April, 2021: A poor tribal girl, a minor, is lured by a much elder man into eloping with him on the pretext of marriage. She is raped for several months.
She meets another man, who tells she was being exploited and the promises of marriage were fake. He offers to take her to another state, promising, once again, marriage. The girl accepts the offer and escapes with him. This man turns out to be no different.
She meets yet another man, this time someone from her own religious community who tells her she has been trapped by sexual predators. He offers to rescue her from their clutches, offering to take her to the national capital, New Delhi. The girl readily agrees.
She goes to New Delhi, only to realise that the man lied. He is not from her community. Instead, he is from the same community as the other two men. He too forces himself on her.
She soon finds out she is pregnant. She doesn’t know by whom. She also realises that the three men know each other. Nowhere to go, she stays put in Delhi. At a very advanced stage of her pregnancy, the man makes her board a bus to her sister’s house about 800 kilometres away. The girl goes there, delivers the baby. The infant dies within a week.
The girl is exhausted. She is all of 15 years of age. While in the hospital, she shares her story with a woman patient. The woman happens to be the sister of a social activist. The activist takes the girl to the police. The culprits are finally under police net. However, the police action is far from satisfactory.
This is the tragic story of Puja (named changed to protect identity), who hails from village Salikalan in Rajpur area of district Barwani in Madhya Pradesh. More than 85 per cent population in Salikalan belongs to Scheduled Tribes.
Case in the notice of child commission
The National Child Commission based in New Delhi has taken suo moto cognizance of the case. After going though the case details, the commission has found several lapses on the part of Ujjain Police in investigation.
Earlier this week, the commission sent letters to Ujjain Police chief and district administration asking explanations on several counts.
The activist who took up her case, Arjun Singh Bhadoria, shared the details of the case with this correspondent. The version, he said, is based on the survivor’s statement made to him and to the local media. Arjun also arranged a telephonic conversation of this correspondent with the girl’s elder sister Mamta, who confirmed Arjun’s version.
Below is the version of the case as narrated by Arjun and confirmed by Mamta. This correspondent could not speak to Puja as she is currently in a shelter home.
At the beginning of last year, Puja met a man named Kalaam. She, along with her parents, was living in Maharashtra’s Malegaon at that time. Her parents worked as labourers.
The meeting with Kalaam was the beginning of her year-long exploitation.
Puja eloped with Kalaam. When her parents learnt about it, they decided she was as good as dead for them. They did not even go to the police in an effort to find her.
Kalaam entered into sexual relations with her. Repeatedly.
Soon, a nationwide lockdown came into effect. Puja was trapped.
After about two-three months, she met a man named Khursheed. He told Puja that Kalaam had been cheating her with false promises. He told her he can take her out of his grip. She agreed. Khursheed took her to Araria in Bihar, his hometown.
Khursheed treated her no differently. After about three months, a distraught Puja met a man who introduced himself as Mohit. He told her that Kalaam and Khursheed, both Muslims, had been playing with her as she was a Hindu. Mohit told her that he could help her escape to safety if she agreed to go with him to New Delhi, the national capital. Puja agreed.
Mohit brought her to Delhi around July and kept her in Khajuri Khas area of northeast Delhi, that witnessed riots in February last year.
Soon, Puja learnt that Mohit’s real name was Mahid and he, like Kalaam and Khursheed, was a Muslim. He would wear a skull cap and go to mosques.
She also found out after shifting to Delhi that she was pregnant. By whom? She did not know.
Lockdown in place, Puja stayed put in Delhi. At the beginning of March, Mahid made Puja board a bus to Ujjain. He told her to go to her sister, who lives and works in Ujjain, for her delivery.
He said he would join her soon. He didn’t.
Mamta, all on her own, somehow managed to get her younger sister a bed in a government hospital.
Puja delivered the baby on 17 March, but the infant died in four days. While in the hospital, Puja shared her story with a woman on the adjoining bed.
The woman happened to be the sister of a social activist associated with an organisation named Hindu Jagran Manch. The case eventually reached Arjun, who took the survivor to the police.
A first information report (FIR) was filed at mahila thana in Ujjain on 31 March. The police booked the three men under IPC sections 376 (rape), 376D (gangrape), and sections of the POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) Act.
Only one of the three men, Mahid, has been arrested so far.
Arjun said that his organisation and the police laid a trap for Mahid. Arjun made Puja call up Mahid and convince him to come to Ujjain, requesting him to see the baby. Puja also told Mahid that she was ready to return to Delhi with him.
On his arrival to Ujjain, a team of Jagran Manch activists held Mahid and handed him to the police, said Arjun. Search for the other two is on.
Police action from satisfactory
What’s missing from Ujjain Police’s action, however, is a total disregard for the possibility of an organised trafficking racket, given Puja’s statement that the men knew each other.
The statement by Puja recorded by Ujjain Police in the FIR completely ignores the details of her travel to and confinement in various states. It simply says that Kalaam, Khursheed and Mahid raped her for several months in turns. It records the site of the crime as Malegaon only.
On 3 April, the commission served a notice to Ujjain Superintendent of Police (SP) Satyendra Kumar Shukla, saying that there have been “apparent severe lapses and dereliction of duty on the part of police administration in conducting proper investigation in the matter”.
“The offence had been committed in three different states, ie, Maharashtra, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh and a zero FIR was lodged but the fact of trafficking of the minor victim to 3 different states has not been mentioned in the FIR no. 0-01/2021 dated 31.03.2021,” the letter says, asking the police chief to provide an explanation to the commission for the lapse.
It’s pertinent to mention here that while Arjuna and Mamta told this correspondent that Khursheed took Puja to Araria (Bihar), the commission‘s letter mentions the place as Auraiya (Uttar Pradesh). When asked, a commission spokesperson said they would look into It.
The commission has sought information from the SP on several possible procedural lapses. These include:
- Did the police produce the girl before the local child welfare committee for recording her statement?
- Did the police provide the tribal girl an official interpreter before recording her statement under Section 164 of the CrPC?
- Was an interpreter provided to the girl to read her statement recorded in the FIR for her confirmation?
- Was DNA sample of the baby taken to ascertain the paternity of the child before the baby’s death?
- Did the police contact anti-human trafficking unit (ATHU) for it to coordinate with other states in the case?
Puja and Mamta do not speak Hindi but a language native to their area that is close to Hindi.
The commission has also found serious lapses in the administration’s role in rehabilitation of the survivor.
On the same day, that is 3 April, the commission wrote a letter to Ujjain district magistrate Ashish Singh. The letter (a copy of which is with Swarajya) says that “it seems apparent that despite the brutality the victim has gone through, the state administration of MP has failed to fulfil its obligation in providing proper rehabilitation to the minor victim”.
The commission has asked the district magistrate (DM) why no proper steps were taken for her rehabilitation, and has the administration provided counselling and monetary compensation to the survivor.
The commission has given a two-day deadline for the SP and DM to provide written answers.
Speaking to Swarajya, commission chairman Priyank Kanoongo said the child rights body is probing if the culprits are part of an organised gang.
Note: The report was first published on Swarajyamag.com.