By Furqan Ameen Siddiqui
Muzaffarnagar, (Hindustan Times): Sixteen killed, six gang-raped, 24 accused – but not a single arrest has taken place even two months after the horror of riots visited Fugana village in Muzaffarnagar. The women of the village named names in their FIRs but they still see the accused roaming free.
The victims fear injustice and are scared of returning to their homes in Fugana. Their homes were burnt, and the accused, including the village pradhan’s son, Joginder Singh, have a free run. The relief camp at Jogiya Kheda – where at least five rape victims took refuge – has been shut down by the UP administration. They have been forced to take shelter in the homes of Jogiya Kheda’s residents.
Saba (name changed), 45, told HT on Monday five men barged into her house, dragged her by the hair and took turns to rape her. “I was left unconscious. When I woke up I hid in the house, scared and crying, till the military men came to my rescue,” she said. “We used to live in harmony in the village. But now I have to live in shame.”
Another victim, Shamim (name changed), 25, said she has received death threats. “They [victims] and their families are being forced not to pursue their complaint. The Special Investigative Cell (SIC) is not providing any protection. This sends a signal that the victims cannot place their faith in the SIC,” said Vrinda Grover, human rights lawyer and legal counsel to the victims.
An indication of victims facing possible intimidation could be the fact that the FIRs initially held the names of 42 accused, but close to half of these were subsequently dropped. The police, however, claimed they were wrongly accused.
Mala Yadav, investigation officer in the rape cases, however, denies allegations of intimidation. “We can’t provide protection to all of them. Police patrols, however, are regular in the village,” she said.
Little has been done following the registration of the FIRs, despite a Supreme Court directive which mandates the arrest of the accused even before medical tests of gang-rape victims are conducted. The SIC is dragging its feet and according to Grover, “deliberately not invoking sections of the IPC, which would make it a case of aggravated rape and gang rape. The law also requires that the accused are arrested immediately and interrogated. Not one accused has been arrested yet”.
However, SIC’s additional superintendent of police Manoj Jha said, “These incidents have occurred in special circumstances and require detailed investigation. Some of the accused mentioned in the FIRs are innocent.”
Many victims reveal that they had to take help from NGOs to lodge complaints. While only six cases of rape have been registered, activists say there are other victims who have not spoken out, fearing stigma and reprisal. According to Shabnam Hashmi, founder, Act Now for Harmony and Democracy (ANHAD), which is helping the victims fight their cases, “Many contacted us initially, but were either forced to withdraw or backed out, while a few disappeared from the camps when we tried to visit them later.”
In one of the cases, the victim was even mistreated and ridiculed by the doctors appointed for medical examination. “They laughed and said: ‘Who will rape you? Don’t Jats have wives in their homes?’” Saba told HT.
“The state’s response has been appalling. The government should have provided counselling to these women or created a team to look into the matter,” said Hashmi. Instead, for these women, the Muzaffarnagar nightmare continues.