ON JUNE 26, the day the eight-year-old became the victim of a brutal gangrape in Madhya Pradesh’s Mandsaur, her grandmother was late by half an hour in picking her up from school. Family members say they started looking for the girl when she didn’t return after school closing time of 5 pm, and that the private school dissuaded them from approaching the police. They also ask how the school let her go with strangers, who allegedly later raped her.
The next morning, a neighbourhood boy found her walking around dazed and alerted a man passing by, who in turn approached police. The girl, who is admitted in a hospital, is now recovering, and doctors said she is out of danger.
The two accused who are under arrest, Irfan Khan, 20, and Asif, 24, live in a locality near the girl’s school. Police said footage from a CCTV in the area showing the girl walking away with the two had helped them zero in on the accused. They said the accused offered the girl some sweets and told her they would take her to her father, who was waiting some distance away.
Police claim to have collected clothes stained with blood and semen from Irfan’s and Asif’s houses, and say they have sufficient evidence against the two. They are now waiting to record the victim’s statement.
Demanding quick punishment for the two accused, the girl’s grandmother said, “They had left her to die. She was lucky to survive.” She also asked how the school could be so careless with a small child.
The school’s CCTV cameras were found to be turned off after 2 pm that day, reportedly due to a power cut. The watchman and other staff said they were not aware at what point the victim left the school.
The girl’s uncle said, “The school did not want us to approach the police either to lodge a missing person’s complaint immediately, to ensure it does not get a bad name.”
Irfan lives in a rented house with his parents. The youngest of six siblings, including five married sisters, the 20-year-old does odd jobs like working as a cleaner on trucks. Asif, 24, who lives nearby and was known to Irfan, is married and has two children, aged four and one.
Irfan’s father Zahir, a driver, said if his son was involved, he should be hanged. However, he added that police should also investigate if he “acted at someone’s behest”. “I want a detailed probe to find if others were involved too,” Zahir said, adding, “Which child will follow a stranger unless told by someone known?”
Explaining the blood on Irfan’s clothes which were taken by police from their home, Zahir said his son had fought with someone in the market that afternoon. However, Zahir admitted that Irfan was a habitual drinker, while the neighbours said he was a notorious figure. Police said both Irfan and Asif would often loiter around the school.
Asif’s mother Salma said she wanted whoever raped the girl to be hanged too, “but I am sure my son is innocent”. She said her son’s only fault was that he was with Irfan that day. Pointing out that she had asked Asif to run away after his name started doing the rounds following Irfan’s arrest, Salma said, “Asif should not be punished for what he did not do. If he was involved, would he have stayed at home?”
Salma added that Asif continues to maintain his innocence. “He wants an early identification parade because he is confident the victim won’t identify him.” The two families also want police to probe if there was a kidnapping for ransom angle to the rape. The victim’s family had recently sold land for nearly Rs 1.5 crore, which is confirmed by police.
Mandsaur SP Manoj Singh said they were looking at all angles. “Rape is confirmed and we have evidence against both. There is video footage of the accused accompanying the girl… No matter what emerges later, it won’t lessen the severity of the crime,” he said. About action against the school, the SP said there was no provision for the same, but said they had informed the district education officer and it was up to them to act.
Four days after the rape, anger persisted on the streets of Mandsaur and many other towns of Madhya Pradesh. Several state board schools were closed Saturday. Speaking at an event in Jabalpur where Chief Justice of India Dipak Mishra was present, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan promised a speedy trial in a fast-track court.
Protesters in Mandsaur demanded that the accused be hanged, others said the punishment should be more “exemplary” than even hanging. Some of these protests, which have had people spilling onto the streets, were initially fuelled by social media rumours that the assault had caused the rape victim to lose her limbs or even her life.
The Muslim community also held a rally in support of the girl, where it was declared that they would not provide space in their graveyards for the accused, “when they were sentenced to death”. “Such criminals have no religion or caste. We will boycott the families,” said community leader Bhurabhai Mev.
Meanwhile, the victim’s school on Saturday organised a ‘Mahamrituynjay Jaap’ for her speedy recovery. They refused to talk about her family’s charges of negligence.