishandling of the protest in the wake of the conviction of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, is known to all. Yet his claim to fame, of being an old associate of the prime minister, has held him in good stead.
Even in the latest incident, the state police, under his watch, wasted several hours in haggling over who would register the case despite the victim reporting the matter to the police. While the Rewari police claimed that the site of the rape was under the jurisdiction of the Mahendergarh police, the latter passed the buck to their counterparts in Rewari. This despite the provision for a zero FIR and the directives by courts that any district police which is informed about a crime must start investigation without delay.
All the three accused, who belong to the same village as the victim, were very much around after the rape and were issuing threats to the victim and her relatives. The moment they learnt that the media had got scent of the issue and the news would be splashed, they made good their escape. Only one of them could be nabbed after a few days. Among the three main accused is an army jawan who was on leave, and is absconding till the time of going to press.
As per the victim and her family, she was on her way to coaching classes when two of the accused, who belonged to the same village as hers and had known her from childhood, accosted her at a bus stop in the early hours of the day. They pretended it was an accidental meeting and offered her some cold water. The unsuspecting girl—from the land of khaps where boys and girls from the same village are ordained to be brothers and sisters—accepted the water offered by them. It later transpired that the water was spiked and she fell unconscious. They then put her in a car and drove away to a nearby village where they had occupied a secluded room next to a tubewell. Either no one was around to see what was happening or those who witnessed her being taken away, had no courage to stand up to the ruffians.
It was in the room, whose key was obtained from the owner, that another rapist joined them and they took turns raping her. They did panic when she fainted and one of the rapists called over a local doctor. He was told that a labourer needed medical assistance but he discovered on his arrival that the girl was being gangraped. He told them that she had low blood pressure and breathing problems and should be referred to a hospital. The doctor went back to his clinic but didn’t inform the police about the abduction and rape of the girl.
He has now been booked for criminal conspiracy for not informing the police. The owner of the room has also been booked under the same charges to show that the Special Investigation Team (SIT) had made a breakthrough. Although they were supposed to inform the police, booking the accused for criminal conspiracy could be yet another instance of the Haryana police going overboard while trying to hide its failure in this case and most other rape and molestation cases.
In the Rewari case, the police was certainly lax. Besides shifting the onus of filing the FIR from one police district to another, senior police officers must face action for delaying the arrests even though the rapists had been identified by the victim.
After criticism in the media, the government did shift the superintendent of police and the station house officers concerned but more prompt action was expected. Merely shifting them to another post achieved nothing. The officers concerned should have been given exemplary punishment so that their colleagues act with alacrity in similar situations in the future.
Predictably, politicians jumped into the fray along party lines, ranging from former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda to state Congress chief Ashok Tanwar, besides senior leader Kuldeep Bishnoi. They not only met the victim and her close relatives but splashed their photographs on social media and in sections of the press. This was in violation of the law protecting the identity of the victim.
The Aam Aadmi Party’s Haryana unit chief, Naveen Jaihind, crossed all limits of decency when he announced that he will give Rs 20 lakh to any BJP leader who gets sexually assaulted by 10 people. He made the remark while condemning the state government for giving only Rs 2 lakh as compensation to the rape victim. Jaihind is the husband of Swati Maliwal, the chairperson of the Delhi Commission for Women.
That such incidents continue to happen in the country, and Haryana in particular, despite stringent laws is worrying. After Madhya Pradesh, Haryana was among the few states which had amended the laws to provide for the death penalty for those guilty of raping minors. But no one has been prosecuted so far under the law. However, there was news recently from Madhya Pradesh that the death sentence had been handed to an accused within a month of his committing the crime.
While special courts need to be set up for fast-track prosecution and time-bound justice, the governments would do well to counsel youth through families, panchayats, opinion leaders and educational institutions. Mothers and other females must be encouraged to sensitise their male relatives right from their childhood. This, in turn, would entail tackling gender discrimination, particularly prevalent in rural society. Governments also need to work more towards changing mindsets.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau data, one gangrape is perpetuated every two days in Haryana and the rate of gang rape per one lakh of population is 1.5 percent, which is the highest amongst all states in India, against the national average of 0.3 percent. The rape rate in Haryana is 9.4 percent, compared to the national figure of 6.1 percent. As per another official figure, a total of 37,000 crimes against women have been committed during the last four years.
The government has taken the stand that the official number of crimes is increasing because more cases are being registered. An official spokesman for the government said that in the past the police were not registering complaints which gave a false impression about incidence of crimes. In registering crimes, the police are doing nothing more than what is expected of them; but letting the culprits escape is equally a criminally negligent act.