August, 2021: When you are well-connected with the rich and powerful, you can get away with the most heinous of crimes, while the poor and marginalised are destined to be oppressed. A woman in Odisha decided to take her oppressors on, but paid a heavy price. The cruel society that brooks no dissent swiftly ganged up to muzzle her voice, pushing her towards doom.
Trushna Rani Nath of Mirzapur Nathasahi village in Bhadrak district has committed suicide after being molested by a 65-year-old man. The accused, Shiekh Muskin, and his sons had allegedly threatened Trushna and her family of dire consequences after they complained at the local police station, which led to Muskin’s arrest.
Trushna was 20. Her Aadhaar card shows her year of birth as 2001.
As per Trushna’s father, the police had been pressurising the family to withdraw the case telling ominous tales about Muskin’s contacts with the high and the mighty. Muskin was released on bail within a few days of his arrest.
Though he has been re-arrested following Trushna’s suicide, her family says the police continue to save the accused by cooking up “false stories” about the deceased woman.
The case in detail:
The case has received scant coverage in the national media. Rashtra Jyoti talked in detail to Trushna’s father Rajendra Nath.
He said that on 2 August, Trushna, had gone along with two of her friends Debina and Rubi Nath to a Shiva temple in Purana Bazar area around nine in the morning. On her way home Trushna decided to buy chocolates for her two younger sisters from a nearby paan shop. It was a hot day and Trushna asked her friends to wait under a tree till she returned.
When Trushna asked the aged shopkeeper to give her chocolates for five rupees, the man told her to take them out of the box herself. As soon as she put her hand into the box, the shopkeeper — 65-year-old Muskin — grabbed her hand and dragged her into a narrow passage beside his shop. Trushna raised an alarm, but Muskin raised the volume of the music playing in his shop, and Trushna’s cries for help got drowned in the din, said Rajendra.
“He (Muskin) touched my daughter inappropriately and tried to rape her. He tried to do bad things with her. She screamed and shouted for help but he covered her face with his hands,” a distraught Rajendra said, his voice choking.
With Trushna taking an unusually long time to return, her friends got worried and started looking for her. Trushna’s frantic screams finally reached her friends’ ears and they rushed to the shop. They saw Muskin holding Trushna by the neck, covering her mouth with his hands. The two girls shouted for help and as a desperate measure, hit Muskin with their slippers, which forced Muskin to let go of Trushna.
Rajendra said his version is based on what the girl told him after returning home. He said he also inquired with Trushna’s two friends, and they testified to the version.
Rajendra says Muskin threatened Trushna that he would kill her family members if she dared to tell anyone about the incident. When an undaunted Trushna told Muskin that she would, Muskin replied that he would turn Trushna’s life into a living hell.
On returning home, Trushna narrated her ordeal to her mother Basanti Nath. Rajendra, who supplies bread to nearby grocery shops and works in paddy fields, reached home only by three in the afternoon. Rajendra’s wife told him about what Trushna had gone through. The father got an FIR filed at Purana Bazar police station (number 0264/2021). That evening, the police called Rajendra for further investigation and took him to the paan shop where the incident had allegedly taken place.
“I shouted for help. Two of my friends who were standing a few metres away came and rescued me. Shiekh Muskin slapped me and two of my friends hit him with slippers to rescue me,” Trushna told the police, as per Rajendra.
On Trushna’s statement, Muskin was booked under section 341(wrongful restraint), section 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) and section 354 (outraging a woman’s modesty) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and section 12 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO), 2012. He was arrested.
As per Rajendra, the police however kept hounding Trushna and her family, putting pressure on them to settle for a compromise. He says the police asked him how much money he wanted to withdraw his complaint.
Rajendra says he refused to settle the case and rejected all offers of monetary compensation. He says the police told him that Muskin was an influential man and the father of six sons, and that moving ahead with the case would put Trushna and her family at serious risk.
Rajendra says Trushna, who until then had been confident that she would get substantial help and support from the police, was unnerved. She emerged from the interrogation weeping.
Muskin was released on bail after two-three days. Rajendra says that while Muskin was in jail, his sons Sameer and Tunnu repeatedly came to his house to ask him to take the FIR back and settle the case. When Rajendra refused, they started threatening him and his family.
Muskin’s release emboldened the family and the threats intensified. Rajendra says the accused and his sons warned him that his two other daughters would meet the same fate as their elder sister if Rajendra did not take the case back.
The threats became an everyday affair, he says. On August 8, around nine in the morning, Trushna hanged herself by a piece of cloth.
Rajendra says he was working in the field while his wife was busy with household chores when Trushna took the drastic step. Rajendra rushed home on hearing what had happened, only to find his daughter dead. He informed the police immediately.
Muskin was re-arrested. He was booked under IPC section 306 (abetment of suicide).
Rajendra said in his statement in the new FIR (number 0269/2021 filed on August 8) that his daughter was not able to bear the mental torture that she was put through and, as a result, had committed suicide.
Rashtra Jyoti talked to the Officer-in-Charge of the Purana Bazar police station, Prakash Chandra Prusty. He said that the accused was put under jail custody for eight days.
Rajendra’s family, hailing from a caste that falls in Other Backward Class (OBC) category, is not financially well off. Trushna had to drop out of school after class 10. Her two younger sisters – Lakshmi (7) and Saboni (8) – go to a government school.
Their house was burnt in December in an accident. Rajendra received Rs 1 lakh from the government to rebuild the house – a kutcha mud house.
Rajendra says it became almost an unwinnable battle for such a financially weak family to take on the well-connected Muskin, who also had strength in numbers in the form of six sons to engage in a long-drawn-out fight.
Rajendra accuses the police of siding with the culprit and “defaming” her daughter after her death.
He says the police are floating the theory that a failed affair pushed her to take her own life. He says the police are trying to establish that Trushna loved a boy whom she kept in touch with using her mobile phone and, when things did not work out, she committed suicide.
Rajendra says the theory is false as Trushna did not even possess a mobile phone. When asked, police station in-charge Prakash Chandra Prusty acknowledged that Trushna did not keep a phone, but disconnected the call when asked if Trushna had killed herself due to a failed affair.
Local social and political activists have rallied behind Trushna’s family. The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Prishad (ABVP) and some Hindu groups have held candlelight marches calling for justice for Trushna.
A local activist, Tukuna Sawain, who has been closely following the case, told Rashtra Jyoti that he, along with an organisation called Dev Sena, were in the process of filing a petition in the high court for a fair inquiry.
Ghenu Ram Mangaraj, regional head of Dev Sena, told Rashtra Jyoti that the police tried to force the victim to settle the case outside the police station and Muskin’s sons threatened Trushna’s family every day and that is the reason for her committing suicide.