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INDIA: Gang-rape case of a tribal girl in Orissa

INDIA: Is independent investigation impossible in the gang-rape case of a tribal girl in Orissa?

June 30, 2011 - On April 19, 2011, a 14-year-old tribal girl was gang-raped by four alleged security force officers in Narayanpatna of Koraput district, where there is an ongoing conflict between the government and Naxalites over land and power. Additionally, Operation Green Hunt has increased hardship for the villagers following greater incidents of police violence. In November 2009 for instance, the state police and the Indo-Tibetan Border Force stationed in the district fired at villagers who had peacefully marched to the Narayanpatna Police Station, resulting in the death of two villagers.

While protests by the villagers have decreased the incidents of violence in some villages of Narayanpatna, the villages find themselves trapped in a suppressive and violent environment. The April gang rape of a tribal girl has greatly angered villagers recently, not only because of the heinous crime of rape, but the subsequent injustices following it. The perpetrators threatened the victims that if they spoke out or complained to the authorities, they would face serious trouble. It was only after intervention of some villagers that the victim was willing to speak. With support from the civil society, the villagers helped the girl file a complaint at the Narayanpatna Police Station on May 4 (see the AHRC urgent appeal for the case).

Improper and shoddy police investigation into the gang-rape case however, has defeated all efforts in speaking out and seeking justice for the victim. All the public servants involved in the case have ignored the fact that the victim is a minor girl from a tribal community already insecure about the police and the Naxalities due to the volatile environment the conflict has generated. Information available to the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) strongly indicates that the investigators are on one hand ignoring that the victim is a minor girl under extreme trauma, while on the other trying to bury the case in an attempt to protect the perpetrators, fearing that the investigation would expose police violence.

According to the victim, her family, and some of the circumstantial witnesses to the incident, the perpetrators are members of the state security forces. And yet, it is the police department that is entrusted with the investigation of the case. The civil society representatives who are helping the victim, her family and the villagers are harassed by the state police, asking them why they are interested in pursuing the case. Police involvement in investigating the crime thus places them in direct conflict with the interests of justice. Moreover, the victim and her brother as well as the villagers are unwilling to go to the police station to file a complaint, afraid of being detained and accused of being associated with the Naxalites operating in the region.

The state government has a responsibility to prove that this fear is unwarranted and that the state will spare no resources to bring the suspects to justice, even if they belong to a state security agency.

The following details the improper and shoddy investigation to date, as well as the improper behaviour of all public servants involved:

Police

A few days after the villagers posted a written complaint to the police station regarding the gang-rape, police officers came to the village and threatened the villagers. The police also asked the victim’s brother to come to the police station the next day. Civil society groups immediately informed the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) and the Koraput Superintendent of Police (SP). In addition, they requested the SP to appoint a counsellor and lawyer for the victim, a minor. Through individual interviews with the villagers civil society groups learnt that they were forced to put their signatures or thumb impressions on blank paper by the police, some more than once. The police accused the villagers of lying to government agencies.

When the police called the victim to the police station for a medical examination, the girl went with her parents, media reporters and civil society activists. Upon their arrival however, the Inspector-in-Charge (IIC) ordered all the tribals to wait outside his office, while allowing other complainants to come in first. Only after the non-tribal visitors left, were the tribals were allowed to enter his office. Further evidence of his discriminatory attitude was revealed by the IIC’s shouting at the tribals while in his office, “Don’t lean on the wall, the wall would get dirty!”

During the meeting, the IIC denied involvement of security personnel in the rape case, insisting that there was no combing operation on that night. As an officer in charge of a crime investigation, he should not be making such assumptions, but should rather initiate appropriate inquiries.

He also unreasonably explained that the police collected the villagers’ signatures and thumb impressions to acknowledge that the First Information Report (FIR) was delivered to the complainants. The same reason was given for obtaining the victim’s thumb impression on the document the constable wrote during registration. The IIC denied that the police collected signatures from several villagers more than once.

When the police launched the investigation and came to the village, a senior female police officer merely abused the victim, saying that the girl was lying and that her gold earrings were not snatched by the perpetrators as there was no mark or wound on her ears.

Meanwhile, when the Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) attached to the Crime Branch came to Koraput regarding the case, she asked the civil society activists why they helped the victim file a complaint in Oriya. The victim girl has never learned Oriya, an official language of Orissa state, and her mother tongue is a tribal language, Kuri. She also collected all professional and personal details about the activists. She warned that she would not be able to go forward with her inquiry and serve justice to the victim if she failed to get details on who wrote the complaint in Oriya. The DSP also stated that the accused perpetrators could not be identified as the victim cannot recognize any of them. Additionally, she suspected a linkage between the activists and the radical local land rights group, Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh, which some villagers of the girl’s village are part of.

In accordance with the recommendations of the NCPCR, a female lawyer was appointed by the SP. This lawyer was found to be working with the district police for the past years. She was initially reluctant to take charge of the case and further refused to conduct a field visit to meet the victim. It is only after some pressure from civil society that she visited the girl. Like all the other officials involved in the investigation, the lawyer accused the girl of not telling the truth. She also questioned the girl in Oriya, so that the girl was unable to respond. It is doubtful whether the lawyer even went through all the documents related to the case before she visited the victim. Similar to the DSP, the lawyer stated that the girl cannot obtain justice if she cannot identify the perpetrators.

Hospital

The day after meeting with the IIC, the victim’s parents and three other villagers brought the girl to the Koraput District Headquarters Hospital, accompanied by a female constable of the Narayanpatna police station. After reaching the hospital, the female constable took the victim girl somewhere without informing her parents or the villagers. Civil society activists rushed to the hospital to help them find the girl; she was found in the labour room an hour later. A female doctor was conducting a medical examination by asking her questions in Oriya, which the girl could not understand. Four senior nurses and about six attendants of other patients were present during her medical examination.

It was observed by a civil society activist that the doctor threatened the girl, saying that if she did not answer the questions, she would write that the examination could not be properly conducted as the girl did not answer the questions. The doctor did not go through the victim’s background or check that she could speak Oriya. The girl spoke to the doctor and nurses in her mother tongue, Kui, which no one understood. She cried in fear and anguish while being questioned by strangers in an unknown language.

The female constable accused the victim of ignorance and the nurses suspected that she had lied to the police. One of the nurses said to her, “If you did not know Oriya, you should not have gone to the police!”

Activist: “Why do you say so?”

Nurse: “Why the girl does not understand Oriya?”

Activist: “Because she has never been to school to learn Oriya.”

Nurse: “Why the girl has not been to school?”

Activist: “There was no school in her village.”

The nurse’s final remark was that the girl should not come to the hospital without someone who can understand what she would say. In other words, it is the victim’s responsibility to bring a translator along, whereas public servants have a right to ignore what is required for the victim before examination.

The female constable meanwhile, was in a hurry to have the medical examination finished, as her sister was in hospital in Vishakhapatnam, Andra Pradesh, about three hours away. She expressed that she had no time for a girl who could not understand Oriya, merely making the investigation difficult. Instead of paying attention to the victim during the examination, she was busy talking to family members regarding buying pomegranate, which is effective for anaemic patients like her sister. The constable also believed that the police could not be involved in the incident as the police ‘all behave very well’.

The doctor conducted a physical examination including blood, urine, and vaginal swab tests; the medical report of the examination was not published, however. During the entire process of examination, there was no objective attitude towards the victim, let alone a favourable one.

All the law enforcement officers involved in this case suggested giving up hope for justice merely because the victim cannot recognize the perpetrators. Whether or not the victim obtains justice, it is clear that the process of seeking justice has been unjust.

According to the official data of India’s Home Department reported in January 2011, on average two women are raped daily. Out of 580 cases whose charge sheets were submitted by the police, only two cases gave final reports. Given the fact that many cases are unreported, the official data would not be able to give a clear picture on child abuse or rape in India. However, it is clear that child abuse, including rape against minors, is increasing. Unfortunately, agencies such as the NCPRC or the National Human Rights Commission fail to set up appropriate monitoring systems into the investigation of such cases.

All the public servants involved in the case, having ignored the tribal girl’s suffering and trauma, are now causing her further abuse by denying her justice. The AHRC therefore calls upon the government to guarantee that no resources are spared in ensuring the following:

1. That the victim’s statement is recorded in an environment congenial to her;

2. That the statement is recorded after qualified child psychologists assess the victim's psychological condition. The AHRC is willing to provide assistance if the state government does not know whom to approach for this;

3. The victim and her family members are guaranteed all protection possible within the law against further threats from the law enforcement agencies and other public servants involved in the case;

4. The government also records the statements of the civil society representatives who are harassed by the state police and immediate actions are taken against those who ordered such harassment;

5. The investigation, including the medical examination of the victim is undertaken and published without any further delay.

*************

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

Visit our new website with more features at www.humanrights.asia

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