Our Special Correspondent / NEW DELHI
Amid the din of elections in Uttar Pradesh, Amnesty International India today came out with a startling report showing present government apathy towards law and order situation in the state.
Amnesty report revealed that the Uttar Pradesh government has failed to expeditiously investigate and prosecute the seven cases of gang-rape filed after the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots and deliver justice.
The Report, “Losing Faith: The Muzaffarnagar Gang-rape Survivors’ Struggle for Justice”, details the cases of seven Muslim women who came forward after the September 2013 riots to report that they had been gang-raped, all by men from the Jat community.
Over three years after the riots, there has not been a single conviction in any of the cases. Despite changes to India’s laws in 2013 requiring trials in rape cases to be completed without unnecessary delay, trials have proceeded extremely slowly. The state government and successive central governments have also failed to adequately protect the survivors from threats and harassment – which in some cases led to them retracting their statements – and to provide adequate reparation.
“The Uttar Pradesh government has failed the seven women who have fought enormous odds to pursue their cases,” said Aakar Patel, Executive Director, Amnesty International India. “The government’s apparent lack of interest in delivering justice also goes against the spirit of the legal reforms passed in 2013 to end impunity for violence against women.”
According to Amnesty International, it interviewed six out of the seven gang rape survivors who had filed FIRs, between July 2016 and January 2017. In all seven gang-rape cases, the police took months to file charges, and even after they did so, trials have proceeded extremely slowly. Even where the police filed charges – which took between six and 14 months in most cases -, the trials did not commence immediately.
In three cases, survivors identified and named the men they said had raped them in their First Information Reports, but then retracted their statements in court. Some of them later admitted that they had been compelled to do so after facing pressure and threats to their safety and that of their families, and a lack of adequate support and security from the authorities.
“We are still scared when we leave home,” said one of the survivors to Amnesty International India.
Human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover, who has represented the survivors in the Supreme Court, said, “We are saying yes, you must stand up, in court, in a rape trial, and give evidence, and your dignity must be vindicated. But for that what should she do? She should either put her own life or the life of her children or other family members at stake.”
The state police also did not at first invoke Section 376(2)(g) of the Indian Penal Code, which specifically recognizes the offence of rape during communal or sectarian violence, in the FIRs registered in September and October 2013 and February 2014. There were also delays in filing FIRs, conducting medical examinations and recording the statements of the survivors before a magistrate.
All seven survivors have received little assistance from authorities in helping them rebuild their lives despite suffering enormous damage to their livelihoods. Many of the families had to arrange to provide food to the constables appointed to protect them.
“The new government in Uttar Pradesh, which will take office in March, must ensure that the investigations and prosecutions in all the cases are pursued vigorously without undue delay, and that survivors are provided full reparation. The central government must enact a law to prevent and respond to communal violence, and establish a comprehensive victim and witness protection programme,” said Aakar Patel.
On 7 September 2013, at a massive gathering in a village outside Muzaffarnagar city, leaders from the dominant community addressed a crowd of over 100,000 people. They had gathered to discuss the recent killings of two Hindu men in an altercation with Muslim men. The altercation had also prompted large gatherings previously, including by Muslim men, in other locations.
Slogans of “save your daughters” were raised at the 7 September gathering, and inflammatory speeches made, allegedly by Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, instigating Hindus to take revenge for the killings.
The gathering was followed by an outbreak of violence in the neighboring districts. Over 60 people were killed in the clashes, which ended only after three days. Thousands of Muslim families were forced to flee their homes and take shelter in relief camps.