Saturday, September 8, 2012

Seamier side

The Nitish Kumar government may insist that law and order problems are a thing of the past in Bihar but its curious reluctance to deliver justice to a teenage gang-rape victim undermines the claim, writes Manoj Chaurasia ...  

Bihar under chief minister Mr Nitish Kumar is repeatedly projected as a land where crime is history. The administrators claim that the jails of the state are choc-a-bloc with notorious criminals whose trials have been fast tracked, that no massacre has taken place in the state since 2005 and that people are leading a much more harmonious life. Bihar’s ‘transformation’ has not only captivated national dailies but also international publications such as The Economist, The New York Times and Time that believe the state has become a model of governance worth emulating across the country.

However, while the Assam government lost no time in putting the alleged perpetrators behind bars following the very public molestation of a young girl on a Guwahati street after TV channels ran the news, Bihar continues to investigate and re-investigate the gang-rape of a teenage girl nearly two months after the crime was committed in the high-security zone of Patna. While the crime is believed to have been committed last June, the principal culprits ~ who reportedly come from influential families ~ remain untraceable. The Opposition is accusing the powers-that-be of pressuring the administration to shield the perpetrators.

Apparently, police initially took no notice despite a copy of the CD containing footage of the gang-rape being made available to them on 12 July, 2012. It is believed that the perpetrators ~ some eight of them ~ had uploaded the footage onto the Internet once the victim refused to submit to them any more.

The victim was apparently duped by her boyfriend Prashant Jha into entering Flat No 301 of Rambha Apartment located off Patna’s upscale Bailey Road where seven other young men were waiting for them. While each of them took turns to rape the teenager, one managed to capture the gang-rape on his cellphone. CDs were eventually burnt to blackmail the teenager into repeated submission. This went on for a month. When the victim started resisting them, the perpetrators started circulating the CDs and also ensured that the footage found its way into the Internet. Even Patna police received a copy but took no action saying the victim needed to lodge a complaint first.

“If news channels had been reporting a gang-rape for one week, why did not police at least get in touch with reporters?” wondered noted social activist Ms Kanchan Bala. It was only after local TV news channels kept following up the news, telecast bits of the footage and flashed pictures of the perpetrators on 12 July, 2012 that the administration found itself under pressure. Women’s rights groups took to the streets of the state capital and even organised a candlelight procession. Bihar women’s commission finally sat up and Commission member Chandramukhi Devi visited the victim at her home, recorded her statement and forwarded her complaint to police. It was then that police registered a first information report (FIR).

But the Opposition alleges that the FIR had been deliberately diluted to protect the perpetrators. In an open letter dated 6 August, 2012 to the state’s director-general of police, Opposition lawmakers raised 17 points. “Even after the women’s commission had obtained a signed statement from the victim on 18 July, why did not police include in the FIR the names of Saurabh and Sushant who figure in her (victim’s) statement recorded by a court under Section 164 of the CrPC?” is one point raised by the Opposition. The open letter also suggests that police arrested only six perpetrators while the victim had mentioned eight in her statement to the court.

Police swung into action when Patna’s chief judicial magistrate issued a warrant of arrest against the culprits after taking suo motu cognisance of the gang-rape that was reported by a newspaper on its front page on 25 July, 2012. But, Saurabh, said to be the son of a JD-S lawmaker in the Nitish Kumar government, is still evading arrest. The conspiracy to protect Saurabh became apparent when police picked up Dinesh Paswan, a domestic help with the alleged perpetrator’s family, and produced him in the court of the CJM, Patna asserting that he was the missing Saurabh. According to the Opposition’s open letter to the top cop, Paswan spilled the beans in court and described Saurabh as a “fair complexioned, handsome boy who resides in a government flat near the Hanuman Mandir in Ranvanshi Nagar”. A JD-U lawmaker has already lodged a complaint against a local Hindi news portal for suggesting that Saurabh was his son.

Bihar’s women’s commission too has accused police of shielding the main culprits. “The scene of crime described by the culprit does not match what police insist is,” Chandramukhi Devi said, it alleging that Patna police were trying to cover up for powerful people. She said: “Police are definitely under huge pressure to make the victim recant. The scene of crime that police are scouring bears little resemblance to what is on the rape footage.”

Local media claims that it had received the CD about a month ago and promptly handed a copy to the then Patna city superintendent of police Ms Kim Sharma for action. It is believed that Ms Sharma had been secretly gathering evidence when she was transferred to the distant eastern Bihar town of Katihar. The administration remains tight-lipped. The matter rocked the current monsoon session of the state Assembly but the only thing the government has done so far is to make a routine promise to deliver justice to the victim.

The teenage victim, who is from a family of modest means, has described the gang-rape as a nightmare. With both the chief minister and the director-general of police remaining mysteriously mum, it seems her ordeal is far from over.

The writer is The Statesman’s Patna-based Special Representative 

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