Did the CBI investigate the case with preconceived ideas and motivated intent? Social experts and women activists allege so.
By Shobha John
India has the dubious distinction of being the rape capital of the world. Yet, the alleged gang rape and murder of two teenage dalit cousins, aged 14 and 15 years, in Katra village of Badaun district in Uttar Pradesh (UP) on May 27 was unparalleled and evoked national outrage. Questions have been raised about whether they were actually raped.
Further, caste and property issues have muddied the waters, with hints of a cover-up by the state police under pressure from higher castes. After the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) got the nod to exhume the bodies from the graves on the banks of a rising Ganga, questions are being raised about the processes being followed by the premier investigation agency.
The graves are already under water and exhumation has been aborted.
It all began on the night of May 27, when the two girls went out into the fields to answer nature’s call and did not return home. The police, the parents claimed, refused to lodge an FIR. The girls were finally found hanging from a tree the next morning.
A post-mortem examination by a team of three doctors on May 29 confirmed that the girls had been brutally raped and died from strangulation. However, on June 12, UP Director General of Police AL Banerjee cast doubts about whether one of the girls was raped, and said the death may be related to property issues within the family. This led to uproar among women activists, who said he was creating confusion and trying to divert media attention from the case. Later, five accused—brothers Pappu Yadav, Awadhesh Yadav and Urvesh Yadav and constables Chhatrapal Yadav and Sarvesh Yadav—were arrested in this case.
Bureau under scrutiny
Seeing the snowballing effect of this ghastly rape and the deteriorating law and order situation in UP, where crimes against women have increased, a special investigation team (SIT) of the CBI was set up to probe the incident. On June 12, the CBI began investigations and decided to exhume the bodies for a second round of post-mortems. However, CBI’s subsequent actions were flailed by activists and experts. The Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiatives (AALI), a women’s rights organization in Lucknow, which has been providing socio-legal support to the victims’ family, released a press release recently, raising uncomfortable questions:
The CBI’s decision to exhume the bodies was questioned, as under the law, it can be done only with the valid consent of the victims’ family. But this hasn’t been the case. The family, claims AALI, is “grief-stricken, helpless and bewildered and has expressed discomfort and unease with the proposed exhumation.”
Blaming it on procedures
The CBI says the autopsy was bungled as it was done late at night and is a violation of the procedure prescribed for autopsies. However, AALI says that the Mumbai-based Center for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes has opined that there is no legal bar on conducting autopsies at night. The only requirement is that there should be adequate light. The video recording of these autopsies shows that there was adequate light.
The CBI further states that a single doctor with no prior experience conducted the original autopsy, and now a panel of doctors would conduct it after exhumation. But AALI says the first post-mortem report states that it was conducted by a panel of three doctors: Dr Ranju Kumar Gupta (physician), Dr Avdhesh Kumar (surgeon), both from District Hospital, Badaun, and Dr Pushpa Pant Tripathi (gynaecologist and obstetrician, District Female Hospital, Badaun). Therefore, the CBI’s claim does not hold.
CBI says that the autopsy report was only suggestive of rape, and did not conclusively prove it. AALI quotes Vrinda Grover, a Supreme Court lawyer, on this: “Doctors cannot give a medical opinion whether rape has occurred or not because ‘rape’ is a legal term. The post-mortem report of both girls records injury around the vaginal orifice and abrasions and injury on the hymen. It would have been more appropriate for the doctors to say that there are signs of use of force, suggestive of sexual violence. Moreover, final opinion can only be given after receiving reports from the Central Forensic Science Laboratory of the vaginal smears and clothes sent to it.”
These factors, says AALI, show that the post-mortem reports have little or no flaws in the procedure or finding, leaving no valid reason for CBI to seek exhumation.
Dr Jagdeesh Reddy, a Bangalore-based forensic doctor, was quoted by AALI as saying that since so much time had lapsed since the death of the girls, much of the evidence would have vanished. “With advanced stages of decomposition of the bodies, it would be difficult to comment about skin and mucosal injuries with 100 percent accuracy,” he said. Will this make it easier for the CBI to rule out the suggestion of rape?
The CBI’s handling of the case and treatment of the family, says AALI, is “puzzling, if not worrying.” The fathers and two uncles of the murdered girls were subjected to lie detector tests, even though such tests have no value before a court, it said.
A Supreme Court (SC) judgement in the Selvi and Ors vs State of Karnataka judgment was quoted as an example: “Compulsory administration of any of these techniques is an unjustified intrusion into the mental privacy of an individual, and amounts to ‘cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.’ Even when the subject has given consent to undergo any of these tests, the results cannot be admitted as evidence because the subject does not exercise conscious control over the responses during the administration of the test.”
So why did the CBI whisk away the victims’ kin for more than 72 hours and keep them in an undisclosed place, AALI asks. Is there a move to manoeuvre the investigation and divert it away from the accused persons?
The media too is in a tizzy and is taking sides (see box). There have been suggestions that the CBI has an agenda to shift the blame onto the family and pursue this not as a rape/murder case but as one of honor killing. The family has claimed it is being threatened by the police and upper castes. Hema Bhadwar Mehra, a writer and social activist who has worked in these areas, says: “One can imagine the trauma and fear the family of the victims is undergoing.”
The fact that this incident happened in the badlands of UP is not surprising. An independent report on crimes against women in UP by Mehra and Shefali Misra found that UP’s Gender Development Index is the second lowest in India. Records from the National Crime Records Bureau indicate that the maximum number of dowry deaths, murders and kidnappings occur in this state (2012 figures). The report says: “So shocking is the state of affairs, that crime even occurs under the nose of the districts’ highest ranking judicial officer…. Often, the police and administrative officers ignored the law related to crimes against women and took a biased view at the very onset and acted as the judge and the jury rolled into one….
“We were told that a combination of local equations and norms such as caste, class, tradition and patriarchy increased the prevalence of violence against women. We were also informed by locals that strong caste dynamics existed as a backdrop to all these incidents. Most attackers were from the Yadav community against dalit/OBC (muraon).”
While it will take years for these caste wars to be obliterated and education to uplift
people, the CBI must get to the bottom of these gruesome murders and deliver justice to the victims and their families irrespective of class or caste considerations. It owes it to the women of India.
—With inputs from Akshat Agarwal