It took the Rajasthan police seven days to make the first arrest after an 18-year-old Dalit woman complained that she was gangraped by five men in Alwar, in front of her husband. In that crucial seven-day gap, the accused men threatened her family repeatedly, demanded Rs 10,000 and even circulated a video of the sexual assault on social media.
And police even told the complainant and her family that they would have to wait until polling ended in the region — Alwar was among 12 seats in Rajasthan that went to polls on May 6 — and only a day later, police made its first arrest.
Speaking to the complainant’s family, police officers and witnesses, The Indian Express found glaring gaps in the police response between April 30, when the crime was reported to the police, and May 7, when the first arrest was made: from ignoring established protocol in dealing with complaints, particularly involving women and Dalits to delays in registering an FIR and recording the complainant’s statement.
Following sharp criticism, Alwar SP Rajeev Pachar has been removed and the local SHO suspended for inaction. Under fire, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot Friday said the matter will be taken up under the case officer scheme, wherein police will monitor the entire prosecution process. He also announced two new steps — a nodal officer to monitor crime against women and a new provision to file FIRs at the SP’s office.
On April 26, five bike-borne men on the Alwar-Thanagazi highway forcibly abducted a couple and dragged them behind sand dunes off the road. They gangraped the woman in front of her husband, filmed the act and robbed the couple of Rs 2,000.
According to the complainant’s brother-in-law, the accused started calling her husband on April 28, demanding Rs 10,000 and threatening that they would circulate the video if they were not paid.
“On April 29, my brother told us about the incident and I spoke with the accused when they called. I was told that they will let us know where we have to come with the money and that after they receive it, the video will be deleted,” said her brother-in-law.
The family then hit the first barrier when they could not file an FIR at the Thanagazi police station. They went to the office of the Alwar SP on April 30, accompanied by Thanagazi MLA Kanti Prasad. But no FIR was lodged on April 30 or May 1.
“The SP read our application, wrote his own remarks on it and told us to go to the Thanagazi police station. We went there in the evening, where they heard about our case and asked my brother to stay at the police station for the night saying that the police will be carrying out raids and would need him to identify the accused. However, no arrests were made and my brother returned to the village on the afternoon of May 1,” said her brother-in-law.
According to the woman’s father, they received information that the accused were at a nearby village, “partying”. “For the next two days, we told police whenever we heard that the accused were nearby but they took no action. They told us to wait until the elections got over,” said her father.
Three days after the matter was reported to the police, the FIR was finally lodged on May 2. And though her medical tests were completed on May 2 and 3, neither were their statements recorded nor the accused arrested.
That’s when the video of the sexual assault surfaced on social media. The complainant’s brother-in-law said when they went to the police about the video, they were told there were few policemen available due to the elections and told them to go to Alwar.
Another three days later, the first arrest in the case was made on May 7 after elections concluded in the Dausa Lok Sabha seat, of which Thanagazi is an Assembly segment. Everyone from the administration to the police claimed the election process had delayed the case.
“It’s not true that the matter was covered up due to the elections. The victim’s family initially didn’t speak about the incident. They came to me on April 30 and told me that their FIR couldn’t be lodged. I took them to the SP’s office who directed the SHO to take action in the matter…The SHO even tried for two days but it was election time…,” said Thanagazi MLA Kanti Prasad Meena, an Independent. He won the Assembly elections last year as a Congress rebel and has now pledged support to the Congress government.
Jaipur IGP S Sengathir said there was a two-day delay in registering the FIR. “That is wrong and shouldn’t have happened. We have suspended the SHO and an inquiry is going on. The court was closed due to holiday from Saturday until Tuesday which resulted in the delay in recording the statement of the victims,” he said.
“At times the information about whereabouts of accused come in but in many cases, the tip-off can be wrong as well. But it’s also true that they couldn’t be arrested at that time,” he said on the woman’s family’s allegation that police didn’t act on their information.
The state government has ordered an administrative inquiry by the Jaipur Divisional Commissioner to probe lapses in following guidelines.
Consider some of the norms police ignored:
* As per a Rajasthan Police circular of June 1990 which provides guidelines for investigation in atrocities against Dalits, as soon as such a case comes to light, officials in the Crime Branch and Intelligence wing have to be intimated. Sources told The Indian Express that police headquarters was kept in the dark about the matter until the video surfaced on social media.
* The FIR was not registered until May 2, three days after the matter was first reported on April 30.
The woman’s statement was recorded almost a week after the FIR but a Rajasthan Police circular of October 2003 states that delays in recording statements of victims in SC, ST cases under Section 164 CrPC affect the investigation process and the accused try to put pressure on the victim. In this case, the accused called and threatened the woman’s family over several days.
April 26: The 18-year-old Dalit woman is gangraped and the act filmed by the accused.
April 27: The husband returns to Jaipur, the woman stays at the house in their village.
April 28: The accused call her husband, demand Rs. 10,000; threaten to circulate the video.
April 29: Her husband tells his family about the incident; his brother speaks to the accused, who demand money.
April 30: Facing difficulty in registering the FIR, her family meets Alwar SP Rajeev Pachar. No FIR is registered.
May 1: Her relatives go back to the SP’s office urging police to arrest the accused. No action is taken.
May 2: FIR is registered.
May 3: Police tell the family that they are busy with the elections and don’t have sufficient personnel.
May 4: The video is circulated on social media.
May 5-6: No action.
May 7: First arrest in the case.