12 upper caste rapists. Politically connected. State government has nothing to say on this
By Soumik Mukherjee
SHE KEPT her nightmare bottled up for nearly a week. On the sixth day, 16-year-old Priya (name changed) finally gathered courage to tell her parents that she was gangraped by a dozen upper-caste men in Darba village of Haryana’s Hisar district on 9 September. To make matters worse, the rapists had filmed the horrific act.
Disturbed and fearing humiliation, after the video was circulated by the accused, Priya’s father Krishen Kumar, 42, committed suicide on 18 September. It wasn’t until the next day, after media reports created national outrage, that the local police registered an FIR in the case.
A week after the FIR was registered against the 12 accused, the Haryana Police has come under severe criticism from the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) for delay in nabbing the rapists. At the time of going to press, only seven had been arrested. Most of the accused come from rich, uppercaste families with influential political connections. In fact, two of the accused are related to local Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) leader Umed Singh Lohan, and another accused is related to former INLD legislator Puran Singh Dabra.
“Most men in the Haryana police force are Jats. There is very little chance of fair investigation in the cases of atrocities against Dalits,” says Sanjay Chauhan of the Bahujan Azad Morcha, an NGO working for Dalit rights.
Adds Balraj, 72, a village elder from Dabra, “Compared to the Jat population, Chamars are a handful few in this village. We are always at the receiving end of such atrocities.” Balraj insists that his family doesn’t use their surname for the fear of being ostracised in public places.
The upper-caste hegemony in the village is apparent from the fact that relatives of the accused visited Priya’s house, asking her family to settle the case. Worse, the family was accused of destroying the village’s intercaste harmony after it refused to go in for an out-of-court settlement.
Initially, the Investigating Officer (IO) tried to misrepresent the victim’s statement in the FIR. “After reading the first FIR, we realised that the police had tried to implicate some Dalit boys in the case,” says Priya’s brother Gaurav.
It was only after the family refused to cremate Krishen Kumar’s body and demanded a fair investigation into the incident that the district administration stepped in.
Following the media focus, the District Commissioner’s office released Rs 65,000 as immediate compensation to the family on 23 September, with the promise of an additional Rs 3.5 lakh later. The IO was suspended for dereliction of duty the same day. “On 23 September, we received a call from the commissioner’s office, instructing us to make a statement to the media, saying that we were happy with the investigation,” says Rajkumar, Priya’s uncle, “But we refused.”
This is not the first instance of police indifference towards victims of caste violence in Haryana. The state police has come under repeated criticisms for failing to protect Dalits’ rights. Within days of the Darba rape coming to light, a 30-year-old married Dalit woman was gangraped at gunpoint in front of her children in Jind district.
“I filed a case the same day, but the police hasn’t taken any action so far. The perpetrators are roaming free on the streets,” she says. She and her husband have now threatened to commit suicide in front of the SP’s office if the police fail to take action against the accused.
Meanwhile, NCSC Chairman Raj Kumar Virk slammed the Haryana government for the rising cases of atrocities against Dalits. “There are 600 complaints pending before the commission from Haryana alone,” says Virk. He has demanded separate police stations in the state to handle cases of caste violence against Dalits.
BESIDES POLICE apathy, Dalit victims are often denied legal help. “No lawyer wants to defend a Dalit victim,” says Shreeji Bhavsar, a Supreme Court lawyer, who represented the victims of the 2010 Mirchpur incident, where an upper-caste mob set ablaze a Dalit colony, killing two, in Hisar district. “Even if someone does, his colleagues and society will brand him. After the incident, the police launched a witch-hunt against my colleague, Rajat Kalsan. His office was raided and he and his father were beaten up in the court premises,” says Bhavsar.
When Hisar SP Sateesh Balan was asked about the rising violence against Dalits in the district, this is all he offered: “I joined the post only four months ago; I’m not the right person to comment on the previous incidents.”
Soumik Mukherjee is a Photo Correspondent with Tehelka.