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Jaipur: In a packed courtroom in north Rajasthan’s Bikaner town on Friday (October 8), when district and sessions judge Dhirendra Singh Nagar pronounced three people guilty of snuffing out the life of a minor Dalit girl, a group of women and Dalit group activists present there felt it was a quiet victory for country’s Dalit movement.
Body of the 17-year-old was found in the water tank of the teachers’ training college in Nokha town of Bikaner on March 29, 2016. Her father told police in the FIR that she had told them on March 28 that she had been raped by a teacher.
Presiding over the POCSO court, judge Nagar held physical training instructor Vijendra Singh guilty of kidnapping, raping and abetting the suicide of the minor. The court also pronounced college principal Pragya Prateek Shukla and hostel warden Priya Shukla guilty of abetment to suicide. Arguments on sentencing will be held on Monday (October 11). All the counts that the three have been convicted under are punishable with death.
The teenager wanted to be a teacher like her father. She came to Nokha, 450 km from Trimohi, a nondescript hamlet close to the India-Pakistan border at Gadra Road in Barmer district, to Nokha’s Adarsh Jain Teachers’ Training Institute for Women for doing Basic School Teaching Course (BSTC).
Her death resulted in widespread outrage and criticism for the then Vasundhara Raje-led Bharatiya Janata Party government in the state. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi visited Trimohi to extend his condolences to the family. Rights activists and politicians pressured the police to book the accused under different sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
Kavita Srivastava of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), who was present in the Bikaner court on Friday, said: “The father came from Barmer and lodged an FIR no. 146/2016. The police did not even put POCSO sections. Dalit, women and human rights groups put pressure and sections of POCSO not only of rape but also of institutional responsibility were put. Finally a charge sheet was filed.”
“The Bikaner police had then claimed that [the minor] had committed 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,” local journalist Anurag Harsh told The Wire. “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.”
After the outrage over the case, the state government recommended the investigation be given to the Central Bureau of Investigation but the federal agency did not take it up even two months after the order from the state home department. Subsequently, Bikaner police completed investigation in the case.
“The Bikaner police filed the charge sheet claiming that [the minor] was not murdered but forced to commit suicide. They charged PTI Vijendra Singh, principal Pragya Prateek Shukla and hostel warden Priya Shukla under different sections of Indian Penal Code, POCSO and the SC/ST Act,” added Harsh.
According to Kavita Srivastava, the trial started in 2017 and took four years till conviction. “It got delayed because Rajasthan high court HC temporarily stayed the trial. Finally, when the witness deposition took off, courts closed during 2020 and 2021 due to COVID pandemic. The final arguments began on September 2 and closed on 27,” she said.
Dalit activists alleged that Delta jumped into the water storage tank at 7 am (on March 29, 2016), after feeling humiliated, as instead of being supported the principal and warden had forced her to write an apology when she was found in the room of the PTI who had abducted her and kept her bondage.
“The body was found at 9.30 am but the police were not informed by the school authorities till 1 pm. The police got the body out and transported it to the mortuary in a garbage tractor as she was a Dalit girl. Dalit people began the protest and soon it was an all-Rajasthan protest,” recalled PUCL’s Srivastava.
The deceased teenager was a brilliant student and an amazing painter, having excelled in an art competition in Rajasthan when she was Class 12. An artwork of hers was featured in a magazine published by Rajasthan secretariat in 2006 when she was just seven years old, according to a newspaper report.
In April 2021, the Rajasthan government renamed Trimohi after her, as ‘Delta Nagar’. The notification for the creation of the new revenue villages was issued by the Rajasthan Revenue Department. This new revenue village ‘Delta Nagar’ was formed from the existing revenue village Trimohi, which has a population of 200 voters in 94 households, mostly belonging to the Scheduled Caste (SC) community.
All three convicts, including a physical training instructor, principal and hostel warden, have been held guilty under Sections 363 (punishment for kidnapping), 366 (kidnapping, abducting or inducing woman to compel her marriage), 376 (rape) and 305 (abetment of suicide of child or insane person) of the Indian Penal code, POCSO Act and various sections of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
Hailing the court’s order, the victim’s father, a government teacher, said, “Justice was long due and finally it was delivered. Every day I would take a pledge that I will not die until my daughter’s culprits are behind the bars. I hope the court on Monday delivers harsh punishment to the culprits.”