A Similar Incident in Assam’s Gohpur Town Reveals India’s ‘Rape Culture’
By Jayanta Kalita in Guwahati
A lone woman with a placard saying, “We demand justice for Gohpur girl,” might not have attracted much attention amid the crowd that gathered in Delhi’s Jantar Mantar area on Oct. 2 to protest against the Uttar Pradesh state government’s alleged mishandling of the gangrape of a Dalit woman in Hathras district.
However, what she tried to highlight there was an equally shocking incident of gangrape and murder of a minor girl in February, about 2,000 kilometres away in the northeastern state of Assam.
About seven months later, those accused of committing the crime are out on bail and roaming freely, even threatening and intimidating the victim’s family, alleged Shyamjyoti Saikia, who had taken part in the protest.
While the Hathras case sparked nationwide outrage, this family from Assam continues to fight for justice, away from the media glare, she said.
Saikia, who has done her Ph.D. from the Centre for Political Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, also belongs to Assam’s Gohpur town. She has been running an online campaign #JusticeForGohpurGirl ever since the incident came to light.
“I was all alone in that crowded protest venue, holding a placard for the Gohpur girl. Did people care about my voice, I doubt … All I needed was a few strong voices to raise my issue; sadly the story from the frontier region did not find an audience, except a few journalists whose attention was caught perhaps by the use of the Assamese language in the placard,” she said with a sense of regret.
The Gohpur Story
On Feb. 28, the 11-year-old girl from the ethnic Mising community was sexually assaulted allegedly by a group of nine teenagers, economically richer, in a remote area in northern Assam’s Gohpur town. Her body was found hanging from a tree near her house the next day.
Area residents alleged that the girl was invited for a dinner by the accused, who were celebrating after the completion of their Class X board exams and committed the crime. Four of them were from the victim’s village.
Initially, the victim’s father, a marginalised farmer, had filed a complaint at the Gohpur police station in Biswnath district, saying his daughter was abducted by four boys and that she was gang-raped. Later, villagers found the involvement of five more teenagers in the alleged rape and murder of the girl, claimed Madhab Patgiri, a school teacher who has been helping the victim’s family in legal matters.
Accordingly, the police registered a case and took the accused – all juveniles – in custody on March 1. They were charged under Sections 366A (procuration of a minor girl), 376D (gangrape), 302 (murder), 34 (crime committed by several persons with a common intention) of the Indian Penal Code besides Section 4 (penetrative sexual assault) of the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012 on Feb. 28.
The police filed charges within the 90 days as prescribed by Section 167 (2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure. However, before that, a magistrate’s court had granted bail to all the accused.
“CCL (children in conflict with law) were in the observation home for more than 80 days. Hence, considering the period of detainment and the progress of the investigation, I deem it fit that CCL…are allowed to go on bail…,” the magistrate had said in the order.
The victim’s father alleged that the accused, who come from well-to-do families, had been harassing him and his family since they came out on bail three months earlier.
“Around 10 pm on Sept. 29, they came to my house, broke one of the doors and threatened me and my family with dire consequences,” the 35-year-old man said.
The accused had been threatening that his other two daughters – both younger to the victim – would be abducted and the entire family would be killed if the rape-murder case against them was not withdrawn, Dhrubajyoti Bora, the general secretary of the All Assam Student’ Union (AASU), Biswnath Chariali unit, claimed.
A case of murder attempt was registered against the accused, based on the complaint of the victim’s father, Bora said, adding that no action had been taken against them. StoriesAsia has reviewed a copy of the complaint.
Confirming this, Gohpur sub-divisional police officer (SDPO) Subhalaxmi Dutta said, “Four of them have been picked up, and the investigation is on.”
The AASU and the Mising student group Takam Mising Porin Kebang (TMPK) are among the several organisations that staged a protest and formed a human chain in June demanding that the trial in the case be moved to a fast-track court and the accused be given exemplary punishment.
According to Patgiri, a committee constituted by the Biswanath district’s deputy commissioner has suggested that the four of the accused may be tried as adults. “The committee roped in medical experts to conduct an age-verification test on the accused. Later, they came out with a report saying four of them should be treated as adults since they are found to be 17 plus,” he said.
The distraught father, however, has demanded death sentence for the accused. “What they did was the most heinous crime and I would expect no less than a death sentence for them,” he said.
Demand for Reinvestigation
Upset with the alleged mishandling of the case, area residents have been demanding reinvestigation in the case. They have also raised questions over the forensic report, which said, “Due to presence of blood, the presence of semen could not be examined.” StoriesAsia has reviewed a copy of this report.
The Supreme Court verdict in the State of Uttar Pradesh versus Babul Nath case in 1994 clearly stated that “to constitute the offence of rape it is not at all necessary that there should be complete penetration of the male organ with the emission of semen,” which means, an attempt to penetrate may also be termed as rape.
“The police probe is far from satisfactory. If possible, we want a reinvestigation into the case by a high-ranking police officer,” said TMPK leader Hemjit Patgiri.
According to the SDPO, the case diary and the charge-sheet have already been submitted to the court, and the trial will begin soon. “I cannot comment on the issue of reinvestigation,” Dutta said.
However, the biggest hurdle for the family belonging to below the poverty line – an international benchmark of an income of 150 rupees per day per head of purchasing power parity – is the lack of monetary support from the government.
Local organisations have submitted a memorandum to the government seeking compensation for the victim’s family, but to no avail.
“The apathy of the state government towards the victim’s family has been appalling, to say the least,” said Shaheen Ahmed, a writer and women’s rights researcher from Guwahati, who is doing her Ph.D. in Cultural Studies at Monash University, Australia. “It is indeed shocking to know that the state has offered no compensation of any sort to the distraught parents of the girl so far. The state government must offer all the help it can to this family and ensure that they receive their due justice.”
Recalling her involvement in the campaign to seek justice for the family, Saikia said, “Some local organisations had been relentlessly working on the ground with the parents of the victim. The case caught some attention only when a regional news channel hosted a talk show with the victim’s parents. But the fight for justice for the Gohpur girl is still on and the collective effort is the need of the hour for the timely delivery of justice.”
Ahmed, however, expressed her disappointment with the various women’s rights groups in Assam for “not pursuing the Gohpur case.”
“I am happy to see that women have now taken to the streets (in Guwahati) against the brutal Hathras gangrape and murder, as they should, but the deafening silence over the Gohpur victim is painful. It has been over seven months since the incident, why has Guwahati (the capital city) not seen any protest in support of the victim’s family to get justice so far?” she asked.
Calling it “Assam’s Nirbhaya case” Patgiri blamed the media for not properly highlighting the Gohpur case. “Sadly, the indigenous people are at the receiving end today; nobody seems to be bothered about them,” he said. The 2012 Nirbhaya case in Delhi had shaken the conscience of the nation. Four men convicted of the gang rape and murder of the victim were hanged.
Rising Crime Against Women
In 2018, Assam earned the dubious distinction of recording the highest rate of crime against women – at 166 per 100,000 population – almost three times the national average of 58.8, beating Delhi’s crime rate of 149.6. The latter is usually considered the most unsafe city for women in India.
However, the most disturbing trend is the rising number of crime committed by juveniles. The government’s National Crime Records Bureau data show that the number of “educated” juvenile offenders in India – those who have studied up to Class XII – increased to 6,260 in 2017, from 4,244 in the previous year.
“This particular rape and murder case (of Gohpur) is not only a huge tragedy but also shocking. Both the victim and the perpetrators are reportedly minors. How is it that minors in remote villages of Assam are committing such horrific crimes? What is driving them to do so?” asked Ahmed.
“Not only the victim’s family be accorded immediate justice, but there must be a deeper sociological and psychological study done on minors in Assam. This case may be the symptom of a bigger malaise plaguing our society,” she concluded.
(Jayanta Kalita is a Delhi-based journalist and author.)
Top Photograph: Shyamjyoti Saikia at a protest in Delhi’s Jantar Mantar area on Oct. 2. (Credit: Pramod)
Jayanta Kalita is a journalist and author based in Delhi.