The case of murder and rape of a 15-year old school girl, which outraged the country, was sensationalised to provoke sentiments and unrest. An investigation by The Sunday Guardian has revealed that the gory details leaked to the media about the vivid description of the crime were at best exaggerated and unverified. Sources close to the investigation have revealed that the girl might not have been gang-raped. “Post mortem report indicates that only one person, the prime accused was involved. We are waiting for other reports,” an official closely involved in the probe told The Sunday Guardian on condition of anonymity. Her body was not mutilated, her neck was not severed either. “Her teeth weren’t broken. The reports in the media are untrue that her flesh was ripped apart and that things were inserted in her private parts,” the official said. However, women leaders and rights activists have said that immaterial of the details of the atrocity, the accused should be meted strictest punishment for the brutal rape and killing.
“But the sentiments in the matter are so high, that anybody who is trying to tell the truth is questioned. His intentions are doubted. Also, politically it is a sensitive issue as the victim belongs to the Maratha community, and nobody wants to hurt the sentiments of the majority dominant caste. The fact remains that it was a case of brutal rape and murder, and that the culprits should be punished strictly. But it is unfortunate that the case should get mired in such politics,” a senior journalist said.
“How does it matter what kind of torture was inflicted on her? It is true that she was raped and murdered violently. Instead of going into descriptions, we should focus on punishing the accused,” Shiv Sena leader Neelam Gorhe said.
Chairperson of Maharashtra State Commission for Women, Vijaya Rahatkar told The Sunday Guardian that the police had already clarified to the women’s commission that no such gory torture that was reported in the media was inflicted on the accused. “The police had told us that these are all rumours. They had also told us about the nature of injuries faced by the victim,” she said.
The police have said that according to the post mortem report, the girl was strangulated, her lip was bitten off, her hands were dislocated during the scuffle. There were bite marks on her chest, and abrasions on her hand and stomach. “There was abrasion and bleeding from her private parts,” the police officer said. The case may also fall under the technical definition of rape which was expanded to cover assaults other than penetrative sex, the police have said. “She was a very frail girl. She was so thin, just like a couple of sticks put together,” a villager said.
Western Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district has seen heavy police deployment due to tension caused by the incident. The political and caste overtures have only worsened the matter. The victim belonged to the dominant Maratha community, while the accused is a Dalit. The misinformation spread due to unverified media reports has also caused national uproar. Till now, three persons have been arrested in the matter, and a fourth suspect is being questioned. The accused have been charged under Sections 302, 376 of the Indian Penal Code and Sections 4 and 6 of POCSO. The police have also added Section 376D of IPC to the FIR. “But according to preliminary investigation and the post mortem report, it seems like only one person was involved in the rape. Having said that, let me also tell you that we are still investigating the case and are awaiting further medical reports,” a police official said.
On Friday, a local court extended the police custody of prime accused Jitendra alias Pappu Babulal Shinde (25) until 27 July. The police custody of the other two arrested accused, Santosh Gorakh Bhaval (30) and Nitin Gopinath Bhoilume (26), will end on 25 July. The police have said they will seek an extension of their custody.
A frail 15-year old was raped and killed in a small hamlet of the caste-sensitive Ahmednagar district on a cloudy evening on 13 July. The prime accused, who was heavily inebriated at the time of the crime, had brought liquor from the grandfather of the victim before committing the crime. “He had gone to the girl’s grandfather to buy liquor. He was drinking it there. When he saw the girl leave the grandfather’s house on a bicycle after picking up eggs and masala, he quickly overtook her on his bike. He went ahead a few hundred metres and waited for her. When she reached there, he stopped her, overpowered her and dragged her in the nearby bushes,” a police officer said.
NO DELAY IN REGISTERING FIR
An FIR was registered three hours after the police came to know about the case, and the prime accused was caught nine hours after the FIR. “That night, we got a call about the incident at around 9.10 pm. We reached the Kuldharan health centre within half an hour. We then deployed teams in the village to find the accused. Meanwhile, the medical officer confirmed that it was a case of rape. We then sent the body for inquest. The victim’s brother came to the police station after 12. An FIR was registered in the matter at 1.10 am,” a local police officer said. Till now, questions have been raised about the alleged delay in registering the FIR in the matter. “No, the police response was prompt. They came to the hospital immediately,” the victim’s mother said.
But after two days, the issue was hijacked by political parties. It was also exaggerated to turn it into a sensational ‘Nirbhaya II’. “After we file the charge sheet, I will ask any person to show me how this can be compared to the Nirbhaya case? No doubt, this is a case of brutal murder and rape. No child should ever have to face anything like this. But to exaggerate the case to sensationalise it and to run false information without verifying it, is irresponsible. Nobody wants to reduce the importance of such a severe case. But public support should not be drummed up on falsehood and misinformation. It will serve no purpose,” a senior official told The Sunday Guardian on the condition of anonymity.
Local reporters told The Sunday Guardian that they ran the story of brutality on the basis of the villagers’ account, three days after the incident. They said they did not visit the village for more than two days after the incident. “My reporter went to the village only on the third day. By that time, political interference had already begun. When the story first came out in the local media, it was of rape and murder. The reports of torture started coming out only four days after the crime,” a senior journalist of a major Marathi newspaper published in Ahmednagar told the correspondent.
He said that his local reporter never reported the horrible atrocities which came out in some of the English media. “My reporter did not hear that the victim’s neck was broken, or that things were inserted in her private parts. He also did not hear that the teeth were broken and that her flesh was torn apart. I don’t know from where these descriptions trickled into the media. Our paper never called it a Nirbhaya case,” he said, adding that the medical officer and the police had only confirmed that she was brutalised and that she had injuries on her body. “There were bite marks on her body, her lip was torn, and hands were dislocated,” he said. This account is similar to the details divulged by the police officer.
“Looking at the way things unfolded, there is no doubt that the incident was used for political vested interests by the opposition. The motive was not to seek justice for the victim, as much as it was for cornering and embarrassing the government. I can assure you that had the Assembly not been in session, this issue would not have been blown up by the Opposition. There is no doubt that this crime is inhuman and that the perpetrators should be given strictest punishment,” he said further.
This correspondent asked the family of the victim about the reasons behind the two-day protest in the area, if there was no delay in action. “This is the way things work in our villages. We are all quite close, unlike people in the cities. If any small thing goes wrong, we all come together and stop work. Even for small crime cases, people observe a bandh here. Even if you are my enemy, I will come for a bandh that has been called for you,” a cousin of the victim said.
Social activist Anna Hazare has demanded a ban on liquor, adding that the gruesome incident was caused because the accused was under the influence of alcohol. Local reporters too said that the case did not have any caste angle to it.
The Nationalist Congress Party indulged in fear mongering, which was abhorrent, Neelam Gorhe said. Soon after the Legislative Assembly session began, Leader of the Opposition Dhananjay Munde circulated a photo of Ahmednagar Guardian Minister Ram Shinde with a namesake of the prime accused. He alleged that when the prime accused was seen merrily clicking snaps with the guardian minister, what was the scope of justice for the family? It soon emerged that the said photograph was of a namesake who was not the accused in the case. Munde had to unconditionally apologise on the matter.
“The question is not that the photo was circulated in the media in Mumbai. The question is that before it reached Munde, it must have passed through so many layers of local leaders of Ahmednagar, that it must have caused serious panic in the hearts of the people. It must have made them question the government. That kind of fear-mongering is horrible. This behaviour is not expected of a responsible Leader of the Opposition,” Sena leader Neelam Gorhe told The Sunday Guardian.
WE BELIEVE IN PEACEFUL COEXISTENCE
Meanwhile, normalcy has started returning to the victim’s village, though fear lingers in its heart. “We have always been a quiet village. We believe in peaceful co-existence. There hasn’t been a single bad incident in the village. Even after this brutal case, nobody has touched the accused and their family members. We are all angry and we want the government to punish the guilty,” said Ashok Ghalme, a villager. Police officials too maintained that the village had been very mature and responsible in its response. “They did not take law and order in their hands despite provocation from outside,” a senior police officer said.
‘TORTURE AND HANG THEM’
Meanwhile, the mother and the family of the victim continue to remain inconsolable. “Every woman wants a daughter. But if this is the fate of a daughter, why should women want daughters? They have made my adorable daughter suffer. They shouldn’t just be hanged, they should be punished in public. They should be tortured and killed in front of everyone. It will be a lesson for the other criminals in the state. The punishment should act as a deterrent so that nobody should dare to touch a girl,” she said.
Social activist Anna Hazare has demanded a ban on liquor, adding that the gruesome incident was caused because the accused was under the influence of alcohol. “There is no caste angle to it. The accused was drunk,” a police officer said. Local reporters too said that the case did not have any caste angle to it. “He was so inebriated, he would have done it to any other girl,” a local reporter said.
FAMILY OF ACCUSED
When the incident occurred, the accused’s father had gone on an annual pilgrimage to Pandharpur. He came to know about the incident. Soon, the entire family fled the village. The door of their modest house is locked. The cattle of the accused’s family is being tended by the policemen who have been stationed there.
The prime accused, Jitendra alias Pappu Babulal Shinde, has two wives. “I think the first woman he brought home was not married to him. He had just brought her. But after a few years, she just went away. A year later, he got married. It has been two to three years since his marriage. He stayed right behind us. But we never thought he would turn out to be such a demon. He usually kept to himself, and never really spoke with anyone else,” Ashabai Sudrik told The Sunday Guardian. Her house is 20-30 metres away from Pappu’s house.
“I was never scared of living here. But now, after this incident, I am petrified to be his neighbour. I am scared of him. I will not be able to live alone in the house henceforth. The village has never felt this insecure. We are all farmers.
We go to our farms, and return late at times. Nobody had felt insecure to walk alone to the farm through uninhabited patches. But now, this incident has permanently scarred the village. We will be scared to walk alone now,” she said.