In the massive wave of protests following the Nirbhaya gangrape and murder on 16 December 2012, thousands of people poured into the streets near Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. Besides justice for the victim, they were also demanding a more stringent legal framework to deal with perpetrators of violence against women. Among the protesters was Jagjit Kaur from Ludhiana in Punjab, who had accused a senior police officer of raping her.
While the Nirbhaya protests died down after the Justice JS Verma Committee recommended gender-sensitive changes in laws related to rape, sexual assault and harassment, most of which were incorporated into a modified legal regime introduced soon after, Jagjit refused to return home. For the past 16 months, she has been camping on a street near Jantar Mantar, demanding that the man who allegedly raped her four years ago be brought to book. Even the first step in the legal procedure — the filing of an FIR — is yet to be done in her case. This, despite a Supreme Court Bench last year making it mandatory for the police to lodge an FIR as soon as a woman complains of rape. Punitive action can be initiated against a police officer who refuses to do so, the five-judge Bench headed by the then Chief Justice of India P Sathasivam had ruled.
So why has no action been initiated on the basis of Jagjit’s complaint of rape? Trying to get to the heart of the issue, TEHELKA came across a convoluted narrative riddled with contradictions, which lay bare the inconvenient question of whether rape laws can be misused by a complainant with ulterior motives.
A banner outside Jagjit’s tent near Jantar Mantar displays her picture juxtaposed with that of the accused, Deputy Inspector General Naunihal Singh, an IPS officer of the Punjab cadre. The text reads: “On indefinite strike since 12 January 2013 to demand FIR against and arrest of Naunihal Singh for raping Jagjit Kaur and threatening to kill her.”
Recounting her story, Jagjit says, “As an activist of Human Rights Manch, a civil society group, I often had to visit government and police officials. Naunihal Singh was then the SSP of Sangrur district. On 16 June 2010, I had gone to his office along with three others to complain against someone who had borrowed Rs 40,000 from me and was refusing to return it. We were told that the SSP was at his house next to the office. A constable asked my companions to wait outside and sent me alone to meet the SSP. Naunihal Singh offered me coffee, and while I was drinking it, he bolted the door and grabbed me from behind. Hearing my screams, my companions tried to break open the door, but the policemen stopped them. Singh raped me and threatened me not to tell anyone about it.
“After coming out of Naunihal’s room, I was told that my companions had been thrashed and locked up inside another room. I told the policeman that the SSP had raped me. Then Naunihal ordered two policemen, Gurmail Singh and Paramjeet Singh, to beat me up with lathis. I was badly injured and got fractures in my limbs.”
According to Jagjit, she and her companions were forced to sign a Daily Diary Report at the local police station, which stated that they had been injured because of falling from a bus.
“The next day, hundreds of people from my village reached the police station to lodge a complaint. We also approached the district administration. Following a departmental inquiry, Gurmail and Paramjeet were suspended for a few months, but no FIR was registered for rape,” says Jagjit. A few days after the incident, Naunihal Singh was transferred to Chandigarh.
Jagjit decided to come to New Delhi last January during the Nirbhaya protests as she felt “that was my chance to get justice”. “I sat on a hunger strike for many days and had to be hospitalised,” she says. “Meanwhile, my father suffered a heart attack and passed away. I broke my fast only after Kiran Bedi promised me that I will get justice.”
Jagjit has narrated the same story in her letters to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and even US President Barack Obama. However, on going through the documentation of her case, running into more than 500 pages, one begins to doubt her version of events. For instance, in none of the initial complaints had Jagjit accused Naunihal Singh of raping her. On 17 June 2010, she had only accused Gurmail and Paramjeet of thrashing her.
Interestingly, the complaint was submitted to Naunihal Singh, who had then ordered an inquiry. Jagjit had also complained to the Sangrur district magistrate, the Punjab Director General of Police and the Punjab State Human Rights Commission. But nowhere had she mentioned rape.
Following her complaint, Lakhwinder Singh, who replaced Naunihal Singh as the Sangrur SSP, initiated an inquiry leading to the suspension of the two policemen accused of beating up Jagjit. The investigation was based on the statements of 64 witnesses from Jagjit’s side, including the three persons who had accompanied her on the day of the incident. Not a single witness made any mention of rape, though everyone stated that the police thrashed Jagjit and paraded her on the police campus with shoes tied around her neck.
Interestingly, when the SSP asked the witnesses why they had gone to Naunihal Singh’s office on the day of the incident, they all replied that they had some forms to submit. However, the investigation report states that only two forms were submitted that day, and not by any of the witnesses. The testimonies were dismissed as false and the suspended policemen were reinstated in January 2011. The investigation also revealed that Jagjit and her brother were already facing criminal charges.
When TEHELKA contacted one of Jagjit’s witnesses, Jaspreet Singh, he denied making any testimony. “A neighbour introduced me to Jagjit, saying she could help my cousin get a job in the police force. Jagjit asked me to sign on a piece a paper. Only later did I realise that I had testified on her behalf. If I see her now, I will kill her. I also told the police that I did not give any statement,” says Jaspreet.
Jagjit had also filed a petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court seeking security as she feared a threat to her life from Naunihal Singh. The court rejected the petition. Later, she petitioned the Supreme Court, which also dismissed the plea.
After the two policemen she had accused of beating her were reinstated, Jagjit started approaching various top officials and ministers with her complaint. On 23 March 2011, she wrote to Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal. It was in this letter that she first accused Naunihal Singh of raping her. But that account of events is at variance with what she narrates today. She wrote, “IPS officer Naunihal Singh has been raping me since 2001. He has made life difficult for me now. I am quietly bearing the torture because I fear that he would tell my husband and family. I have the receipt of a room booked in Chandigarh’s Shivalik View Hotel and a video. I made the video for the sake of evidence and I can produce it any time.”
When TEHELKA asked Jagjit about it, she denied having met Naunihal Singh in the hotel. But when she was shown the letter that carries her signature, she admitted, “In 2011, I had booked the room in the hotel. Naunihal visited me there and I made the video. But he did rape me in 2010. Before that, we did not have any physical relations.” Yet, in the letter to Badal, she had accused Naunihal Singh of raping her since 2001. This raises a huge question mark on the veracity of her allegation.
Soon after arriving in New Delhi last year, she met Tajinder Bagga, an activist of the Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena. “We introduced her to several organisations, but then we got a little suspicious as she kept changing her statements,” says Bagga. “At one point she claimed to have made three CDs. How can a woman make CDs of her rape thrice?”
Jagjit also met Richie Lutharia, who was among those at the forefront of the Nirbhaya protests. “Initially, we were moved by her tears and went out of the way to help her. We realised later, on carefully analysing the documents, that she was lying,” says Lutharia. “There was no mention of rape in the documents and she wanted us to somehow get that allegation included in her complaint. I was shocked and refused to be an accomplice. I understood that she was faking victimhood with malicious intentions. I even wrote about it on the Nirbhaya movement’s Facebook page. Then she brought some goons to attack me. They beat me up and tore my clothes. I lodged a complaint at the Sansad Marg Police Station.”
“Inquiries at various levels have been conducted 15-16 times in this matter and I have been cooperating fully,” Naunihal Singh told TEHELKA. “The courts, too, have dismissed Jagjit’s petitions. Either she is mentally unstable or there are others behind her who want to malign me.”
Asked why he has not filed a defamation suit against Jagjit, Naunihal Singh says, “My family has faith in me and that’s all that matters. I was the first one to order an inquiry on her complaint. At that time, her complaint was against some policemen who had beaten her up. My sources informed me that Jagjit used to take money from villagers by promising them jobs in the police force. She had even used my name to cheat people. Those who did not get jobs despite paying her got after her life. So, she tried to frame me in order to shift the focus away from her.”
A social worker, who has closely followed Jagjit’s case, told TEHELKA on the condition of anonymity, “Jagjit keeps referring to a video of Naunihal Singh. Maybe that is the reason Naunihal has refrained from taking any action against her. The police officer knows that Jagjit cannot harm him legally as her case is full of holes. But if he takes action against her and she makes the video public, that will bring him disrepute. Even Jagjit knows she does not have a case. She will only keep playing the victim to keep Naunihal Singh at bay.”
Delhi High Court lawyer Gaurav Garg believes there is something fraudulent in Jagjit’s allegations. “Yet, it is wrong not to file an FIR when someone alleges rape. According to the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, a police officer who refuses to file an FIR can be sentenced to two years in jail. In case the charges are found to be false, the complainant can be tried under Section 211 of the Indian Penal Code,” says Garg.
Garg points out that while FIRs are often not registered against influential persons, in cases where FIRs are lodged, the police immediately go ahead and arrest the accused. “The law makes the filing of the FIR mandatory, but it is not compulsory to arrest the accused in every case. Sometimes, such arrests lead to misuse of the rape law,” says Garg.
In the Amaravati versus State of Uttar Pradesh case of 2004, a seven-judge Bench of the Allahabad High Court headed by Justice Markandey Katju had noted that “unfortunately, whenever an FIR is registered following a complaint of a serious crime, the police immediately arrest the accused. It is unlawful and violates Article 21 of the Constitution”. The Supreme Court also ratified this verdict, but it is often flouted in practice.
Rajesh Vakharia, a founder-member of Save Indian Family Foundation, which fights for “the rights of men”, believes that one should not “blindly trust” a woman who accuses rape and arrest the accused. “It could lead to miscarriage of justice,” says Vakharia. “The media is also to blame as it brands the accused as a rapist the moment an allegation is made. It puts a lot of social pressure on the judge and dissuades him from granting bail. As a mere complaint could land the accused in jail, it encourages some people to file false cases of rape to settle scores.”
When the whole country was demanding stricter rape laws in the aftermath of the Nirbhaya case, Vakharia’s organisation had warned that such laws would be vulnerable to misuse. “We were demanding gender-neutral laws against rape and other sexual offences, besides punitive action against those filing false complaints,” says Vakharia. “But no one listened to us then.”
Vakharia claims that the recent tightening of rape laws has led to a sharp spike in false cases. According to data from the National Crime Records Bureau, while only 46 percent of the accused in rape cases in Delhi were acquitted in 2012, the figure went up to 75 percent for the first eight months of 2013.
Last May, Justice Kailash Gambhir of the Delhi High Court said that rape laws are often misused by women as a weapon to harass and blackmail their male friends by filing false cases to extort money or to force them into marrying them. In a controversial judgment last year, Additional Sessions Judge Virender Bhat had observed that Delhi has earned notoriety as India’s rape capital because more false cases are being filed in the city. While acquitting a man of rape charges levelled by a married woman, Bhat remarked that it was “a voluntary liaison” and the woman alleged rape after her husband found out about it.
A Delhi High Court judge, Justice GP Mittal, had also commented that “rape causes great distress and humiliation to the victim, but a false allegation of rape can cause equal distress and humiliation to the accused”.
Vakharia points out that the loopholes in the law allow a woman to accuse a man of rape even after having consensual sex. “In many cases, a woman alleges rape after her relationship with the accused has turned sour,” he says. “In live-in relationships, nothing happens if the woman refuses to marry the man. But if the man takes the same decision, the woman could go on to accuse him of rape.”
There are numerous cases pending in the courts where the man was charged with rape after he refused to fulfil a promise of marriage. There is no consensus among the judges on this issue. Last December, while acquitting the accused in a similar case, Additional Sessions Judge Dharmesh Sharma observed that the accused had a valid reason to refuse to marry the girl after finding out “inappropriate things” about her. But there are also numerous cases where the judges have held that sex premised on a false promise of marriage amounts to rape.
There are also instances of rape charges that are levelled to blackmail and extort money from the accused, or to settle scores in property disputes. Last year, a man was acquitted by a Delhi court after the judge found that the complainant had accused him of rape because of a property dispute.
The defining element of rape is the absence of consent. And it is in establishing consent or the lack of it that the legal process treads on a grey zone. “When a woman wilfully participates in a sexual act and then claims she did not give her consent, she is misusing the law,” says lawyer Garg. “Or, the complainant says that her consent was given because of pressure or a false promise. She either admits it during cross-examination in the court or the circumstantial evidence proves that she had indeed consented. In most cases, this is why the accused get acquitted.”
Psychologist Rajat Mitra points out that sometimes the complainant admits during counselling that the “rape” was, in fact, consensual sex, but she cannot tell that to her parents. According to Vakharia, “social, parental and marital pressures force women to deny having had consensual sex, and when cornered in such a situation, they opt for the easy way out by alleging rape”. “Rape is a heinous crime, but making a false charge of rape is equally terrible,” says Vakharia. “Not only can it ruin the life of those who are falsely accused, it diminishes the hope of justice for those who are really victims of the horrific crime.”
Translated from Tehelka Hindi by Naushin Rehman