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Photo: Mint

Opinion| For the poor, it is a long journey to get justice

The fight for the protection of the rights of women and children is far from over.

It was a lazy morning of 14 October 2010 but I was seething with anger. The saying in the Hindi belt Garib ki har jagah maut hai (The poor have to suffer in every circumstance) was ringing in my head. The question that was bothering me the most: Until when will we allow this game of turning injustice into an aphorism and the aphorism into infamous tradition to continue? My colleagues in Kanpur, Lucknow and Delhi were thinking on similar lines.

By the time it was afternoon, we had collectively resolved to prove this saying to be incorrect, at least this time round. What had happened was that a girl student of class six in Kanpur had been assaulted, yet had been left outside her residence by the school authorities. Her parents made a living as daily wage workers. The girl was bleeding and was not even in a position to explain who had contributed to this dreadful condition. Short on resources, her parents somehow took the help of neighbours to take their daughter to a hospital. The doctors declared her dead the same evening.

Could there have been a more tragic end to an innocent life? By this time, her distraught parents had just one recourse left—going to the police. A report was somehow registered and a police procedure was initiated. The Mayawati government was in power in Uttar Pradesh at that time. She was renowned for following a zero-tolerance policy towards crime and criminals. The administration of the local police was with an officer perceived to be close to the chief minister.

Mayawati assiduously followed the principle of implementing procedures irrespective of whether the officer was her favourite or not. The case involved a heinous crime with a girl from a modest background and the media was presenting it in a manner they deemed fit. Therefore, the police had to produce some progress as soon as possible. The easiest option was exercised to achieve this goal. The neighbourhood rickshaw-puller, who sometimes dropped the girl to school, was charged with rape and murder and instantly apprehended. Not just this, mud was flung on her mother’s character in a systematic manner.

Don’t you find this astonishing? The daughter of a poor man is killed and another poor man implicated in the murder. It seemed facing misfortune was embedded in their destiny.

At that time, our correspondent interviewed the accused rickshaw-puller in the prison. His version of proceedings was frightening and Hindustan decided to bring it to light. Seeing their so-called good work being put under the scanner rattled the police officers. But so ingrained was their arrogance that they even implicated two correspondents of Hindustan in false cases. Also, a mob was sent to our Kanpur office to intimidate the staff.

Despite all this, my colleagues in Hindustan didn’t waver. By pursuing the girl’s case, we worked towards empowering disadvantaged women. We knocked on the doors of Kanpur city’s biggest intellectuals. We reached out to schools and colleges to raise awareness among young girls and saw the gradual emergence of a mass movement. News about the case reached the power corridors of Lucknow. Not just was a directive issued from the secretariat to suspend the alleged confidant of the chief minister, but a number of other officers and policemen were also suspended.

The probe was also handed over to the Crime Branch-Criminal Investigation Department. The newly appointed officers began the probe on a clean slate. They discovered that the son of the director of the school which the girl attended had carried out the crime. He was arrested. But the case didn’t end there. Only the first round in the battle for justice had been won. To ensure that probe moved forward logically, the police reached the court with all the relevant evidence and the perpetrator got the punishment he deserved required some more effort. With that unfinished task was linked our morale which still continued to be high.

Ultimately, on 5 December this year, a court in Kanpur pronounced life imprisonment to the culprit. The idea of narrating this entire story to you wasn’t to glorify Hindustan or my colleagues. Even as I write these lines, there is one question that is still bothering me: The victim may have got justice, but when will the judicial process become sensitive in a country where 106 incidents of rape take place every day?

Clearly, justice was delivered. But the fight for the protection of the rights of women and children is far from over.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. His Twitter handle is @shekarkahin

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