New Delhi: A fact-finding team looking into the gang rape of five women in Jharkhand’s Khunti district has said in its report that the role played by the police in the investigation into the case is questionable, as has been targeting those associated with the Pathalgadi movement and Christian organisations.
Five women were gang raped at gunpoint in Kochang, where they had travelled to perform a street play on trafficking, on June 19. Two people have been arrested so far, including a Catholic priest, Alfonso Alien. The priest is the principal of the school where the performance was taking place.
The police has said that leaders of the Pathalgadi movement thought “anti-Pathalgadi sentiments will be portrayed in the NGO’s nukkad natak and that they wanted to teach them a lesson”.
In their report, the Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression and Sexual Repression (WSS) fact-finding team has brought up several questions. First, FIRs were filed only on June 21, even though the committee found proof that the police was aware of the incident at least on June 20. On June 20, even before the FIR was filed, two of the five women were taken for a preliminary medical examination. On June 21, a medico-legal examination of all five survivors was conducted.
Second, in a photo of the incident released by the accused, one of the people has been recognised by the locals as Baji Samant. According to the WSS report, he is not a Pathalgadi movement leader but a resident of a nearby village, Sarai-kela. Despite this, the FIR has been registered against the priest and ‘other unidentified persons/Pathalgadi supporters’. Local eyewitnesses have said that four men including Samant who were seen arriving on a motorcycle were not from the area.
Third, the media has reported that the school principal and priest have been charged for not making sure the women were safe and not doing enough to prevent the incident. However, the fact-finding team has found that the FIR includes much more serious charges, including wrongful restraint, wrongful confinement, voluntarily causing hurt, disrobing, gang rape, kidnapping, kidnapping with intent to wrongfully confine and conspiracy.
Fourth, the women themselves have been kept in the custody of the police, apparently to ensure their protection. However, the WSS team has said that the survivors are being kept away even from their families. There has been no statement made by them, nor have they verified the identity of the people arrested as being the accused, the report says.
Ever since the incident, the team has said, the only voice that is being heard is the administration’s. “The legal proceedings subsequent to the incident are shrouded in doubt, as these are based entirely on the questionable narrative proposed by the police and Jharkhand administration, without any avenues for independent verification and corroboration. This, combined with the subsequent repression by security forces has created a reign of terror for the residents of Khunti and neighbouring areas, further undermining chances of independent verification,” the report says.
The police raided homes in Ghagra and six other villages on June 26, to arrest the suspects. One person was killed in clashed between the police and villagers. “Why did the police raid the gram sabha meeting in Ghagra where the pathalgari event was ongoing on the pretext of arresting the accused, when they knew that the accused belonged to Sarai-Kela?” the report says.
The WSS has also questioned the role of the media in the case, saying that there has been widespread misreporting on the issue. “The media has concertedly cast Adivasis, Pathalgadi supporters and the church/mission organisations in a negative light in the absence of verifiable information,” the report says.