Rapes and basic administration of justice

Amritananda Chakravorty

In the last one week, the country has been rocked by the reports of two horrific rapes, one in Kathua, Jammu & Kashmir, and the other one in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh, which indicate the considerable complicity of the State/politician machinery with the accused persons, and the impunity with which law is violated. In Kathua, Jammu, an eight year old girl, from the Bakarwal (nomadic) community was kidnapped, sedated, gangraped, tortured for over eight days in a temple and eventually killed. The crime was apparently masterminded by the Sanji Ram, a retired government employee, as part of a larger communal conspiracy to ‘terrorise’ the Bakarwal community to force them out of the area. The other accused includes four police officers, including Special Police Officers, Deepak Khajuria, and Surinder Kumar, and police officials, Anand Datta and Tilak Raj. Sanji Ram’s son and nephew who is juvenile are said to be involved in the perpetration of the crime. The macabreness of the crime is highlighted by the fact Deepak Khajuria was apparently assisting the police to find the missing victim, while he himself continued to rape the girl in the temple.
The case in Kathua turned more ghastly when the lawyers of Kathua Bar Association overwhelmingly supported the accused persons, with support from rightwing outfits like Hindu Ekta Manch, who took out rallies and organised bandhs in Kathua and Jammu..They were even joined by two BJP Ministers from the State who were seen giving extremely divisive and communally charged speeches against the Bakarwal community. The President of the Kathua Bar Association also passed a resolution to keep work under suspension until April 12, while also calling for and supporting a complete Kathua and J&K bandh on April 11.
In Unnao, the victim is a 17 years old girl, who was allegedly raped by the BJP MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar in 2017, and had been trying to get the police to investigate the FIR. Since the accused were politically influential persons, the police did not take any action. Fed up with non-action, the victim tried to self-immolate before Chief Minister's residence on 8th April, 2018. Thereafter, her father who was in police custody was brutally beaten up by the accused MLA’s brother and his goons, and eventually succumbed to the injuries. After a national outcry, the MLA’s brother was arrested by the UP Crime branch, while no action was taken against the rape accused. Only when a PIL was filed in Supreme Court seeking transfer of investigation to CBI, and the Allahabad High Court took suo motu notice of the case, and asked the UP Government why was the accused not arrested, the UP Government transferred the investigation to CBI, but even then the CBI did not arrest Kuldeep Sengar. Finally, facing flak from all corners for sheltering the accused, including from the Court, Sengar was finally arrested on 13th April, by CBI and sent to judicial custody.
The High Court passed strictures against the State government that “the law and order machinery and the government officials were directly in league and under the influence of Kuldeep Singh.”The Court also pointed out how the police was refusing to register her complaint, the medical examiner did not examine her and essentially none of the required safeguards under the CrPC were fulfilled, even though the State had created an SIT in the matter. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued a notice to the Uttar Pradesh government and the state police chief, seeking a detailed report on the death of the father, and directed authorities to ensure “the aggrieved family is not subjected to further harassment”. It took a self-immolation by the victim, and killing of her father to get the attention of the media, State government and court for the police to even arrest the accused after one year, let alone conduct an investigation in a free and fair manner.
Both these cases are testimony to the fact that the basic administration of justice is under attack under the current regime. Though both are cases of gruesome sexual violence, one cannot equate Kathua with Unnao. Kathua is the result of years of vitrolic communal cauldron that the current political establishment has been practicing, especially in sensitive areas like Jammu. The rape and murder of the eight year old victim was an instrument of war to subjugate the entire Bakarwal community, and to evict them from their own lands and pastures. This is the first time in the history of India that rape accused were justified in the name of ‘nationalism’ and ‘patriotism’, and a child was raped and killed, precisely because of her religious identity. It is up to the Courts now to see that axis of justice does not favour the powerful accused, but provides the succour of justice to the victims and their families. It is a tall order, but the entire country is watching. Here it is imperative that justice is not only done, but also seen to be done. (IPA)

Tuesday, 24 April, 2018