Witness after witness, even police officers, turning hostile; victims openly alleging fear and intimidation; long delays in medical examination in gangrape cases, in one case a delay of three months; no cross-examination of doctors or police — the list goes on.
In 40 of the 41 Muzaffarnagar riot cases, all the accused walked free. An investigation of court records of these cases by The Indian Express shows that just as with the 10 cases of murder reported Friday, in the four cases of alleged gangrape and 26 cases of rioting as well, there were glaring gaps in prosecution which resulted in the acquittals of 168 men. All acquittals are in cases involving attacks on Muslims.
At least 65 people were killed in the 2013 riots, all these cases were registered and investigation began when the Akhilesh Yadav government was in power, the trial spanned both his and the current BJP government.
Consider the key findings in the four gangrape cases that the court used to justify the acquittals:
-A victim in one case deposed that her medical examination was conducted after three months. The doctor told the court: “We did not find any bodily injuries during the medical examination. It was found that she is 17 weeks pregnant.” There is no mention of the delay. Neither the doctor nor the investigation officer was cross-examined to explain the delay.
-In the second case, the victim was examined one full week after she filed her complaint. However, the acquittal order makes no mention of the doctor’s final opinion and only states that he proved the authenticity of the medical examination documents before court. There is no word on what his findings were.
-The third case merely mentions a “medical examination report”. Not only is the order silent on the findings in that report but court documents show that the doctor was not even listed as a witness. This is in clear violation of procedure under law.
-In the fourth case, the judgment points out that the victim was examined 40 days after she filed the complaint. The doctor deposed that the victim “is a mother of five children and conducting a medical examination is not justified…and there is no indication of rape.” The doctor wasn’t cross-examined to either explain the delay or his conclusion.
-In two cases of alleged gangrape, the victims told the court that they were “tutored” by police to name the accused. The police were not cross-examined to explain this.
-In the four cases, a total of seven witnesses, all relatives of the victims, did a U-turn in court and retracted their statements to the police. They said they fled to escape the mob and saw nothing.
-In two cases, witnesses, again relatives of the victims, deposed that it was not the police recorded their statement but “someone else” in the riot relief camps.
-Two victims told the court they were tutored by police to name the accused to get compensation. Two others testified that they were asked to sign on blank paper by an unnamed officer in riot relief camps.
The court concluded that in all the four gangrape cases, statements under Section 164 CrPC by the four victims “isn’t substantive evidence.”
An illustrative gangrape case is the one registered at the Phugana police station on September 26, 2013. The victim told The Indian Express: “I remember everything that happened that day. I was on the first floor and my family was on the ground floor. A mob of over 50 men carrying arms continuously were raising slogans and then started firing. Everyone on the ground floor escaped and I was left alone.”
“The accused barged in and dragged me. I tried to resist. Three of them committed gangrape. I can still identify each of one them. In fact, my mother-in-law also saw them. She can also identify them. They were the same people present in the court.”
She said that she initially used the Rs 5 lakh compensation to hire a lawyer from Delhi but later chose to buy a house in another village instead – a move that, she said, backfired. “The accused started coming to our new house. My husband was out on work for three months at a stretch. Since we have didn’t enough money, I was forced to work as a labourer during the harvest season where I cut grains. At work also, I was intimidated,” she said.
“After a few months, I could not afford a lawyer and no protection was given to me by police or court. Even during the trial, the accused were made to stand next to me. I continued to get threats and finally, my family decided not to pursue the case. The police told me I can win only if I have a private lawyer to fight the case. And when we earn less Rs 15,000 to feed eight people, where will we fight any case? I want to my family feel safe, without any threat. That is the only justice for me,” she said.
Not just murder and rape, the cases of rioting show that due process went out of the window in the 26 rioting cases as well.
Two cases stand out – both were filed by police officers on duty during the violence. And, during trial, the same officers told court they could not identify the accused.
Consider the key findings based on an investigation of records in these 26 cases:
-In 10 cases, not a single police officer was examined and 13 witnesses deposed that “some officials” took their signatures or thumb impressions on blank paper. Another 52 witnesses turned hostile to testify they had fled before the riots.
-In an FIR at the New Mandi police station in Muzaffarnagar district, police filed a rioting case against three accused. The FIR by sub-inspector (SI) Kali Charan stated: “At Bachan Singh Colony around 75 people, raising religious slogans, set shops on fire…I can clearly recognise the people involved in the violence.”
But during trial Charan told court that “he could not recognise the faces of the accused in the dark”. The court pulled up the police and said that it “it did not examine any of the witnesses whose shops were attacked”.
-At the same police station, another case filed by a police officer named nine accused. “I heard firing… and found that a mob was raising slogans saying they will defy the curfew. One of them started firing at police. We arrested the accused and a few fled from the spot,” stated SI Raghu Raj Singh in the FIR.
But in court he deposed: “I did not witness the firing. We tried to catch the accused but there was chaos at the spot where the incident took place.” Another officer, SI Raghuraj Bhati deposed: “Accused fled from the spot and neighbours did not tell us anything about their identity.”
Raghuraj testified in court that he “did not compile an arrest memo…While 5 persons were arrested by us, only the signatures of 4 are there in the official document.”
The UP government is not planning to appeal the acquittals. Speaking to The Indian Express, Dushyant Tyagi, District Government Counsel, Muzaffarnagar, said: “We are not filing appeals in any of 2013 Muzaffarnagar riot cases, which ended in acquittal, because in all cases, the prime witnesses were declared hostile by court after they did not support the prosecution theory. The chargesheets against the accused were filed on the statement of witnesses.”