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The alleged rape of a woman at the Indian Air Force College in Redfields, Coimbatore, came to light a few days ago, and a flight lieutenant named Amitesh was arrested and sent to judicial custody on September 26, 2021. Besides detailing the alleged sexual assault that happened at the institution, the FIR registered in the case on September 20, also levels serious allegations against the IAF — from subjecting the complainant to the banned two-finger test during medical examination, to intimidating her and discouraging her from filing an official complaint about the incident.
The FIR — which TNM has accessed — details what happened on September 10 when the alleged sexual assault took place. The complainant says that she sustained an injury on the evening of September 9, 2021, due to which she was given a painkiller. Later that evening, the complainant along with her coursemates went to the Officers’ Mess bar, where she had two drinks, one of which Amitesh had allegedly insisted on paying for.
After this, she started feeling nauseous and vomited, and two of her peers took her to her room and put her to bed. Eventually, the accused, Amitesh, allegedly came to her room and tried to wake her up several times. She told him that she wanted to sleep and he should leave, the complainant said.
According to the complaint, the survivor was woken up the next day by one of her friends who had also helped put her to bed. The friend asked the survivor why Amitesh had been there in her room, and whether he was there consensually. The friend further suspected that Amitesh had sexually assaulted the survivor based on what she saw (TNM is withholding the specific details of the alleged assault). The survivor realised, based on her friend’s account of what she saw, and on seeing physical evidence of what had transpired, that she had been sexually assaulted. When she confronted Amitesh and told him what he did was completely wrong, he allegedly apologised for invading her privacy and said she could take “any action against him” if she wanted to.
Discouragement from filing complaint
The complainant and her friend approached their seniors over the issue. However, instead of recording the survivor’s complaint and offering support, one of the women Wing Commanders whom the survivor approached said that she should think about her family and their reputation. The Wing Commander and another male officer later told the survivor and her friend to go ahead with the complaint; however, the survivor, afraid of her name being leaked, decided against it.
However, the next day, she and her friend were called by the two officers they had confided in, and were allegedly given two options — either she filed a complaint, or gave it in writing that it was consensual sex. Triggered by this, the survivor decided to go ahead with the complaint, following which the complainant and her friend were told to go to the hospital for a medical examination.
The ‘confession’ video
The evening after the alleged rape, Amitesh met with two of the complainant’s colleagues with her knowledge, according to the FIR. During the meeting, he is said to have confessed on video to the assault, and to having entered her room with the intention of “taking advantage of her”. The police are in possession of this video, we are told. The complainant also said that the medical examiners of the Air Force Hospital (AFH) had asked to see the video before conducting the examination on her, but a colleague had managed to intervene and point out that the complainant was not obliged to share the “confession”. Police officials have confirmed to TNM that the video, which is classified as an “extra judicial confession” has been submitted to the magistrate.
Relived trauma by the two-finger test
When the survivor and her friend reached the Air Force Hospital, they were allegedly met by two officials, both doctors, who were “confused” about how to proceed with the medical exam.
During the medical exam, apart from taking vaginal swabs, the survivor alleged that the medical officer also subjected her to the controversial and now banned two-finger test. The survivor noted in her complaint that she found out only later that the two-finger test is not supposed to be done during a rape exam, and added that it made her relive the trauma of the sexual assault by the flight lieutenant.
The two-finger test was banned by the Supreme Court eight years ago, though it has often been reported that the practice continues. A year after the Nirbhaya gangrape and murder case of 2012, the country wittnessed an overhaul of rape laws in the form of the The Criminal Laws (Amendement) Act ,2013. Subjecting the survivor to the test since then is illegal. The ban was based on the understanding that the two-finger test depends on vaginal muscle laxity, tying rape to the socially constructed notions of “virginity” i.e. using laxity in muscles to indicate if the woman is sexually active, to then ascertain rape. Not only is the method unscientific, but amounts to moral shaming of a survivor and violates their right to privacy. A person’s sexual history should not have a bearing in ascertaining sexual assault.
In this respect, the IAF officer in the present case has also alleged that she was asked about her sexual history, which too is prohibited.
Delay in handling and handing over crucial evidence
Apart from subjecting her to the two-finger test, the survivor alleges that she was informed that the swab sample — taken on September 11 — had been sent for testing and had come back negative, but that she discovered this to be untrue later. She records that on the date of filing the complaint, September 20, the sample had still not been sent to the relevant authorities. A forensic medical examiner, speaking to TNM, says that it is advisable to test vaginal swabs on the same day they are collected. In the event of a delay, it is mandatory to preserve the swab in an airtight container, and not doing so can lead to fungal infections growing on the swab, hence possibly skewing the results. One of the police officers investigating the case told TNM that the complainant’s version is true and that swabs were not sent for testing till she filed a complaint with the police.
The FIR casts doubts on the correct preservation of other evidence as well. The complainant says that her bedsheet with Amitesh’s semen stains were handed over to the AFH and that she’d asked for the mattress cover to be collected from her room. At this point, it appears that she was reassigned a room, while her old one was kept padlocked. The mattress itself remained locked inside the room too. She alleges that her old room was not sealed off properly with a cloth covered lock and wax seal until September 17.
Callous attitude and harassment
On September 12, 2021, two days after the alleged rape, two officials at the institution called the survivor and her friend to meet them. After separating the duo, one officer said she had to record the survivor’s statement. When the survivor said that she was not in the right frame of mind, the presiding officer allegedly retorted saying she was very busy, and the survivor had to decide immediately whether she wanted to file the complaint or give in writing that she does not want to do so.
The survivor was writing her withdrawal of complaint statement, and as per the FIR, the presiding officer was very “rude” throughout. The officer also allegedly tried to make the complainant’s friend sign the withdrawal of the complaint statement. When the friend said she would like to take legal advice before doing so, she was allegedly shouted at, told she could not call anyone; both the survivor and her friend were allegedly made to switch off their phones and keep them on the table.
Intimidation and threats
Traumatised seeing Amitesh coming to classes every day, roaming around speaking to everyone, and allegedly even telling some other people what he had done, the survivor says she enquired on September 14 when Amitesh would be asked to leave, and if he wasn’t, if she could leave the course.
The FIR states that according to the survivor, she received no guidance from the legal and paralegal officers under whose supervision she was doing the course. She also alleged that she was “blackmailed” to either go file a police complaint or “trust the system”. She was also allegedly asked multiple times to give handwritten withdrawal of complaint statements. On September 15, 2021, when asked to sign the printed version of her statement, she realised with horror that her statement was changed significantly, along with her friend’s, the survivor alleged as per the FIR.
A larger culture of sexism and moral policing?
The survivor wrote in her police complaint that she realised on September 16, after she was finally given a day’s rest as the events had taken a toll on her health, she could finally “think clearly”. She recalled several instances of harassment and moral policing by college authorities, such as a Wing Commander instructor stating in a class how women officers were smoking and drinking more and this was being noticed by orderlies. This same person had allegedly responded to a query of the survivor on when Amitesh would be leaving, saying that if she could bear ankle pain (her injury), she could bear the pain of seeing her rapist sit in class as well.
The survivor also recalled that she was allegedly discouraged from complaining multiple times on the pretext that the FIR of the case would leak to the media and her identity would be revealed.
While processing all of this, the survivor said she realised how she was “fooled” and “misled” by the authorities. With these realisations, the survivor said she finally found the strength to file a police complaint on September 17, 2021; however, due to the continued misguidance, she finally went to the Police Commissioner’s office on September 20 to file her complaint.
Asked if the IAF will be looking into the allegations of the two-finger test and intimidation regarding filing an internal complaint, a Defence Public Relations Officer told TNM that the matter is sub judice and the IAF cannot comment on the allegations at this stage.
Meanwhile, in an affidavit filed in court on September 25, Amitesh says that neither the police nor a criminal court have the authority to investigate and try him, adding that this was a case for the Court Martial system. A Court Martial is convened by an authority within the defence, in this case, the Indian Air Force.
This article was originally published on The News Minute.