Vijayawada: On November 27, a veterinarian was raped and murdered on the suburbs of Telangana’s Hyderabad. A year later in drought-prone Ananthapur district, a 19-year old Dalit girl was found dead, her body half burnt in farm fields near Badannapalli in Dharmavaram mandal on December 23.
The incident was believed to have occurred when the victim, an employee at a commercial bank, was returning home from work. Reports say she was strangled to death after having been subjected to sexual assault. Police denied the possibility of a rape having taken place.
The victim’s mother approached police after she failed to return after 9 pm. “Immediately after I went to the police station, I told police about a stalker who might have caused harm to my daughter. But there was no response from police. Had they responded in time, my daughter could have survived,” the mother said.
She also said her daughter was forced to drop out of college after she completed her Intermediate studies because of threats from her stalker, who she identified as Gutti Rajesh.
Dharmavaram DSP Ramakanth said two men, Gutti Rajesh (23) and Sake Karthik (28), were arrested in this case. The government of Andhra Pradesh has announced an ex-gratia of Rs 10 lakh and four acres of farm land to the victim’s family, besides a government job to one of the family members.
On December 7, a 42-year old woman of Pedakudala village of Lingala mandal in Kadapa’s Pulivendula – which is represented by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy – was found dead in a field. She too was Dalit.
A day ago, the goats that the victim had taken grazing returned to the shed after sunset but the victim did not. Her mother found her mutilated body the next day.
The nature of her severe injuries pointed to the fact that she had been raped and struck with boulders. However, police denied the possibility of rape in this case too.
The opposition Telugu Desam Party gave a ‘Chalo Pulivendula’ call in protest, but police clamped a Section 144 on the area.
The two incidents, both ending in deaths of Dalit women, sparked public outrage.
Spurt in crimes against women
The state witnessed four cases of rape and murder, including the ones reported at Pulivendula and Dharmavaram in Rayalaseema region in December alone.
In its latest report for 2019 the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) said Andhra Pradesh ranked 8th in crimes against women, a 7% increase over the previous year.
Andhra Pradesh’s Director General of Police D. Gautam Sawang at the year-end media briefing on Wednesday too acknowledged the fact that that crimes against women is one area, where “a lot needs to be done”. A total of 12,784 crimes against women were reported in the state in 2020. “Women’s safety has a social dimension,’’ he said. The DGP however said police had helped more women report crimes.
“We are helping victims report crime through various means like Spandana, Disha mobile application, friendly policing and women friendly reception centres at every police station. With the initiatives, there has been an increase in reporting of cases by women,” Sawang asserted.
Vongalapudi Anitha, president of the TDP women wing Telugu Mahila, told The Wire that the state has witnessed more than 400 grave crimes against women, involving rape and murder, with victims mostly from the Dalit and Backward Classes backgrounds, in the last 18 months of the Jagan government. She accused the chief minister of failing to walk the talk when it came to women’s safety.
Vasireddy Padma, Andhra Pradesh Mahila Commission chairperson, dismissed TDP’s charge. “After all, crime is a societal problem. Linking it with politics and trying to gain political mileage is uncalled for,” Padma told The Wire.
Chief minister Jaganmohan Reddy’s brainchild, The Andhra Pradesh Disha Bill, 2019 (Andhra Pradesh Criminal Law (Amendment Act,2019) was passed by the assembly in December, 2019.
The bill, which failed to get the Centre’s nod, seeks to award the death penalty to rapists, besides ensuring investigation and trial of the cases relating to rape and murder within 21 days, seven days for investigation and charge sheeting by the police and 14 days for trial by judiciary.
The state government has already started taking steps to begin its implementation. It has begun setting up Disha police stations, one-stop centres, new forensic labs, special courts for trial and has launched a Disha app.
However, the Disha bill seemingly comes in conflict with the Central government’s Nirbhaya Act with regard to the provisions relating to death penalty for rape and the timeline for trial and investigation of cases.
State home minister Sucharita also brought up the Bill in the backdrop of addressing the latest crimes. However, critics say the Bill is vaguely worded and has the potential to infringe upon the liberties of people.
Law student Sriharsha Kandukuri has written, “At a time when the efficacy of death penalty is being questioned and doubts are cast on its deterrence the state Legislature of Andhra Pradesh did not think twice to include an option to impose the death penalty for rape”.