How do you decide when a traumatised victim of repeated gang-rape for years is telling the truth and when she 'lies'?
On May 22, 1998, the victim of the heinous gang–rape incident in a Rajasthan University Boys Hostel eight months ago alleged that she had been gang–raped once again that evening — inside a Maruti van by four masked, armed men. In her FIR she said that assailants had threatened to wipe out her entire family if she did not drop her pending complaint against Prahalad Singh Krishaniya, a deputy superintendent of police (Dy. SP) and Dharmendra Singh Punia, son of an Addl. SP.
It may be recalled that her gang–rape on September 5 1997, by 10 men in the JC Bose Hostel had proved to be the last straw for the girl. She then gathered courage to report to the police not only about that particular incident of sexual abuse but also the sordid story of a seven–year–long sexual exploitation by numerous men with powerful connections.
Women’s organisations in Jaipur, the entire city and the outside world was outraged when the victim complained of being brutalised even while her earlier complaint is pending. The Janwadi Mahila Samiti, in the midst of its state convention when the incident happened, gheraoed the state secretariat the very next day. The main opposition party, the Congress, too, came out strongly against the incident. The outrage was compounded as the alleged assault was linked to police inaction in the earlier incident of gang rape and sexual exploitation over several years. Twelve of the accused are still absconding while the police refuses to treat Dy. SP Krishaniya (also son–in–law of an MLA) as an accused.
Between May 27 and May 30, the girl changed her story three times. She finally retracted her complaint and said she had not been raped at all. In her fourth statement to the police, she said she had gone over to a boy (a medico) from her work place of her own accord and had willingly had sexual intercourse with him.
Her retraction came as a big relief to the BJP’s Bhairon Singh Shekhawat–led government in the state. For the first time, Shekhawat had been faced with an aggressive Opposition that had decided to mobilise people on the issue of rape. The Congress had already raised the issue in Parliament and had planned a siege of the state secretariat on June 1 to highlight the deteriorating law and order situation in Rajasthan.
Besides, the retraction also gave the police a convenient justification for going slow in the proceedings against the accused in the earlier case lodged in September last year. It also came as a big relief to the hypocritical middle class of a conservative city whose conscience was burdened by her account eight months ago. It felt extremely uncomfortable being confronted, yet again, with the horror of something it had complacently refused to see before that fateful September. The relief also laid bare the vicariousness that was but an extension of the male marauders who had cruelly tossed around a woman victim like a sex toy for seven long years, ever since she was 17 or 18.
Acting as a handmaiden of these relieved groups, a section of the local press went to town, salaciously pointing an accusing finger at the girl morning after morning, resurrecting the already rejected theory of a nymphomaniac on the prowl endangering society’s morals. It also gave them the opportunity to put women’s organisations in the dock.
The daily Rajasthan Patrika (Hindi), said such organisations were not worthy of trust as they have always raised false cases — for example, the Sathin Bhanwari Bhateri and Shivani Jadeja (a girl on whom acid was thrown) cases. The Dainik Bhaskar went a step ahead. It published interviews of the wives of men who were being interrogated by the police and “established” the classic patriarchal stereotype: “a woman’s worst enemy is another woman.” The enemies in this case were the victim of the hostel rape case and women’s organisations that raised an unnecessary hue and cry and brought dishonour to respectable middle class families.
One does not know whether the girl’s fourth version, at the bidding of her father and the police, is final. Perhaps, only a psychiatrist can tell. In fact, it seems entirely possible that it is closest to the truth — a tragic truth that the police and a voyeuristic section of the local press and its vicarious readership refuses to see. But before looking at the four versions of the May 22 incident, one should look at the sequence of events preceding the lodging of the FIR with the police.
On May 22, there was justifiable alarm when the girl was reported missing by Vihaan, a resource centre for children where she had been working for the past month and a half. At 4 p.m., she left her office ostensibly to wait for the auto-rickshaw which drove her home every day. When the auto-rickshaw arrived, as usual, at 4.30 p.m., the driver could not find her. An alarmed office staff immediately informed the father. Some of us, members of women’s organisations helping her fight her case, were also informed. Her office colleagues also said that she had made long phone calls before leaving.
The girl’s disappearance was particularly worrisome in view of the pressure she and her family were being subjected to for withdrawing her complaint against some of the accused. The girl’s family knew, and so did we, that some of her tormentors had contacted her during the past one month. She had herself informed us that she was being persuaded to withdraw her complaint of Dy. SP Krishaniya’s involvement in her sexual abuse. The Dy. SP is the son–in–law of a Jat MLA from Nagaur, Richpaal Mirdha.
The case being politically sensitive, the police too became active when told that the girl was missing. A search was launched. Suresh Yadav, a shady character form the girl’s hapless past was picked up by the police for interrogation. At around 8 p.m., the girl walked into the house of an acquaintance of her father and called her home. At 8.15 p.m. the acquaintance dropped her home.
The girl told her mother and sister that she had been gang–raped again. The police and some of us reached her house 20 minutes later. We found the victim on the floor, moaning. The moment she saw us, she hugged one of us and said she wanted to die. Since the police was with us there was no other option but put her into the police jeep and take her to the station. The mother, who had never come out publicly in the last eight months, announced that this time she, too, would also take to the streets and accompanied her for medical examination.
The six days between May 20 and May 25, brought one shocking incident after another of sexual crimes in Rajasthan. On May 20, BJP MLA Rangji Meena and his cohorts allegedly gang–raped a woman devotee in the Kaila Devi temple in Karauli district. The police refused to lodge an FIR until the court gave directions for it do so. A minor girl was raped and killed in Kota. Her family reported that the son of a wealthy business man, a nephew of a senior minister in the state government, and the son of a person close to a central minister, were involved. The police was trying to convert the rape–cum–murder case into one of accidental death, they complained. On May 25, in Behror (Alwar), a girl was thrown into a well when she and her brother resisted the molestation she was being subjected to.
A defensive Shekhawat was forced to order a CBI inquiry into what was now called the double gang–rape case. But before the CBI could move in, the victim retracted her story.
On May 27, the National Women’s Commission, which had been informed about Rajasthan’s week of sexual atrocities, came to Jaipur to discuss the grave situation with us and the government. Women activists had from the beginning noticed two discrepancies in the story of the girl — the unexplained telephone call from her office and her leaving half–an–hour earlier than normal. Thinking that the girl had been forced by her abductors to give a fabricated story and conceal the true facts, we were continuously prodding the girl. In the presence of the visiting NCW team, we questioned her more closely. It was then that the girl came out with a second version.
The second version was that she was returning a call from a shady character Suresh Yadav involved in her earlier exploitation. Pressurising her, Yadav had taken her on a motorcycle to his shop where he and his masked friends raped her, she said.
When this version could not be confirmed by the police, the girl gave a third version, this time only to representatives of women’s organisations. She said that Suresh Yadav had taken her to an unoccupied house and raped her — no one else was involved.
This was followed by the fourth version, mainly at the bidding of the girl’s father. The girl said she was feeling lonely and friendless and badly needed affirmation. In the past 20 days, she had made friends, without revealing her true identity, with a young doctor living across from her work place. Apprehensive that the doctor would spurn her if he knew that she was a gang rape–victim, she assumed a false name — Simran. She said that on May 22, when she was feeling particularly lonely, he had invited her over. So she went and had sex with him, willingly.
That’s when the Rajasthan police had a field day. It planted leaks in the local press, insinuating that the girl was a “nymphomaniac”. Of course, no police officer was willing to be quoted by name The obvious intention was to cast a shadow on the previous cases, too. The police was subtly suggesting through a helpful press that it was the girl who had always invited gang–rape on herself. (The girl had reported that in every tragic episode in the last seven years of her repeated sexual exploitation, she had been gang–raped).
In their zeal to cover up their sin of deliberate ennui in the earlier cases, the police even committed procedural lapses. They leaked the girl’s complaint of an offence under section 161 CrPC to the press. According to a senior counsel, S.R. Bajwa, this was tantamount to violation of Sec 228 (A) of the IPC which clearly states that the identity of a victim woman who complains of offences under Sec. 376 and 376 a,b,c must not be made public.
The police also did not show the girl her own statement noted under Sec. 161 CrPC. They did not even take her to identify the spot or the boy who had supposedly confirmed her story. The hurry was probably prompted by a state government under increasing pressure due to rising atrocities against women in Rajasthan.
In our press statement issued on June 4, we emphasised the issue of rehabilitation for such brutalised victims. We said that the horrible sexual exploitation from an early age where she was abused by more than fifty men and the brutal gang–rape in September, 1997 had so traumatised the rape victim that her statements and actions cannot be expected to be entirely rational. Moreover, neglect of her psychiatric rehabilitation by her family and society in the eight months since September, the threats and the inducements she has subsequently received from the accused, and the fear and insecurity she had experienced as many of the accused were still absconding, had added to her imbalanced state. The attack on her character by a particular caste lobby had increased her isolation. Instead of being rejected, she needed empathy for her recovery and a dignified existence in society.
In order to understand our statement, it is important to quickly go over the facts of the last eight months since her gang–rape in September 1997.
An informal network of more than 40 organisations under the Mahila Atyachar Virodhi Jan Andolan (MAVJA) banner, have been working since 1996 on several rape cases including that of the hostel rape case. MAVJA activists staged a month-long dharna under the Balaatkaar Virodhi Andolan banner in September–October last year, protesting against police inaction despite increasing sexual crimes in the state.
MAVJA has tried to monitor every aspect of the hostel rape case. Had it not been for our intervention and that of the National Commission of Women’s high–powered fact–finding committee, the girl would by now have been declared a call–girl by the police and the case closed. The charge sheet in the hostel rape case, was divided into two parts, and was filed on October 20, 1997 (pertaining to the gang–rape On September 5, 1997) and January 2, 1998 ( for the seven–year–long sexual exploitation).
The group tried its best to put pressure on the government for arresting all the 22 accused in this case. Fearing that the girl will be completely isolated when she finally deposes in court, in camera — very often lawyers representing the accused ask highly offensive questions which only adds to the victim’s trauma — we also tried through the NCW to set up a team of women observers in court. A decision in this regard is pending before the chief justice of Rajasthan.
Also, for the first time, we made the issue of rape into an election issue during the Lok Sabha elections in February 1998. We targeted three candidates, two of whom were involved in the hostel rape case. It was a matter of some satisfaction for us that all three candidates lost.
For us, the rehabilitation of the rape victim has been a primary concern. From the beginning, we have felt that the girl who had undergone such trauma needed professional help to heal. We urged the family several times that she be taken to a psychiatrist. In Jaipur, there is a government-run psychiatric centre and a few private psychiatrists. Unfortunately, no women’s organisation, not even the excellent short–stay home run by the Rajasthan University Women’s Association has the facility of a psychiatrist or a psychologist.
The victim’s family, at one level, feared the invasion of their privacy. At another level, they feared that their daughter’s case may be damaged if the defence counsel uses her visits to a psychiatrist to claim before the court that the girl was in an unstable state of mental health and, therefore, an unreliable witness. So, they kept postponing the issue of taking her to see a psychiatrist in Jaipur. Because of the likelihood, since January this year, of the girl’s statement being recorded any time, the family was also reluctant to take her outside the city for professional help. Meanwhile, the delaying tactics adopted by the accused to ensure repeated postponement of the framing of charges and trial has resulted in the statement of the girl not being recorded to date.
By March 1998, the girl who had not stepped out of her house for more than six months came close to suicidal tendencies. MAVJA urged the family to reconsider its stand on the psychiatric treatment in Jaipur. Even after an appointment had been fixed, the family backed out once again.
As the girl spoke of feeling suffocated in the house, she was taken on a holiday for a week by a member of MAVJA. We also contacted women’s organisations across the country seeking help to give the girl an opportunity to heal — receive psychiatric care, get involved in productive work along, be assured full security. Sadly, we were told that there was no such home available anywhere.
We then felt it would help if she could at least step out of her home every day for a few hours. A Child Resource Centre, Vihaan, aware of her situation, offered her a work opportunity. She was given the task of setting up a library for the organisation, a job which she handled well. She also took active interest in other activities of the organisation and was on good terms with all. In her six weeks association with Vihaan, there was not a single instance of her ever making a pass at any of the male co–workers.
Following her retraction, we asked the girl why she had given a different account earlier. She said she feared the wrath of her family if she told the truth. So, on knowing that the family had reported her missing to the police, she chose to lie. More importantly, she said with tears in her eyes: “I did not want to lose this person. It was the first time that I had made my own choice out of love and I wanted to protect him. I feel very sorry that I have lost him now”. Asked how she expected to build an intimate relationship with someone after assuming a false identity, she said, “Who will accept me if I say that I have been forced into sex with so many men over the years?”
This tragic fantasy needs to be contrasted with the reality of Rajasthani society where men, especially the powerful, are free to indulge in their sexuality criminally, through rape. They can even queue up for it, be cheered by a mob of fellow men, as they did in September in a place of learning. “I was caught for a very long time with the sex-mafia and could not extricate myself, however hard I tried”, says the girl in anger and pain amidst all her inner turmoil. She goes on to say that there are many other girls in Jaipur who are trapped just like her.
For all the anger of the press and the middle class, the statement of the girl ought not to be taken lightly considering that the sex scandals of Ajmer (Rajasthan) and Jalgaon (Maharashtra) are still not behind us. The CBI which has taken charge of the case ought to follow this line of investigation if it is serious about punishing the criminals and not in a hurry, like the Rajasthan police, to close the case.
While the saga of the hostel rape case victim is still unfolding, it is very clear that this is not merely a story about retraction of a complaint of gang–rape. Several issues come to the fore.
The primary issue, for MAVJA, in this specific case remains that of the psychiatric rehabilitation of the girl. It is crucial that the family recognises the urgent need for her psychiatric treatment and takes her to the best institution in the country. However, this is an important issue that the women’s movement also needs to address urgently. There are groups like the one in Pune where Mira Sadgopal and others are trying to build an awareness in the area of women’s mental health. There is also Sakshi in Delhi that trains activists to help heal sexually abused children. Maybe, the Rajasthan movement should set an example by establishing a similar centre for women victims.
Secondly, howsoever much the government and the police try to rely on the retraction by a victim to claim that all cases of rape filed by women are false, or that women’s organisation make an unnecessary hue and cry, even they cannot deny certain facts. On May 29, Union home minister L. K. Advani had to concede in Parliament that Rajasthan follows Maharashtra in the highest number of reported cases of atrocities against women.
The BJP cannot deny that rape and the larger of issue of atrocities on women have now become an issue for the people. And therefore all political parties in the state have per force had to bring it on their agenda. The women’s wings of left parties were part of the formation of MAVJA. These parties have supported all our agitations since 1996. The All–India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW) and the All–India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) have done excellent work to strengthen the cause of women.
During the Parliamentary polls in February this year, for the first time, women’s organisations (minus the Congress and the BJP) came together and campaigned effectively in the constituencies of three candidates who have been anti–women. Two of them were connected to the hostel rape case. MLA, Jagdeep Dhankad (Congress) had attacked the girl in the state Assembly implying that she was a call girl. Another Congress MLA, Richpaal Mirdha, father–in–law of Dy. SP Prahalad Singh Krishaniya, one of the accused, fought the election on a BJP ticket. The third MLA, Rohitas Sharma, an independent minister who fought the election on a BJP ticket this time, is known to have protected his son in the Shivani Jadeja case (acid was thrown on a school girl in 1997 but till date no arrests have been made). Besides he is himself involved in the Alwar sexual exploitation case of June 1996).
Inspite of our limited intervention, our campaign was seen as a real threat by the candidates and the administrative machinery was deployed to prevent us from holding meetings. But, in the end, all the three candidates were defeated.
Realising that women’s organisations are emerging as effective pressure groups and can mould public opinion, the two major parties in the state – Congress and the BJP — are revamping the women’s wing of their own organisations.
On June 1 and 2, Neera Shastri, the national secretary of the BJP’s Mahila Morcha, and a member of Delhi’s state women’s commission, came to Jaipur and demanded from the Rajasthan government that it set up a women’ s commission. This incidentally is a demand on which MAVJA and NCW have for long been agitating with the govern-ment. Shastri announced that the Mahila Morcha would set up in each ward teams of five women to focus on the issue of atrocities against women in the state. She also indicated that the Mahila Morcha in Rajasthan would soon have a new president. The current president, Tara Bhandari, is notorious for her anti–women stance. It was she who had led the rally last September against the woman who had accused a Jain muni of raping her. During her two day stay in Jaipur, Shastri visited the hostel rape case victim (something almost unthink- able for BJP women in Rajasthan) and also met some members of MAVJA. The state unit of the Mahila Morcha has the dubious reputation of being more anti–women than the government. (Cover story, CC, Nov. 1977). Evidently, the Mahila Morcha is giving itself a face–lift since Assembly elections are due this November. The BJP knows it cannot face the electorate this time without addressing this issue.
In January 1996, the state Congress presi-dent, Ashok Gehlot refused to meet us when the anti–Bhanwari Devi rally was being planned. This despite the fact that the then All–India Congress president, Girija Vyas, had taken a stand against the court judgement (which went against Bhanwari Devi) and for which she is still facing a contempt case. But now, even Gehlot has decided that the law and order situation in Rajasthan, especially increasing crimes against women, is one of the foremost issues for his party. On June 15, Congress workers held district–level agitations on this issue all over the state and several thousand workers courted arrest. Congress president, Sonia Gandhi is scheduled to visit Jaipur in mid–July to address a women’s sammelan. That the Congress will try to cash in on the issue of increasing atrocities against women in the coming polls is clear.
Meanwhile, we members of different organisations committed to providing a forum to struggling women and fighting to see the end of a gender–discriminatory world, call upon all women’s organisations in the coun-try to help us plan a new phase in our endeavour.
Archived from Communalism Combat, July 1998. Year 5 No. 45, Herstory 1