The Jharkhand Police Saturday arrested two of six men allegedly involved in the abduction and gangrape of five women last week in Khunti district of Jharkhand.
Police said the accused had inserted a gun and a piece of wood in the private parts of at least two women and that the entire incident was filmed on mobile phones. Police also said that a member of the management committee of the school, from where the women were abducted, was arrested as he did not try and stop the abduction of the women or inform the police.
The five women were part of a troupe that was to stage a street play against human trafficking in Kochang.
According to the police, the crime was pre-planned and carried out with “an intention of vengeance and to teach the victims a lesson”. The accused were allegedly Patthalgarhi supporters and members of the Maoist splinter group, People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI), said police. According to sources, Johan Jonas Tidu, the alleged second-in-command of the Patthalgarhi movement in the region, had planned the abduction.
Additional Director General (Operations) and Jharkhand police spokesperson R K Mullik said: “We have arrested two persons for the alleged crime of rape. The Father of the school from where the girls were abducted has also been arrested. The women were later raped nearly eight km away in a forest.”
The arrested school management member has been identified as Father Alphons Aind, a member of the management committee of the R C Mission School of Kochang village, which has around 900 students. Basil Kido, Secretary, All Churches Committee, said he was not in a position to comment on the developments as he was not aware of the issue. He also said that he has not been in touch with office-bearers in Khunti.
“The Father told them (accused) that they were nuns and asked the men to leave them. He even asked the five women to go with the accused, assuring them that nothing would happen to them. The accused then left with the women and male members (of the troupe) to the forest of Chhota Uli, about 8 km from the school,” said Mullik.
A senior police officer confirmed that the sexual assault was brutal and that the accused had inserted foreign objects, like a piece of wood and even a gun, in the private parts of at least two women.
“The accused also forced the male members (of the troupe) to urinate in their hands and drink the same. They told them that they had committed a grave mistake by coming to this area and needed to be taught a lesson so that they never returned,” said Mullik.
According to Mullik, the gangrape was planned by Johan Jonas Tidu, who had gathered some of his associates after he was informed that the troupe, which had finished a performance in Khunti Bazaar, was about to perform at the school.
“He told his associates that these people, who are performing in the name of anti-human-trafficking, also create awareness against Patthalgarhi. And, therefore, they need to be taught a lesson. Upon this, six men, carrying arms, reached the school on two motorcycles,” said Mullik.
The six accused had asked the performers how they entered the area without their permission, despite Patthalgarhi being practised in the village, sources said. According to police, the accused then forced them to get into a car also tried to forcibly abduct two nuns, which Aind stopped.
Over the last few months, Patthalgarhi has gained ground in this region including Khunti, Seraikela-Kharsawan, Simdega and Chaibasa districts. A traditional practice in which family members put up stone slabs in memory of their ancestors, Patthalgarhi has been used as a form of protest by some self-styled leaders, who claim the “gram sabha is supreme” and that the writ of the Indian government and the state police would not run in villages where Patthalgarhi is practised. Kochang is among half-a-dozen villages which witnessed Patthalgarhi on March 6.
After the assault, the troupe members were taken back to the school, police said and when the matter was brought to the notice of Aind and the two sisters, they allegedly tried to hush things up. It was only around 9 pm on June 20 – the next day – that police was informed about the incident. The administration and the police then searched for all the women who were assaulted and on the basis of their statement, registered a case.
Sources also said that there was evidence to believe that the troupe may have been “trapped” into performing in Kochang village.
“Four days before the incident, the troupe was performing at Khunti Bazar against human trafficking. A man, posing as the village pradhan of Kochang, approached them and appreciated their effort. He also invited them to Kochang. We have now verified that the pradhan of Kochang is a woman and the man as described by the troupe does not fit the description of any village head here. We are investigating this further,” an officer said.
The three men arrested Saturday were produced in court Saturday and sent to judicial custody after their statements under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) were recorded before a magistrate. The two others arrested are Ajoob Sandi Purty, a resident of Lada Uli village and Ashish Longon, a resident of Burumkel village, both in West Singhbum district.
According to the police, the two men were involved in the gangrape and their criminal antecedents were being ascertained. On Friday, the police released a photograph of another suspect, who is allegedly associated with the PLFI. Sources in the police said that Tidu also claimed that the troupe had acted against the PLFI.
The PLFI has had a strong presence in Khunti and surrounding districts, but over the last two years, police have managed to arrest several leaders, which has decreased its influence.
While the school in Kochang, around 90 km from Ranchi, remained closed, villagers remain tight-lipped about the incident. The women have been kept at an undisclosed shelter home and are being counselled. A delegation of the State Commission for Women, along with members of the National Commission of Women also visited Khunti to meet the women.