Business News/ Politics / Policy/  Muzaffarnagar rape victims move Supreme Court

Expressing their loss of confidence in the Uttar Pradesh government, seven women who claim they were gang-raped in the early September communal violence in Muzaffarnagar have approached the Supreme Court for the setting up of an independent investigating team.

The Supreme Court has given the Uttar Pradesh government and the Union of India two weeks to reply to the petition filed by lawyers Kamini Jaiswal and Vrinda Grover on behalf of the women.

The women were subjected to brutal sexual assault, but have received no redress despite filing first information reports (FIRs) with the state police, they said. Three months have passed, and not a single arrest has been made in any of the cases. Their rapists continue to roam free, live in the villages with impunity and threaten the women and their families to withdraw their complaints, they said. It is impossible for them to return home.

The gang-rape of women during the riots has been whispered about in the community but barely reported. Social workers and activists working for riot relief say scores of minority women and girls were gang-raped in September by the majority Jat community but will not speak up due to social pressure and fear of stigma. Many girls said they were not raped but subjected to such indignities as being stripped in public. None, however, is prepared to go on record.

The seven women who have come forward are all married and have the support of their husbands and families.

“But for the fact that my husband has supported me in my fight for justice, I too would have remained silent," said one of the women who was gang-raped by four men in the presence of her two-year-old child.

Speaking from a house where her family has sought shelter, the woman said that none of her four rapists had been arrested despite the fact that she had first reported the incident to the police on 29 September at the Loi relief camp where she and her family had sought refuge. An FIR was subsequently lodged and her statement recorded by the police on 25 October, she said.

Six of the seven women belong to the village Fugana. The seventh petitioner comes from Lakh village in the nearby Shamli district which also saw widespread riots that resulted in 65 deaths and over 50,000 people being displaced from their homes early in September.

One of the petitioners, a seamstress by profession, was in the toilet when a mob attacked her house. By the time she came out, the other members of her family had run away, leaving her behind. She was then beaten and raped at gunpoint by four men.

The woman eventually managed to escape by hiding in an adjoining wood where she was finally united with her husband and other relatives, she said. From there, the family made its way to a relief camp. Finally, on 26 September, her husband registered a complaint of gang-rape at the Fugana police station.

In the medical examination that followed three days later, doctors observed that the complaint must be fabricated since she was “too old to have been raped", she said. She was not provided with any medical treatment. It took another month for the police to record her statement on 25 October. There have been no arrests and her four rapists roam free, she said.

Another petitioner’s husband and father-in-law are migrant labourers and were not in the village when the riots broke out. Fearful of an imminent outbreak of communal violence, the woman said she took the precaution of sending away four of her five children along with her mother-in-law to another village. But she had to stay back with her three-year-old child to protect her house against looting and vandalism. When the violence broke out, she was raped by three men, all from her village, she said. Moreover, her three-month pregnant sister-in-law was also raped by men in the village. An FIR was subsequently filed on 9 October.

The women said they are under tremendous pressure to withdraw their complaints. In at least one case, the rape accused threatened the woman’s husband that he would kill the children if the complaint wasn’t withdrawn.

But there is no question of their returning to their homes, especially since their accused rapists still roam free, the women said. In some instances, their homes have been vandalized and burned and there is nothing to go back to. To make matters worse, the Uttar Pradesh state government has shut down the relief camps, leaving the women and their families even more vulnerable.

The women are fearful of going to the Muzaffarnagar court to give evidence. They believe they have been abandoned by the state of Uttar Pradesh that has failed to provide them with any protection despite their written complaints. The women told the apex court that they would not get justice in Uttar Pradesh. They want the prosecution and trials to be transferred to Delhi. They want witness protection and they have demanded state compensation, as mandated by the law, as well as medical and psycho-social counselling.

“If I can’t get justice despite what was done to me, despite the fact that I am willing to fight, then what hope can there be for women in this country?" one of the women said. “My house has been burnt. My honour lost. Nothing can compensate that."

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Updated: 17 Jan 2014, 09:20 PM IST
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