What does it take for a rape to be declared a rape? A girl gone missing, her mutilated body found on a deserted stretch, an unprecedented three post-mortems? Apparently in Haryana, even that is not enough.
It has been seven days since a 20-year-old Dalit girl was allegedly raped and murdered in Haryana’s Jind city. There are no suspects and the police refuses to give details of their inquiries and investigations. The body has not been cremated; it’s lying wrapped in white sheets, in a refrigerated glass case in the grounds of Jind’s Samanya Hospital. It has for company, the girl’s father and about 300 protesters camped out in the hospital agitating everyday for justice and action from the police and the state.
In the midst of chants against CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda, the Congress party and the police force, the father Surat Singh sits silent, head downcast, in the centre of the agitation but not quite a part of it. A slight, wiry man, he recalls how his youngest daughter left their home in Baniya Khera gaon at 11 am on 24 August, going to Jind to give her Junior Board Teacher (JBT) exam. It was her final exam. Had she passed, three years of hard work would have finally paid off. She never made it for the exam.
The JBT exam was scheduled from 2 pm to 5 pm. At 4 pm Surat Singh got a call from an unknown man, saying he had found some papers with his number on them. Singh, busy at the time, says it didn’t strike him that anything was amiss. However, when their daughter didn’t make it home by 7pm, the family started getting worried. The father and his two sons went out searching for her, and when they found no trace of her whereabouts they went to the Pillukhera police station in Jind. The cops asked them to call back the unknown afternoon caller. It emerged that the man was a resident of Amarheri gaon, just outside Jind city, and that he had found the papers and a bag lying by the side of the road. They both belonged to Singh’s missing daughter. The family rushed to Jind where they spent all night searching for the girl with the police. They returned home defeated in the morning.
At 8am, passersby informed the police that they had found a girl’s body, lying in the bushes by a dust road that runs by a canal, just out of Jind city, about a kilometer away from where her bag was found.
What happened next is a typical example of a poor man pitted against the system – helplessness, delays in procedure, apathy and finally police violence.
The morning the body was found, precious hours were lost when two police stations kept Surat Singh waiting as they fought over the jurisdiction of the case. The FIR was finally registered in the City police station. The family’s lawyer, Rajat Kalsan, known for taking up cases of Dalit atrocities, says that initially the police did put Sections 302 and 376, pertaining to murder and rape. But they didn’t put the SC/ST (PoA) act as the identity of the perpetrators is yet unknown. Only then did they take the body to the Samanya Hospital, Jind, where the family arrived with some of the villagers.
According to Kalsan, one of the doctors did a cursory examination of the body, accompanied by some women from the girl’s village. These women claim they saw burn and bite marks on the girl’s torso, her neck and hand looked broken, and that her genital area looked injured. “She was fully clothed when they found her, but her salwar was red with bleeding; there was blood down to her legs. We took off her clothes and saw the body. It looked like someone had forced themselves on her,” say Kamlesh Devi and Angrezo Devi, two of the women who were present.
Anger was mounting over the delays by both the police and the medical staff. The villagers, whose numbers were now swelling started agitating. Someone, it is not yet clear who, took the body from the mortuary to the road and the protestors blocked traffic.
The police reacted in the typical fashion – lathi-charging the protestors, hitting men and women alike, arresting three men, pressing charges against 19 others by name and 300 unknown agitators. On 29 August, in a meeting with the press, Rajat Kalsan and Dalit social activists from the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights, the DC Rajeev Rattan and the SP Balwant Singh Rana alleged that the protestors where destroying buses. Kalsan says that the women did hit a bus’s windows, but with twigs that could cause no harm.
Moving the body was a sore point. “I don’t think you know who did it. The girl’s father told me himself,” the DC snapped at the activists.
One of the allegations coming out of this violent mess is that the DSP Adarsh Deep Singh kicked the dead body on the road and slapped the father. Kamlesh Devi describes him as a tall sardar in a red pagdi. This was apparently captured by Janta TV and aired before suddenly being pulled off. Though the video is no longer available online, protestors are standing firm on what they saw. The DC and the SP refused to comment on this, and dodged repeated questions asked by Asha Kowtal from NCDHR and Kalsan.
When the postmortem conducted at the Jind hospital on 25 August ruled out rape and murder, the protests intensified and the family refused to cremate the body. A second post-mortem was ordered at Rohtak’s PGIMS. This was on 27 August. Again the authorities released a statement denying both rape and murder. On 28 August, the now decomposed body was sent to AIIMS for a third post-mortem, conducted by a 5-member team lead by Dr Sudhir Gupta, head of forensics, AIIMS. The report was released to the Jind police at 6 pm on 29 August. On the morning of 30 August, an Indian Express article stated that the AIIMS reports ruled out rape and murder, but said that there were traces of celphos poisoning.
Dr Gupta denies this, saying he neither ruled out rape nor mentioned celphos poisoning. According to Kalsan, the news was released by the Jind police to the media on 29th.
Gupta is however, carefully neutral in his words, “I cannot use the term rape, that is a legal term not a medical one. I have written that the police should conduct further investigation.” As this story goes to press, Kalsan is now in possession of the report. According to him it neither confirms nor denies rape.
Meanwhile, a 32 member committee had been formed to look into the matter and decide the future course of action. The members included the lawyer Kalsan, members of Baniya Khera’s panchayat and party workers from the Bahujan Samaj Party, who champion themselves on taking on all cases of Dalit atrocities in Haryana.
In all this talk of multiple investigations, large committees, people baying for the blood of those unknown perpetrators, the quietest voice are those of the mother and the father. Their answers come in short sentences, routinely interrupted by others – be they the village women sitting with the mother, or the committee members with the father. This clamour is all pervasive. The meeting with the DC and the SP quickly dissolved into loud arguments between all parties, with demands about inquiries going unanswered and ending with the DC claiming again and again that the girl was like his sister. Similarly, a meeting between the activists and the accompanying press and the members of the BSP got lost in arguments over Dalit identity and who had greater faith in Ambedkar. And even after all this, one cannot confirm whether that young Dalit girl was raped or not. The fact that after the Jind and Rohtak examinations, which ruled out rape, after statements by the police that tried to say it was suicide, the AIIMS report that ends with a maybe is a step forward, is a sad commentary on the absurd state of affairs. The roads to Jind are still being blocked by protestors, the body is still not cremated, and yet, there are no answers to be had.