Mayawati’s UP : Regime of Rape
A 14 year-old dalit-Muslim girl who strays in the vicinity of a police station is raped and killed by police and then hung up on a tree inside the police station. The tree is cut down and evidence destroyed. Post-mortems are falsified: in the first instance to suggest suicide; in the second one, to admit murder, but deny rape. Police, doctors, ruling politicians, the government – all unite to protect the predatory police, and try and bury the crime as deep as the girl’s body is buried.
Hearing this story, we could be forgiven for assuming this is another Shopian-like incident, in Kashmir or the North East, where the armed forces behave like a force of occupation and there is little pretence of democracy. But no: this horror has occurred in Uttar Pradesh, in the heartland of India, where the CM is a Dalit woman, popularly elected on a promise of ‘law and order’ and dignity for the dalits and the oppressed.
In UP, no less than seven Ministers/MLAs from the ruling BSP have charges of abduction, rape and murder of women against them. Many of the victims are dalits. No wonder the police and feudal forces in the state have been emboldened to think that they can get away with rape and murder!
As we go to press, a spate of 12 rapes – many of them gang rapes – have occurred in a span of 72 hours. In one incident in Kannauj, a 14-year old dalit girl’s eye was stabbed repeatedly after she resisted rape. But when villagers took her to the police station in an almost-blinded and severely wounded condition, the police turned them away and refused to register an FIR! In Gonda, a 13-year-old dalit girl was missing for three days but the police did not initiate any search. She was found raped and murdered. Gang rapes-cum-murders occurred in Etah and Farrukhabad. Another minor girl was gang-raped in Firozabad. Cases of sexual assault against dalit women have recently come to light from Ambedkar Nagar, Sultanpur, and Deoria. Gang rapes and assault and murder of women and minors have also been reported from Moradabad, Barabanki, Lalitpur, Gorakhpur, Basti, Sitapur, Kanpur, Fatehpur, and Aligarh. The horrific crimes keep multiplying – and the Mayawati government keeps insisting that all is normal.
The Nighasan incident in particular is a comment on the character of the state machinery in BSP-ruled UP. On 10 June, the 14-year old girl Sonam, a daughter of a Muslim watchman, had, along with her five-year-old brother, been looking for a buffalo that had strayed into the police compound. The girl’s brother testified that he had been held at gunpoint while policemen dragged his sister into an adjacent room in the police station. Subsequently, he saw the police drag his sister’s body by the dupatta wrapped around her neck, and hang the body from a tree.
The girl’s mother later found the body hanging from the tree, and raised the alarm. First, the police tried to dump the body in the girl’s home, claiming that it had been recovered from the police station. Later, in a desperate bid to destroy evidence, they even cut down the tree in the police station compound from which the body had been hanging.
The first post mortem attempted to imply that the girl had committed suicide by hanging herself. Growing people’s protest and outrage in UP and across the country forced the Mayawati Government to order a CB-CID enquiry and a second post mortem, which admitted murder by strangulation, but denied any evidence of rape. Initially the Government tried to save the situation by suspending the entire police station staff of 11, but people demanded to know how come they were charged merely with negligence rather than with rape and murder. Later an FIR was filed against the SHO and two constables – but again, this was on charges of ‘tampering with evidence’ and not that of rape and murder. Only after the second post mortem report were these three booked on charges of murder.
Justice for Sonam
CPI(ML) district and state units have been active in raising the matter right from the very night that it came to light. The day after (11 June), the party mobilized local people in a chakka jam (road blockade) along with the victim’s body, demanding a CPI enquiry into the case, arrest of the accused police officials on charges of rape and murder and compensation of Rs 25 lakh for the victim’s family. A dharna was held on 12 June, and on 13 June, the party held a huge protest procession culminating in a dharna. As the procession marched through the local marketplace, shopkeepers downed shutters in spontaneous support. While parties like Congress and SP had also made much hue and cry in an attempt to capitalize on the issue, the CPI(ML) dharna stood out as the only one which was well attended by local people who are the mainstay of the struggle for justice. On 14 June, a team led by the CPI(ML)’s UP State Secretary Sudhakar Yadav and AIPWA State President Vidya Rajwar visited Nighasan.
On 15 June, the CPI(ML) began a hunger strike opposite the Nighasan thana, demanding a third post mortem conducted by doctors from AIIMS, alleging that doctors appointed by the UP Government were trying to cover up evidence of rape. CPI(ML) CCM and national leader of the AIALA Krishna Adhikari, as well as member of the party’s State Standing Committee Comrade Kranti sat on a 3-day hunger fast.
The party said that while the UP Government was now admitting murder (after shameful attempts by the police to suppress and tamper with evidence), it was failing to explain why police officials felt the need to murder a young girl passing by the police station! Clearly the murder and the tampering of evidence were motivated by the need to cover up the rape. The CPI(ML) is demanding a CBI enquiry. It is also demanding that the former district SP, who has been transferred for his complicity in the cover up, be booked for tampering with evidence.
On the first day of the CPI(ML) hunger strike, hundreds of local people spontaneously participated. When Tarannum, the victim’s mother, addressed the public meeting, revealing that the police had attempted to buy her silence, there was pin-drop silence in the huge gathering, and many eyes were moist. Police tried to break up the gathering by force and intimidation, but the sheer huge support of local people prevented them from being successful. The 3-day hunger strike ended on the night of 17 June with the visit of AIPWA General Secretary Meena Tiwari.
The fast ended with the declaration that if a CBI enquiry is not instituted (to probe Sonam’s rape and murder) the CPI(ML) will call for Lakhimpur bandh on 25 June. Meanwhile the Lucknow Bench of Allahabad High Court is hearing a PIL for CBI enquiry into Sonam’s case.
Mahila Panchayat at Lucknow
Women from all over Uttar Pradesh gathered at the state capital Lucknow in a ‘Mahila Panchayat’ on 13 June to put the CM Mayawati and her Government in the dock for the spate of atrocities against women in which ruling party Ministers and MLAs as well as police were directly implicated. The Mahila Panchayat was convened by the AIPWA’s Uttar Pradesh unit.
Women – mostly labouring women – from several districts of UP participated in the Panchayat. A jury comprising AIALA leader Krishna Adhikari, AIPWA National Secretary Kavita Krishnan, AIPWA’s UP State Secretary Premlata Pandey and State President Vidya Rajwar heard testimonies of women who have survived gender violence or resisted violence faced by others in their family.
Kiran Rawat, a dalit woman of Unnao broke down when she spoke of her 18-year-old daughter Kavita Bharti Rawat, who lost her life after being raped by hospital staff when she was in ICU in a Kanpur hospital following a fall in September last year. “The Kanpur police has been threatening and harassing us to withdraw the case, and because of this pressure our younger daughter too has committed suicide. We are distraught. But we will keep fighting till we get justice for our daughters – or till we ourselves die.” Kavita’s father Subedar Rawat too attended the women’s panchayat. There were few dry eyes left in the hall as Kiran spoke.
Dhandei, a dalit woman from Pilibhit, spoke of her struggle for justice after being gang-raped by forest officials. “The drunken forest officials dragged me off and raped me, and threatened to kill my husband if I complained. Later, when I did dare to complain, they got my husband jailed and even now they keep threatening to jail me too and kill us both.”
Parvati, another dalit woman from Pilibhit, spoke about her 21-year-old son Rampal who was killed in police custody for the crime of falling in love with a woman of a different caste. “The police picked up my son and told us that he would be released only after we paid a bribe of Rs. 20,000. My husband somehow put together Rs 6000, but was told to leave. The next morning we were told that our son had left. But I heard him crying and found him semi-conscious. My son died after remaining in coma for a month. An FIR was filed by us but the policemen who took my son’s life are yet to be arrested. We have moved court with the help of CPI(ML), and are awaiting justice. I want my son’s killers to spend a lifetime in jail.”
Others who gave testimony included Jharna Mandal whose husband was killed for resisting corruption and illegal liquor trade; Rajrani of Jalaun whose daughter Javitri was abducted and killed by BSP MLA Chhote Singh; Vimla Devi of Pilibhit whose son was killed in an ‘honour’ crime; and Tirsa Devi of Ghazipur whose daughter Poonam was killed for dowry and who is being pressurized by her daughter’s in-laws and the corrupt police to withdraw the case. AIPWA activist Geeta Pande of Devaria spoke of the struggle of mid-day meal cooks for jobs and due wages, and of AIPWA’s successful struggle to ensure the arrest of those responsible for a gruesome honour killing of three girls. Maya and Arti, AIPWA activists from Lakhimpur spoke about ongoing AIPWA’s struggle for justice in the rape and murder of a minor girl in a police station. AIPWA activists Saroj from Ghazipur and Ahmadi from Mirzapur also shared experiences of struggles.
The jury members also addressed the panchayat at the end, and hailed the courage of the women who gave testimony. On behalf of the entire panchayat, the jury members delivered the verdict. The Mayawati government, they said, was squarely responsible for the atrocities and crimes against women, because in case after case the perpetrators were protected. Police and feudal forced are emboldened to commit terrible crimes against women because they see how a whole series of Ministers and MLAs of the ruling BSP themselves are doing the same and being defended by their party and the government. Mayawati’s government has betrayed its promises to the women, especially the dalit women of UP – and does not have the moral right to continue in power for a minute longer. The women of UP are expressing their anger and fighting for justice in the face of all odds – and they demand that Mayawati quit.
CPI(ML) State Secretary Sudhakar Yadav also expressed solidarity with the aims of the women gathered in the panchayat. Ghazala Anwar of Bazm-e-urdu recited a poem in support of women’s struggles. Arundhati Dhuru of NAPM also spoke to express solidarity. Some other women’s groups of Lucknow - Hamsafar, Aali, and Sahyog – also attended the panchayat.