By Ila Ananya
In the days after the communal riots in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar in September 2013, seven women approached the police. They reported that they had been gang-raped by Jat men during the riots. According to journalists and teams working in the area after the riots, they found many Muslim women who had been victims of targeted sexual violence — women who said they had been assaulted, raped, or gang-raped.
The riots in Muzaffarnagar began on 7th September, 2013, at a gathering in a village outside Muzaffarnagar. Hindu leaders from the Jat community addressed over 10,000 people, talking about the death of two Hindu men in an altercation with Muslim men. Inflammatory speeches were made by Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, demanding that Hindus take revenge. The violence that broke out after this lasted three days, killing over 60 people, and forcing thousands of Muslim families to leave their homes.
Back then, the seven women were promised that swift action would be taken against the accused. The Uttar Pradesh government formed a special investigative team to look into their cases, but now, more than three years later, a report called Losing Faith: The Muzaffarnagar gang rape survivors struggle for justice by Amnesty India shows that these women have faced threats and harassment ever since they approached the police.
The details of each of these cases in Amnesty India’s report shows a shocking and infuriating slowness on the part of the police and government. In all seven cases, while the FIR was first registered by the police in September 2013 (in one woman’s case it was October 2013). One woman approached the police twice and waited for a month for the FIR to be filed, while another waited four months because her first complaint was ignored.
Charge-sheets in each of these cases were first filed by the police many months later — two were filed in April 2014, three in May 2014, one in September 2014. In one case, no charges have even been filed yet. Only one trial is underway, and one is yet to begin. Another is still at the stage of recording evidence. One even ended in acquittal last year, and in August 2016, one of the complainants died during childbirth before she had an opportunity to testify in court.
According to the report, the Allahabad High Court granted bail to all three of the accused men in one of the cases in December 2014, January 2015, and February 2015. The condition was that they wouldn’t be allowed to “seek adjournments on the dates fixed for evidence when the witnesses are present in court.” Nevertheless, the adjournments were repeatedly sought by the accused — and granted by the ‘fast-track’ court hearing the case. This woman’s trial is currently suspended because she petitioned the Allahabad High Court to transfer the case out of Muzaffarnagar.
These delays aren’t all. The women have also been repeatedly threatened with consequences if they didn’t withdraw the case — since the accused are free and in the same village as these women. One woman was offered 15 lakh to withdraw the case, after which she says the accused threatened to kill her and her family. Two women withdrew their statements after they were threatened: one survivor reportedly withdrew her complaint after she was denied police protection, and three of the accused men held a pistol to her son’s head, demanding that she say she had filed a false rape case.
From the report, it also seems that if it isn’t threat from the accused, some of the women even reported being threatened by the Investigating Officer who had first been appointed to lead the investigation. One of the survivors said the officer had told her to withdraw her complaint, accusing her of fabricating the case. Three years after the riots, why are the courts, police, and government still silent?