Ismat Ara

New Delhi: Varun Hiremath, a 28-year-old journalist accused of rape, sexual assault and confinement by a 22-year-old woman, was granted interim protection from arrest on Friday by Delhi high court provided he joins the investigation when the police direct him to do so. Though no timeframe has been set for Hiremath, who is currently absconding, to present himself before the police, the court said it would take up the matter again on April 16.

The same day, the 22-year-old rape victim wrote a letter day addressed to the Commissioner of Police S.N. Shrivastava, Home Minister Amit Shah and Assistant Commissioner of Police Pragya Anand expressing her anguish at the lack of interest the authorities appear to be showing in apprehending the accused journalist.

Hiremath was an anchor with the ET Now channel at the time the criminal complaint was filed. In an email sent to The Wire on Sunday afternoon, Hina Jafri, head of corporate communication for the Times Network said, “Regarding the ongoing alleged rape case and subsequent investigation against Varun Hiremath, Times Network would like to state that Varun is no longer associated with ET NOW or any other brand of the Network.”

In her letter, the victim has drawn attention to the fact that the police authorities did not use their power to call for the presence of the applicant of anticipatory bail to court under Section 438 1(b) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) at the time of hearing. If the anticipatory bail of the accused is rejected, the police can immediately arrest him.

“Was there any legal strategy which prevented the invocation of this legal provision, meant as a protective device for victims?” the victim asked.

“I am given to understand that the prosecutor could have demanded the compulsory presence of Varun Hiremath at the time of hearing of his anticipatory bail application – and yet shockingly did not do so,” the letter read.

Delhi Police has charged Hiremath with Sections 376 (punishment of offence of rape), 342 (punishment for wrongful confinement) and 509 (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman) of the Indian Penal Code on February 23 when the FIR was filed after the woman’s complaint.

The victim also said that she has not yet received any acknowledgement or redressal of her previous concerns. “I have addressed multiple letter communications to you regarding the ongoing mismanagement of the investigation in my case, however, to the date of issuing this letter, I have not even received the courtesy of acknowledgement to my previous concerns, let alone any reassurance that things will change,” it read. She also accused ACP Anand of “mocking” her for writing letters.

On March 30, the 22-year-old woman had written a letter to the Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde, bringing his attention to the additional sessions judge’s “insensitive, inappropriate and traumatising” behaviour during an anticipatory bail hearing in the case. Her letter was officially received by the CJI’s office and she had been assured of an internal inquiry into her complaint.

Absconding for 50 days

The 22-year-old complainant’s counsel had objected to the interim protection on the grounds that Hiremath had been missing for close to 50 days since the case was registered on February 23.

“We have been searching for him, but he is evading us. He has also switched off his mobile phone,” Avinash Pratap, sub-inspector at Chanakyapuri police station, had told The Wire.

A single-judge bench of Justice Mukta Gupta said on Friday, “He has made out some case, it has to be verified. If it was a consensual relationship, it has to be verified…I have given a short date.” She added that the order can be modified once a report is received from the police after verification. The court also sought responses from both sides.

The additional sessions judge at the fast track courts in Patiala House had rejected Hiremath’s anticipatory bail on March 12 and said that the previous relationship of the parties was of no relevance in view of Sections 53A and 114A of the Indian Evidence Act.

“Considering the nature of (the) accusation made against the accused, evidence collected by the IO against him and the facts and circumstances, the gravity of offence and discussion made herein above, I am not inclined to grant anticipatory bail to the accused,” the order said.

The Bombay high court had also rejected anchor Varun Hiremath’s anticipatory bail application on March 1.

The anchor, in his anticipatory bail application, had claimed that he has been “falsely implicated” in the case. The woman and Hiremath had engaged in consensual sexual activity, the application said. It claimed that the 22-year-old’s “interest” in the accused became “clear” because she came from Pune to meet him in Delhi and went into the double occupancy room “willingly after giving her identity documents to the hotel management”.

The woman, in her complaint and statement before the magistrate had alleged rape at a five-star hotel in Chanakyapuri on February 20. She has said that her identity documents were shared with the hotel as part of their COVID-19 protocol and cannot conceivably be considered as consent.

Further, the victim’s letter said that such insensitivity by the police is what causes women to suffer in silence. It read, “This shocking degree of insensitivity towards my case is deeply distressing and also makes me understand the true reason as to why so many rape victims in our country choose to suffer in silence rather than to seek justice against their perpetrators.”

She added that she would reach out to the home minister, under whom Delhi Police work, in case the queries in this letter are not answered.