[In the past couple of months, several recent cases – at Purnea, Banda, Mansa – emerged where powerful and well-connected rapists were protected by the police and authorities, with the women who were struggling for justice being jailed, slandered or pushed to take desperate measures. In all three cases, CPI(ML) and AIPWA have played an active role in the struggle. In each of these cases, the women have proved that they are not ‘victims’ alone – with their courageous struggle for justice in the face of all odds, they have raised unavoidable questions about the character of the governments that are protecting their rapists.]
Rupam Pathak Calls the Bluff of Nitish Govt’s ‘Empowerment’
What makes an ordinary woman, a 35-year-old schoolteacher of Bihar take a knife and stab a ruling party MLA in broad daylight? Even as member of his party, the BJP, beat her up brutally, the Deputy CM of Bihar, Sushil Kumar Modi, was quick to declare that Rupam Pathak was a blackmailer, while the departed BJP MLA from Purnea, Raj Kishor Kesri, was a man of pure character and a hero of the 1974 movement. Why was the Deputy CM of a state in such a hurry to attack the character of a woman, instead of waiting for enquiries to take place?
While the Bihar Government was busy painting Pathak as a murderess and the NDA as well as Opposition leader Laloo Yadav were busy expressing concerns about MLAs’ safety, the CPI(ML) found that Rupam Pathak had accused the MLA and his PA of rape and sexual harassment some months ago, but had mysteriously withdrawn her case on the eve of the Assembly elections. There are reports that her daughter too was threatened by the MLA, as part of the campaign to silence her.
Intervening immediately the CPI(ML) and AIPWA in Bihar asked why, when the woman filed charges of rape last May, were the charges not investigated and accused not arrested or questioned by the police? What pressures were brought to bear on the woman to make her withdraw her charges on the eve of the Bihar Assembly polls? Why was the rape accused fielded as a candidate in the Assembly elections?
The Nitish-led NDA government has made many tall claims of having empowered women in Bihar. Why, in that same Bihar, did Rupam Pathak despair of ever securing justice against a legislator from the ruling party? As long as she sought legal means for justice, she received not an iota of support from the government, which was quick to slander her when she was pushed to take desperate measures. Even after the matter of rape came to light, the Government has been intimidating and harassing a journalist who had reported Rupam’s rape charges several months ago. In other words, the Bihar Government has acted to protect the rape-accused and silence the complainant and her supporters and family in a manner reminiscent of the Ruchika case. Had Rupam taken her own life, the matter would have been buried with her. When she turned on the perpetrator instead, she immediately faced a campaign of calumny.
A team of Left parties, including CPI(ML) CCM Dhirendra Jha as well as leaders from the Bihar CPI and CPI(M) visited Purnea to probe the incident. Later an AIPWA team comprising AIPWA General Secretary Meena Tiwari, State Secretary Shashi Yadav and Vice President Madhavi Sarkar met Rupam Pathak in jail. Following AIPWA’s initiatives, many women’s groups in Bihar have come together to support Rupam Pathak’s struggle for justice.
In Patna, the CPI(ML) members held a militant protest march and demonstration at the Dakbungalow crossing on 4 January, demanding security for Rupam Pathak and the arrest of the MLA’s PA Bipin Rai, as well as resignation of the Deputy CM and a judicial probe into the incident including the rape charges. On 6 January, the Patna Sahib area committee of CPI(ML) held a protest march and burnt an effigy of Dy. CM Sushil Modi and CM Nitish Kumar. On 8 January dharnas were held at several places and at Naugachhia, a large demonstration was held in which family members of Rupam Pathak also participated. On 15 January, AIPWA held protests at district HQs all over the state, and a platform of women’s groups in Patna held a dharna on 15 January and plan a protest march to the CM’s office on 24 January.
Rape and Repression in Mansa
In Mansa district of Punjab, the same region where Bant Singh was brutally assaulted for supporting his daughter in her pursuit of a rape case, a dalit girl was gang-raped but the police did all they could to scuttle the case and persecute those who raised it.
On 12 December, a 17½ year-old girl from a poor Dalit family had been lured by havildar Tasvir Singh to his house (in front of the city thana, Mansa) on the promise of employment. Since her uncle had been killed by extremists, he assured her that he would be able to find her employment under a scheme for survivors of extremist attacks, and asked her to come to his house with certificates. There she was raped by him along with Surendra Joga (advocate), Surendra Singh Siddhu, and Satish Kumar (financier). When her cries attracted the attention of neighbours who alerted the police, however, no rape case was registered; rather cases of 109 IPC (awaragardi) were booked against the men as well as the victim.
Subsequently, on 14 December, it was only due to the efforts of CPI(ML) activists including Jasbir Kaur Nat, National Council member of AIPWA, that the complainant was able to make a charge of rape in the presence of a magistrate two days later. Medical investigation established the rape charge. Yet, only the havildar was arrested and all the other accused remained ‘absconding’ for 3 weeks, bringing to bear all sorts of pressure tactics on the complainant to force her to retreat from the case. She however stood firm and displayed great courage and refused to succumb to any pressure.
Worse still, AIPWA activist Jasbir Kaur Nat who blew the whistle on the rape case (which for two days had been covered up as an ‘awaragardi’ case), has herself been victimised and jailed on a false charge of ‘attempt to murder’ (Section 307 IPC) along with other leaders. She along with other CPI(ML) and kisan leaders raised slogans in Budlada court on 20 December when the main accused in peasant leader Prithi Singh’s murder appeared in court. The police came down heavily on this peaceful protest, and a minor skirmish ensued, following which 13 leaders including Jasbir Kaur and AIKM National President Ruldu Singh, as well as several peasant leader of the BKU (Dakonda group) were booked under Section 307 IPC on charges of “attempt to murder,” even though the medical report shows that the alleged ‘victim’ suffered no injuries and was discharged from hospital after medical examination. In this case, where no injuries were sustained, the arbitrary imposition of Section 307, especially on a woman leader, is nothing but a deliberate attempt to victimise the people responsible for preventing cover up of a gang rape of a dalit girl. Rapists roam free while uncovering the rape case and raising slogans against the accused in the murder of a peasant leader invites jail on charges of “attempt to murder”!
A central team comprising Prem Singh Gehlawat, Vice President of the All India Kisan Mahasabha (AIKM), Kavita Krishnan, National Secretary, AIPWA, Uma Gupta, National Executive Member of AIPWA and Comrade Sharmila visited Mansa to intervene. They visited the dalit girl’s family and village, as well as several of the jailed leaders in Bathinda jail, and submitted findings and demands to the State Commission of Women, the State SC/ST Commission and the National Commission of Women in Delhi. They also attended a massive rally on the issue at Mansa (see box). Subsequently the Women’s Commission, acting on AIPWA’s appeal, directed the police to ensure speedy justice and relief for the complainant. It was only following all this protest and pressure that the other rape accused were arrested. Eventually Section 307 too was withdrawn from against the activists, but only to be replaced by another false charge of Section 333 – obstruction and assault of a public servant in discharge of his duty.
Anti-Repression Rally at Mansa
On New Year’s day, the Punjab Kisan Union and Mazdoor Mukti Morcha held an ‘Anti-Repression Rally’ in Mansa on January 1, 2011. The rally was held in front of the SSP’s office at Mansa, and was attended by around 2000 agricultural workers, peasants and women from nearby villages, braving a severe cold wave. The Rally resolved to conduct a Save Democracy campaign from 20 January onwards culminating on 26 January (Republic Day) against repression in Punjab as well as the rest of the country.
Banda Rape Case: Dalit Women in Mayawati’s Sarvajan Raj
“The MLA dared to touch me because I am the daughter of a poor man,” said a 17-year-old girl from an oppressed community who was gang raped and then jailed on false charges by a BSP MLA in UP. In a state ruled by a ‘dalit ki beti,’ Mayawati, why does an Brahmin MLA from the ruling BSP enjoy such power over the daughters of the poor and oppressed?
Sheeloo Nishad, a 17-year-old resident of Shahabazpur village of the Naraini Assembly constituency, was subjected to gang rape for four days (between 8-12 December) at the home of the BSP MLA. To suppress the incident, the MLA accused her of stealing his rifle, mobile phone and Rs. 2 lakh cash and had her jailed with the collusion of the police on 15 December. She kept telling the police that she had been gang raped but the police ignored it. No medical exam was conducted in spite of the fact that she was bleeding profusely. And then, as directed by the MLA, they jailed her for theft. A jail warden Shahnaz Begum has now told the CB-CID that Sheeloo was indeed bleeding and limping when she arrived, and complained of the rape.
The CPI(ML) and AIPWA sent a fact-finding team to Banda to investigate the rape case. The team includes the party’s Bundelkhand in-charge Ramesh Singh Sengar, Vijay Kumar, K S Rana and AIPWA State President Vidya Rajwar. The team sought to meet the rape victim who is still in jail but were denied permission by the Banda Jail administration.
Even after the rape case surfaced, the BSP and Mayawati at first only took some cosmetic measures like suspending the accused MLA and ordering a CB CID enquiry. The MLA was not arrested until much later, and even after the Government ordered his arrest, they continued to claim that the theft charges against Sheeloo were genuine and her presence in jail justified. When the matter reached the High Court, Sheeloo herself showed great courage and appeared in Court to reiterate that the MLA and three of his associates had raped her. The Court then remanded Dwivedi to custody. Sheeloo was released from jail only in a last minute attempt by Mayawati to avert embarrassment prior to her grand birthday celebrations.
Mayawati’s attempt to make a virtue of the decision to release Sheeloo can carry no credibility, since the fact is that the government tried for as long as was possible to discredit her and keep her in jail while protecting the accused MLA. Even today, there are attempts to ‘prove’ that she is in fact a major and not a minor. Also the woman warden of the Banda jail, Shahnaz Begum, who supported Sheeloo’s version, has now said that senior police officials are intimidating her to withdraw her statement – obviously at the behest of the MLA.
The CPI(ML) has held state-wide protests and consistent initiatives to demand justice for Sheeloo. The case of gang rape of a minor girl from an oppressed community by the BSP MLA Purushottan Das Dwivedi of Naraini (Banda) is a graphic instance of what Mayawati’s sarvajan regime has meant for the poor and oppressed. An upper caste MLA of the BSP is able to arrogantly organise the gang rape of a minor girl from a weaker economic and social background, and then enlist the police’s help in jailing her for theft.
In another recent instance, a 17-year-old dalit girl Vandana immolated herself in UP when police acted to protect an upper caste men who had kidnapped and raped her. The accused were arrested only after enormous popular protests and outrage at the case. Another 18-year-old Dalit girl Kavita Bharti of Unnao was raped and killed in the ICU of the Chandini Nursing Home, Kanpur where she had been admitted after an accident. In this case as well, policemen acted to protect the perpetrators and deny the rape.
In effect, Mayawati’s sarvajan raj has meant that the feudal forces, embedded and pampered within the Government and ruling party itself, have been emboldened, and justice for the oppressed dalits remains a far cry.