A grievous case of prolonged sexual violence and exploitation of a minor Dalit girl from the Hanuman Garh district of Rajasthan over eighteen months, her valiant attempts to escape and the failure of the police to further the investigation due to some officials hobnobbing with the accused from influential castes involved in the crime have resulted in a detailed fact-finding investigative report prepared by the Centre for Dalit Human Rights, Jaipur.
Though kumari Bhagwanti Neetu 16 years of age today, was abducted about 20 months ago from Hanuman Garh town by one Rohitash and Krishan Godara resident of Nai Abadi, Hanuman Garh, FIR number 493/2001 under section 363, 376, 342, 323 of 120B of IPC was lodged in the Hanuman Garh police station on October 18, 01, when, after three unsuccessful attempts she managed to escape back to her family.
The victim was subjected to brutal sexual violence under forcible abduction over the past two years. The victim-survivor has testified to the names of 70 accused before the Magistrate under sections 161 and 164 of the CRPC. The police have identified 22 persons as the main accused in this case, including one woman, Smt. Vimla who allegedly ‘sold’ the victim to the influential person for sexual exploitation. To date, the police have managed to arrest only 15 accused persons who are still under judicial custody. Among the accused who have been named are powerful and moneyed persons belonging to the Jat, Bishnoi, Kamad and Brahmin castes.
A fact-finding team consisting of P. L. Mimroth, convenor, Centre for Dalit Human Rights, Jaipur, Than Singh, former MP, Laxmi Narain, Convenor, and. Kamlesh Yadav, visited the areas of incident and met the residents of villages Behlolpur, Makkar, Pucca Sahonara, local social activists and all the concerned officials including the Collector, SP and SHO, Hanumangarh town on December 21 and 22, 2001 to ascertain the status of the investigation. Since then, the team has met highly placed officials in the district administration and even petitioned persons among the political class, including the chief minister of the state, Ashok Gahlot.
The fact-finding team was informed that a case has been registered under relevant sections of the IPC. and section 3 of the S/C and S/T (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989. Pahar Singh SHO also informed the team that the chargesheet in this case has not yet been filed due to a delay in the office of Gurcharan Rai,AdditionalSP, Shriganganagar who is currently investigating this case. Five more main accused, powerful and absconding men, are yet to be arrested.
Despite strenuous efforts, the fact-finding team was not able to establish contact with the victim and her parents. Residents of Behlolpur and many other social activists told the team that the victim and her parents are still in the custody of all those powerful elements who are directly or indirectly involved in this crime.
The Police deny this, saying that since she was a minor she has been handed over to her parents in the presence of upsarpanch (a landlord) of village Behlolpur. However local residents deny having seen her or her parents in the village. Their whereabouts are simply not known. The team members brought this fact to the notice of the Collector as well as the SP police who promised to take steps for rehabilitation of the victim and her parents in the village of Behlolpur itself.
As per the provisions of the Rules of S/C & S/T (Prevention of Atrocity) Act 1995, a victim of sexual exploitation as in this case, is legally entitled to get a sum of Rs. 25,000 as interim relief from the district administration soon after a medical examination is conducted by the medical board. This was conducted on October 19, 01. Independent investigations by the CDHR have revealed however that the compensation amount has not been paid to the victim by the district administration.
The story of the pain and struggle put up by this minor Dalit girl is heroic. After eighteen months of brutal sexual violence, she escaped from the site of the brick kiln and came to Hanuman Garh by bus. With the help of a renowned social worker of the area, Jasvinder Singh, she succeeded in lodging an FIR number 493/2001 on October 18, 01 at the Hanuman Garh police station under sections 363, 376, 342, 323, 120 B of the IPC and section 3 of the S/C & S/T (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989.
Initially, timely intervention by the Collector and the SP led to prompt registration of the complaint by the local police under the relevant sections. The victim-survivor was medically examined by the Medical Board and her statement on video was recorded under Sec. 161 of the Cr PC. The Police also immediately nabbed many of the main accused on October 19 and 25 itself.
Subsequent developments and follow–up actions reveal that the initial promptness displayed by the police were diffused as they came under pressure, allegedly from accused persons belonging to dominant and powerful castes. According to investigations made by the CDHR, the attempt appeared to be to destroy all traces of evidence against the accused.
The residents of Behlolpur and many social activists who are fully conversant with the facts of the case clearly narrated to the CDHR, the sectarian role played by Investigating Officer, Jagdish Chander Bishnoi ,who very cleverly allowed a supporter of one of the accused to abduct the victim and her parents. They remain in custody of the accused and hence, today, the outcome of the whole case is in jeopardy.
The role of the police also appears to be dubious in their failure to produce the girl before the High Court at Jodhpur on December 10, 01 in response to the habeas corpus petition filed on behalf of the brother of the girl. There were many eyewitnesses present the day the habeas corpus petition was heard. They testified before the fact-finding team and said that the victim survivor was seen in the clutches of the main accused in this case. After the court proceedings, the girl and her parents were taken away under tight security by the same set of accused persons. Yet neither the police nor the Courts intervened.
The fact-finding team has unearthed other controversial facts. On November 10, 01,Gulab Singh Shaktawat, the state home minister had ordered the DIG, Bikaner to transfer the inquiry of the case to the additional SP, Ganganagar. Despite these orders of the home minister, the Director General of Police re-requisitioned the case file and directed the deputy SP, Hanuman Garh police station, the location of the complaint, to conduct the inquiry. The apprehension is that this will enable local dominant caste influences to tamper with the evidence.
Moreover, an all out attempt to malign the local social activists and workers who are pursuing the case is also afoot. The local police have been bandying around statements allegedly obtained from Bhagwanti Devi and her parents making some false and baseless charges against social activists who are pursuing this case against all odds. The fact that the victim survivor and her hapless family, all from poor and marginalised sections have been forcibly kept by powerful persons, also accused in the case, is simply being overlooked.
The police is also avoiding the arrest of several remaining main accused including Shakti Punia, presumably because they are well-connected. Finally, the most critical issue today is that the chargesheet in this case is required to be filed in a court of law within the limitation period of 90 days and the deadline is due shortly. The failure of the police to file the same may result in the bailing out of all the accused who are in judicial custody.
Among the demands being made by the CDHR and to which solidarity from all human rights groups is sought are:
- An inquiry into the allegedly partisan and illegal role of Jagdish Chander Bishnoi, the inquiry officer must be undertaken forthwith, before this suspect behaviour affects the outcome of the case
- The arrest of the remaining accused persons from dominant castes and their prompt, day to day trial in a Court of law in accordance with provisions of IPC and SC ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 must be undertaken.
- The statutory compensation of Rs.50,000/- to the victim (Norms of the relief amount as per Rule 12(4) S/C & S/T Rule 1995) and provision of legal aid and assistance for the conduct of the case in court must be undertaken
- Adequate security must be provided to the victim and her family after rehabilitating her in her village and support provided for the conclusion of the case
- The family and child welfare and social welfare department of the government should the directed to see that the victim and her parents/relatives are not harassed by accused persons or any other persons including elected representatives.
We urge all human rights groups and right thinking individuals to join the campaign to get this Dalit Minor Girl Justice.
P.L.Mimroth, Than Singh, Laxminarain, Kamlesh Yadav, Centre for Dalit Human Rights
Archived from Communalism Combat, January-February 2002 Year 8 No. 75-76, Campaign 1