Rapists roam free while victims and activists are jailed

ML Update, CPI-ML (Liberation)

Peasants, agricultural workers and women of Mansa district, Punjab observed New Year’s day this year with a protest gathering at the police headquarters in Mansa. Braving a severe cold wave, thousands of people gathered to protest a shocking situation where the rapists of a dalit minor girl roam free, while the woman activist who prevented the cover up of the rape case is in jail on false charges of ‘attempt to murder.’

In mid-December, a 17½ year old girl from a poor Dalit family was lured by a havildar in Mansa to his house on the promise of employment, and subjected to gang rape by him along with three others including a local advocate, a trader, and a financier. When neighbours heard her cries and called the police, however, the police deliberately suppressed the rape case and instead booked both the victim and her rapists on charges of ‘loitering.’ Cases of rape and SC/ST atrocity were registered only two days later, after intervention by CPI(ML) and AIPWA activists. However, three weeks after the incident, the accused (apart from the havildar) were yet to be arrested, and, being influential locally, were bringing to bear all sorts of pressures and threats on the victim. Two other of the rape accused were arrested only on 4 January, following the protest rally at Mansa and the intervention of the central team of AIKM and AIPWA leaders, while the financier accused of rape is still at large. Worse still, the very same activists including AIPWA National Council member Jasbir Kaur Nat and National President of the All India Kisan Mahasabha Ruldu Singh, who helped book the rape case are now behind bars along with several other peasant leaders, on a patently false charge of ‘attempt to murder.’ The pretext for this was the fact that they raised slogans in Court against the main accused in the murder of a popular peasant leader, leading to a minor skirmish when police assaulted them.

In the same area of Punjab some years ago, the dalit activist and singer Bant Singh had his limbs chopped off for supporting his daughter to pursue a rape case. The recent instance of rape of a dalit girl and victimisation of activists who pursued justice highlights the continuing strength of feudal survivals in Punjab. It also underlines the increasingly repressive response of the Akali Government in Punjab where every mass movement – of agricultural workers for homestead land, of peasants against debt – is me with mass arrests of leaders, activists and masses. What is happening in Punjab is also not very different from what is being seen in the rest of India – where scamsters, rioters and rapists roam free while activists like Binayak Sen are jailed.

Punjab is no exception. Just recently, in BSP-ruled Uttar Pradesh, a 17-year-old OBC girl who accused the BSP MLA Purushottam Narain Dwivedi of rape is in jail on charges of ‘theft.’ The incident exposes the reality behind Chief Minister Mayawati’s claims of social justice.

Meanwhile in Bihar, the BJP MLA from Purnea was stabbed to death by a woman who had filed charges alleging rape by the MLA and his associates some months ago. Police had taken no action on her complaint, and she had been pressured into withdrawing charges later. It is apparent that the woman was driven to take the desperate step because the chances of securing justice against a ruling party legislator were bleak. It is shocking that the BJP MLA’s supporters lynched the woman, critically injuring her, and that BJP leaders including the Deputy CM of the state have aggressively slandered the woman’s character while defending their MLA as a man of impeccable morals!

The recent instances in Punjab, UP and Bihar are a reminder of the sorry state of affairs in India when it comes to justice in cases of violence against women in general and women from oppressed communities in particular. According to NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau) figures, the conviction rate in rape and molestation cases in India is a mere 27 per cent – about one in four cases. Likewise, the conviction rate for cases of atrocities against SCs and STs is abysmally low – less than 30 per cent against the average of 42 per cent for all cognisable offences under IPC.

The national capital itself is witness to horrifying cases of rape, gang rape and other forms of violence on women. According to official figures, a rape takes place every day in Delhi, and 400 rape cases were registered in Delhi in 2010. The prevalent police attitude to such crimes can be gauged by the comment of celebrated police officer K P S Gill after the Dhaula Kuan rape case some years ago: Gill blamed women’s ‘provocative’ clothes for the rise in rape crimes in Delhi! The low conviction rates, trials that drag on for years, and insensitive police investigators who blame women themselves for such crimes, all empower rapists and molesters with a sense of impunity, the more so if the woman are from marginalised and oppressed communities, such as dalit and tribal women, or women from the North Eastern states.

The CBI’s closure report in the case of murder of a teenage girl Arushi Talwar is yet another reminder of the apathy that marks investigations in cases of violence against women. The CBI had been called in after the Noida police botched up the investigation, but the CBI pursuit of the case also relied more on ‘confessions’ obtained from domestic servants through third-degree methods like narco tests than any professional investigative practices, and now the CBI has attempted to close the case file itself. If justice is so elusive for urban girls from reasonable well-off families like Arushi and Ruchika, whose cases got great media attention, one can only imagine what happens to cases of women from socially and economically weaker backgrounds. And if this is the state of affairs in rape cases where politically powerful people are not implicated, what of the cases where police and army forces are implicated in rape and violence against women? The young Manipuri woman Thangjam Manorama, raped and murdered by Indian army personnel in 2004 is yet to get justice. The rape and murder of two Kashmiri women — Asiya and Nilofar — in Shopian, Kashmir, last year had been subjected to a spectacular cover-up by the CBI, with the latter claiming that the two women ‘drowned’ in a stream six inches deep. In Chhattisgarh where Binayak Sen has been sentenced to life on no evidence, adivasi women who filed charges of gang rape against top Salwa Judum personnel live in terror, because their rapists are free while the women themselves along with their kith and kin are threatened that they will be branded as ‘Maoists’ and arrested or killed in fake encounters.

Justice in violent crimes against women is non-negotiable. We must demand speedy passing of the Sexual Assault Bill, as well as fast-track courts to ensure speedy justice in such cases. Above all, we must build more and wider struggles to challenge the impunity and apathy that has become the hallmark of cases of rape and violence against women.

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