The suicide of the minor dalit girl in Kunduli of Koraput district in Odisha on 22 January is a moment of reckoning for everyone fighting against the heinous crime of violence against women. She had accused four security personnel of gangrape on October 10, 2017. Very typical of incidence of sexual violence where the accused happen to be police, army or security forces, this incident of sexual assault too went through the usual round of inordinate delays and denial of gangrape. The suicide of the young victim who was very keen to pursue her studies but was never able to get out of the raging controversy and heightened media publicity is a bitter reminder of the continued impunity of rapists in uniform, and of the brazen collusion of the state in denying justice to those who, like this young girl, refuse to remain silent.
Getting justice for survivors of sexual assault has always been uphill in this misogynist and patriarchal society. It becomes even tougher when the state machinery itself puts formidable barriers to protect the accused. In this case, the Odisha government and district administration did exactly that.
Let us have a look at the series of events that went against the complaint of the girl.
The Human Rights Cell of the government on November 7 ruled out the possibility of gangrape due to lack of evidence based on the medical report in their possession. After 17 days of the incident she was kept in the district child welfare committee (CWC).
The girl had repeatedly expressed her distress at not being believed to journalists and others who visited her in the hospital.
There was action taken to identify the culprits from her description or the fact that the accused were in uniform. Instead the police picked up four boys from the same village for interrogation who were beaten up too. The police had also forcefully taken one of them for a lie detection test to an undisclosed location in Bhubaneswar.
The DGP had listed the matter under the red-flag category and initial statements by the police even blamed the Maoists.
The demand for withdrawal of security forces by local organizations and the community involved went completely unheeded.
The denial of gangrape by the police and administration in the absence of a thorough enquiry and the long delays accompanied by constant media publicity deepened the distress and anxiety of the family and the community. One can only imagine what it can do to a young girl.
The girl first attempted suicide on November 18, 2017 when she swallowed an overdose of iron tablets and was rushed to SCB Medical College hospital in Cuttack. Her mother made a complaint of forceful detention and she was finally discharged from the hospital on November 27. If there has been no gangrape, there was absolutely no need for the police and administration to confine her to the hospital under heavy security.
The Chief Minister ordered a probe by a district judge on November 8. The judicial commission was constituted on January 6. The enquiry was underway.
In end December the girl once again went on record saying that she was being bribed by senior police personnel to withdraw her case. That perhaps was her last public statement. Her suicide note is in the hands of the police as media reports suggest.
WSS expresses deep grief at the death of the girl and stands in solidarity with her friends, family and community. It is indeed the cruelest of times and the cruelest of societies where a 16-year old puts an end to the ordeal by using her own scarf to hang herself and end the fiasco of seeking justice. Even as we write this statement we cannot do away with the foremost thought on our minds – who is responsible for this suicide?
Ø WSS demands that the Odisha government follows the investigation to the end and punishes the guilty. We also demand stringent punishment be meted to all those responsible for delaying the investigation process.
Ø WSS demands that the Odisha government withdraws all security forces from the area. Women and girls are never safe in such areas. The deployment of security forces and army by no way implies de facto impunity to rape at will.
Ø WSS appeals to all democratic and progressive forces in Odisha and elsewhere to strengthen the struggle for a society free of sexual violence. Let’s work towards a society where those violated do not have to choose the noose in future but are able to live with dignity and with courage. Sexual violence is not only a women’s issue. The culpability of a patriarchal culture where sexual violence is the everyday norm involves entire society at large.
Ranjana Padhi, Pramodini Pradhan, Sudha Bhardwaj, Kalyani Menon,Shobha Raghavan,Rinchin and Madhuri Krishnaswamy
For Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression