On October 25, a special POCSO court in Kerala’s Palakkad district acquitted three persons in connection with the rape of two minor Dalit sisters in Walayar, a region on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border, dating back to the year 2017. Another accused was held not guilty in an earlier judgment on September 30.
The two girls, aged 13 and nine, were found hanging inside their one-room home 52 days apart and post-mortem examinations had confirmed that the minors were subjected to sexual assault before their deaths. The judgment in the case last week, acquitting the accused, has kicked up a storm of protests in the state with civil society organisations and Opposition parties decrying the police investigation and political interference in the case.
So what happened in 2017?
On January 13, 2017, the older sister, aged 13, was found hanging on a rafter inside her one-room home by her younger sister, aged nine. The minor had later told the police that she had seen two men leaving the house that day, with their faces covered. A case of unnatural death was registered by the police even though the parents, both construction labourers, had alleged that their daughter was murdered.
Two months later, the younger sibling was also found hanging on the same rafter on March 4, shocking the family and the residents of the tiny village. Protests soon followed and the public pressure led the police to act swiftly and arrest five persons including a juvenile. They were charged under stringent provisions of the POCSO Act for rape and abetting suicide.
What do the victims’ family say?
The mother of the two minor girls has pointed to lapses in the police probe and interference at local political levels as reasons for the accused to go scot-free in the case. She alleged that the police twisted her statement in the complaint and used their own words. She dismissed reports that she gave a secret statement to the police claiming that her daughters may have committed suicide in order to prevent repeated sexual assaults.
“I have not said so. The police tried to make us believe that they committed suicide. Those are the words of the police. Then and now, I don’t believe my daughters took their own lives. They don’t have the intelligence to do such a thing. They are not tall enough to kill themselves like that. They were killed. The younger girl was an eye-witness to two men leaving the home after killing the older one. That’s why the younger one was killed too,” the girls’ mother told iemalayalam.com.
She said that she trusted the police then to conduct its probe impartially. They made us believe that they were with us, she said. “Only when the case reached the court did we realise that whatever we said never made it. They wrote whatever they deemed fit. The CBI must re-investigate the case. I will make this demand when I meet the chief minister,” she added.
What did the judgment say?
The September 30 judgment by Additional Sessions Judge Muralee Krishna S indicates that the prosecution could not bring to the fore strong evidence against the accused Pradeep Kumar, who lived near the victims’ family and was known to them.
“I have no hesitation to hold that the prosecution has miserably failed to prove the alleged offences against the accused beyond reasonable doubt,” the judge noted.
The court also found that there were contradictions in the depositions of the two prosecution witnesses. A statement by one of the witnesses in court that the accused had given the older minor a cell-phone to click his nude pictures was not found in her police statement.
The judgment also noted that there was no scientific evidence that could connect the accused to the offences mentioned in the chargesheet. The statement by the forensic surgeon, who performed the postmortem of the older girl, that the victim’s anal injuries could be due to piles infection went in favour of the accused.
What are the new developments in the case?
The widespread protests by the Congress, BJP and even the CPI, a member of the ruling LDF regime in the state, has provoked the government to take strong action in the case and possibly even order a fresh investigation. There is a demand from the Opposition as well as from the victim’s family for a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
The government took the first step by replacing N Rajesh, chairman of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) in Palakkad who had ironically appeared as a lawyer earlier for one of the accused. The lawyer, who had represented accused Pradeep Kumar in the trial phase, was later appointed by the government as the CWC chairman leading many to question whether he could have interfered in the case.
The rape case and the acquittal of the accused also found an echo in the state Assembly with Opposition MLAs slamming the government for the manner in which the police handling the case. The MLAs from the Congress also pointed fingers at the political affiliations of the accused and how the local CPM leadership allegedly interfered in the case to protect their partymen.
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