Dozens of women are gang raped. Seven (including at least two who were raped in front of their own children) gather the courage to come forward and fight for justice. The accused seem to have powerful friends. They use every trick in the book to abuse the criminal justice machinery. The women and their families are intimidated, the accused secure bail and delay trial by not appearing in court despite court orders.
The police do their best to delay the trial by not registering FIRs, not filing charge-sheets, not ensuring that the witnesses and the victims receive sufficient security. All odds are set against the victims who are fighting institutions which are veterans in this kind of a battle.
Here’s what these institutions (the government, politicians, the police, the courts) appear to be saying to the victims: this may be your first case, but we have done this over and over again. We will crush you. Now comes the twist in the tale. Ordinary folks like you, witness all this happening and refuse to stay quiet. They refuse to forget. They decide to tell these institutions – you may think these women are alone but they’re not. We have had enough. They decide to tell those women that they are not alone. All over the country, people hold candle marches, write to their elected representatives, start tweeting, demanding justice.
Suddenly the fight becomes a little equal. Because the one thing all these institutions fear is ordinary folks, especially angry ordinary folks, especially thousands of them. I don’t know what happens next. If you were writing this story, what do you think would happen next? If this was going on in a movie, let’s call it Rang De Muzaffarnagar, what would need to occur in the script to make you feel happy? Or even proud?
Everything I have shared in the paragraph above is true in the context of the gang-rapes in Muzaffarnagar in 2013. Except for the bit about the Aam Janta deciding to lend their voice to the victims. The gang-rapes in front of children, police delaying FIRs and charge-sheets, courts granting bails on the condition that the accused will not seek adjournments. The accused repeatedly seeking adjournments and no one batting an eyelid. No convictions.
Women and their families being intimidated and receiving death threats. Women being forced to withdraw their cases. In some cases, the investigating officer himself terrorizing the victims. Some of these cases are still going on. In at least one the charge-sheet has not been filed till date. The State government appears to be continuing under the belief that no one is watching. Continuing with the hope that delay will kill the victims who they are not able to scare, or harass to the point of exhaustion.
Why am I repeatedly talking about the failure and/or collusion of the government? Some context is necessary: these rapes happened during the riots in Muzaffarnagar. In 2014, the Supreme Court put the blame for the riots squarely at the door of the Samajwadi Party-led state government. Sangeet Singh Som, who is a sitting MLA of the BJP, is one of the chief accused in the case for allegedly making provocative speeches and uploading incendiary fake videos. Justice Vishnu Sahai Commission’s report on Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013 has also concluded that Sangeet Som was guilty of instigating people to riot. A member of Parliament from BSP has also been accused of giving incendiary speeches and was sent to Judicial Custody in December 2013.
What I’m saying is, the political class has sufficient cause to be united and probably is united. We do, too. The political class has a lot of power at its disposal. We do too. As I’m writing this, I receive a message from a friend. He has shared a quote by Alice Walker: “The most common way people give up power is by thinking they don’t have any.” Those in power seem to be doing their best to crush these victims and to also crush us, because, mark my words, every act of violence against a woman that no one is held responsible for leads to many more acts of violence against women.
Those in power are counting on you to forget. Let me confess, I had forgotten too until I read a thorough report authored by Amnesty International on the matter. Much of the information I have shared here is sourced from their report. The victims, on the other hand, are probably hoping what each of us who have been in such a situation and who, heaven forbid, may one day be in such a situation would be thinking. Fervently hoping justice is done, praying with every iota of our being that we get all the support we can.
Wanting to be told – you’re not alone. Like I said, those in power are hoping you forget. The victims are hoping that you don’t forget, and don’t let anyone forget. From here on, the script is yours to write.
This article was first published in Mumbai Mirror