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How Assam accident became a ‘gangrape’ and sparked ‘outrage’

Sangita Sarmah,as she was identified,died after being shifted to GNRC Hospital in Guwahati.

Written by Samudra Gupta Kashyap | Lakhimpur |
December 6, 2013 2:40:38 am

On November 22,when Uma Gogoi and other passers-by found a woman lying unconscious on NH 15,just 200 metres from the Boginadi police station in Lakhimpur district in eastern Assam,they believed she was an accident victim.

But two days later,when she succumbed to her injuries,and her family filed an FIR suspecting it to be rape and murder,it triggered outrage far beyond the borders of the state and prompted the National Commission for Women to equate it with the Delhi gangrape of December 2012.

Sangita Sarmah,as she was identified,died after being shifted to GNRC Hospital in Guwahati. About an hour after her death,her husband’s elder brother Nitul Sarmah lodged an FIR in the Boginadi police station suspecting some unidentified men had tried to abduct her,raped her and then tried to murder her.

Police registered a case under Sections 365,376 and 302 of the IPC,the first two sections relating to rape.

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Investigations found that Sangita,28,wife of Bitumoni Sarmah of Kulabali village,was on her way to fetch her six-year old daughter Arpita from school when she was found bleeding on the highway.

“I had seen her board a tempo. The tempo already had three men apart from the driver. I had also spoken to her before she boarded the tempo,” Jimpi Chutia,a woman who runs a shop on NH 15,told The Indian Express.

Mahadeb Dorjee,whose paan-shop is about 100 metres from where Sangita was found,said he saw her lying face downwards and that she was bleeding from the right side of her head.

But as news of the FIR spread,groups such as the local students’ union,Mahila Samiti and opposition parties took over and organised protests and road blockades,so much so that some even began equating it with the December 16 Delhi gangrape.

With sections of the media reporting it as a gangrape in a moving tempo,NCW member Nirmala Samant issued a statement saying the incident was a reminder of the December 16 Delhi gangrape.

Sangita’s autopsy report of November 24 clearly said she had not been raped. But that did not stop the protests. One group even called a 12-hour Lakhimpur district bandh on November 27.

Groups which first accused the police of failing to identify the “culprits who committed the rape” also said police had even failed to identify the tempo from which Sangita had fallen.

Lakhimpur SP P K Bhuyan said police pursued the case as either murder or accident after the autopsy ruled out rape. But what added to the confusion was the arrest of a man who worked as a clerk in the school Sangita’s daughter studies and allegedly told the police he was having an affair with Sangita.

But it was only this Tuesday,when two men landed up in the Boginadi police station and claimed they were Sangita’s co-passengers and that she had fallen off the moving tempo,that things became clear.

“The two persons who belong to a village about 5 km from Boginadi voluntarily came to testify that they were witness to Sangita falling off the tempo,” said Bhuyan.

“When we asked them why they did not report it to the police earlier,they said they feared they might be arrested because the incident had already been publicised as one similar to the Delhi gangrape,” the officer said.

It was only after the autopsy confirmed that there was no rape that the two decided speak up,he said.

The police,meanwhile,arrested Saidur Ali and Abbas Ali,driver and handyman respectively of the tempo. “The driver continues to deny the woman fell from his tempo,but we have already confirmed that he told the tempo owner about the incident,” Bhuyan said.

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