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Jaipur: For the father of the Dalit teenager who was found dead in the water tank of a teachers’ training college in northern Rajasthan’s Bikaner, it has been a long and taxing journey to justice. The quest for justice has also taken a huge financial toll on the family as it had to borrow money from a bank and a local moneylender and also sell off a part of ancestral land for the legal battle. But the man is happy that the fight has ended in conviction.
On Tuesday, the Bikaner court for Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POSCO) Act cases sentenced physical training instructor Vijendra Singh to life for raping and pushing the teenager to death by suicide, and awarded six years in prison each to college principal Pragya Prateek Shukla and hostel warden Priya Shukla after holding them guilty of abetment of suicide of a minor. The court convicted the three on Friday and heard the arguments for sentencing on Tuesday.
The body of the 17-year-old was found in the water tank of Adarsh Jain Teachers’ Training Institute for Women in Nokha town of Bikaner on March 29, 2016. Police pressed charges of kidnapping, rape and abetment of suicide of a child under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, the POCSO Act and the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
The Wire is withholding the name of the girl and those of her family members, in accordance with the law.
From the registration of the FIR to conviction, it has been an arduous journey for the teenager’s father, a government school teacher – both physically and mentally. “I had to go to Bikaner several times. I couldn’t take public transport for the fear that the accused would harm me,” said the father. “I would hire a private cab and travel with some well-wishers. It would cost me Rs 15,000. I must have made around a hundred trips to Bikaner. You can do the math,” he added.
The teenager’s mother said the family is under a lot of debt. “We first took a loan from a bank. When that didn’t work, we sold our ancestral land. Even that wasn’t enough; we had to borrow more money and this time we went to the local moneylender, who charges a hefty interest,” she said.
The school teacher, the only earning member of the family, was already repaying the education loan he had taken for his daughter. “She was very bright and wanted to be a teacher like me,” he said.
The deceased teenager was a brilliant student and an amazing painter, having excelled in an art competition in Rajasthan when she was in Class XII. An artwork of hers was featured in a magazine published by the Rajasthan secretariat in 2006, when she was just seven years old. She travelled to Nokha, 450 km from Trimohi, a nondescript hamlet close to the India-Pakistan border at Gadra Road in Barmer district, for the Basic School Teaching Course (BSTC). She was in the second year of the course when her life was snuffed out.
The family received only Rs 90,000 by way of relief under a scheme for victims of rape. “According to rules, assistance of Rs 10 lakh should have been given,” said the victim’s father.
The family is also sore about activists hovering around them to take credit for justice to the teenager.
“After my daughter’s death, politicians and people of many human rights organisations and NGOs came to me, but after a few days, all of them disappeared. Everyone had assured me to call them whenever needed, but when I did, no one came to help. Now that the punishment has been decided, people have started coming again to take credit,” he said.
He names three people for being with him through this quest for justice. “Disha Wadekar of Pune, Riya Singh of Ghaziabad and Anurag Bhaskar of Lucknow stayed with me like a family. Disha and Anurag are lawyers. They gave legal inputs to the local lawyers due to which the verdict came in our favour. Riya is a research scholar. She gave me full support. Apart from this, Mularam Meghwal of Rawatsar [in Hanumangarh, Rajasthan] was a pillar of strength,” he said.
Though the lower court has found the three people guilty, the father reckons that the fight is not yet over. There may be appeals in higher courts but he has no complaints. “If needed, I will take more loans, but will not sleep in peace until the perpetrators are punished.”
Outrage and criticism of government
The death of the minor Dalit girl resulted in widespread outrage and criticism for the then Vasundhara Raje-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the state. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi visited Trimohi to extend his condolences to the victim’s family. Rights activists and politicians pressured the police to book the accused under different sections of the POCSO Act.
After the outrage over the case, the state government recommended the investigation be given to the Central Bureau of Investigation. But the Central agency did not take it up even two months after the order from the state home department. Subsequently, the Bikaner police completed the investigation.
“The Bikaner police had then claimed that she had died by suicide by drowning, but no water was found in her lungs. It was suggested that she killed herself after being caught in a compromising position with the physical training instructor. But it emerged that the hostel warden Priya Shukla used to send her to the physical training instructor’s room for cleaning, and she had complained about it to her father several times,” local journalist Anurag Harsh told The Wire.
The allegations that she was made to clean the room, if true, represent the harsh reality of caste-based discrimination faced by students from Dalit communities.
“The Bikaner police filed the chargesheet claiming that she was not murdered but forced to die by suicide. The trial started in 2017 and took four years till conviction. It got delayed because the Rajasthan high court temporarily stayed the trial. Finally, when the witness deposition began, courts closed during 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The final arguments began on September 2 and ended on September 27,” added Harsh.
In April 2021, the Rajasthan government renamed Trimohi as ‘Delta Nagar’, in honour of the girl. The notification for the creation of the new revenue villages was issued by the Rajasthan revenue department. The new revenue village was formed from the existing revenue village Trimohi, which has a population of 200 voters in 94 households, mostly from Scheduled Caste (SC) communities.
If you know someone – friend or family member – at risk of suicide, please reach out to them. The Suicide Prevention India Foundation maintains a list of telephone numbers (www.spif.in/seek-help/) they can call to speak in confidence. You could also refer them to the nearest hospital.