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Death Of A Dalit Teen: Why Has It Escaped Our Attention?

Death Of A Dalit Teen: Why Has It Escaped Our Attention?

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There’s too much silence and too little outrage surrounding a possible rape and murder in Rajasthan.

 

A 17-year-old Dalit girl was found dead in a water tank, in a training institute in Nokha, Bikaner, on the morning of March 29, 2016. Her father says she had called him at 8pm on March 28 and told him that she’d been raped by a Physical Training (PT) instructor of the institute. The Nokha police say the post-mortem report has not confirmed rape, but that it could be a “possibility”.

 

The suspicious circumstances of the teenaged girl’s death as well as the way the case has been handled by the local police has led to mass protests in the district. Although legally, the identity of someone who has been raped is not to be made public, her family has let her name be known — a clear statement that as far as they’re concerned, if there is anyone who should feel shame or needs to hide behind anonymity, it is not the 17-year-old.

 

Yet, despite all this, the Nokha incident did not find space in the mainstream national media till The Indian Express carried a story on April 1. Even now, large sections of Big Media continue to ignore the death of the minor Dalit student in a college campus, leaving alternate websites like The Ladies Finger and Countercurrents to raise pertinent questions centred on the case. In Bengaluru, a group of concerned citizens have banded together to demand justice for the girl with a Facebook page. Its profile picture has this message: “Raise your voice against institutional murder of Dalit student.”

 

One of the more chilling aspects of this case is how the training institute’s staff appears to be complicit in the crimes committed. According to the FIR filed by the parents, only four girls, including the victim, were staying in the hostel at the time. The other students had gone home for Holi and were yet to return. The FIR notes that on the evening of March 28, the girl had called her father and told him that hostel warden Priya Shukla had sent her to PT Instructor Vijendra Kumar Singh’s room, to clean it. This in itself is an appalling indication of how students are being exploited in this institution. While there is no conclusive proof that the teenager was selected for this ‘duty’ because of her Dalit identity, this certainly deserves a thorough investigation.

 

The FIR states that later, she told her father that she was raped by Singh in his room.

 

Shukla is the one who brought the death of the girl to the police’s notice. In a letter to the police, Shukla wrote that on the evening of March 28, she was informed by a teacher that the main gate of the hostel was “wide open” and that the 17-year-old had “gone out somewhere.” She claims she searched the hostel for the missing girl with the teacher and the other three students, but couldn’t find any trace of the fourth student.

 

Ultimately, wrote Shukla, they found her in Singh’s room.  According to Shukla, Singh and she were taken to the principal’s office, where they “confessed in writing”. Singh has also admitted to having had sex with the teenager and claimed it was consensual. It seems the institute wasn’t particularly concerned about the fact that even if Singh’s story — rather than what the victim told her father — is true, it would be statutory rape. The principal and warden should have filed a case against Singh, but that was not done.

 

The discrepancies don’t end there. The next morning, on March 29, Shukla said that a security guard informed her that the girl’s body was lying in the college water tank. Where did the girl go from the principal’s office? Why did the warden, who had ever so diligently searched for the teenager when she was in Singh’s room, not notice that one of the four students was not in her room? How did she end up in the water tank?

 

On April 1, the Nokha police took Singh into custody, seemingly to pacify the people who had gathered in protest. The girl’s parents allege that her body was taken to the hospital in a “garbage handling tractor”.  Suresh Jogesh, a friend of the victim’s family, said, “The police did not do videography/photography while retrieving her body from the water tank on the morning of March 29, which is a mandatory procedure.”

 

News of the girl’s death spread like wildfire and people (mostly Dalits) started gathering outside the college. By the time her family arrived in Nokha, the incident had taken a political colour. Congress MLA and leader of opposition in the Rajasthan Assembly, Rameshwar Dudi, a self-proclaimed Dalit leader, Govind Ram Chauhan had taken to the road and started agitating against the college administration.

 

With every passing hour, the situation was turning increasingly tense and Superintendent of Police Bikaner, Dr Amandeep Singh, and Assistant SP, Satnam Singh, rushed to Nokha to take charge of the situation.

 

After several rounds of talks with political and community leaders, the 17-year-old’s body was handed over to her family after an autopsy.

 

The police said further investigations were on and that they are interrogating the college management. The investigating officer said the police have seized both the girl’s and Vijendra Kumar Singh’s mobile phones.

 

As things stand, the police have registered the first information report (FIR) under Sections 302, 376(C), 201, 34 of the Indian Penal Code; and under Sections 3(1) (12) of the Atrocities against SC/ST Act, besides Sections 5, 6 of the Prevention of Children from Sexual Assault Act.

 

“The medical report has not confirmed rape, but there is a possibility,” says ASP Satnam Singh, who is investigating the case.

 

“On interrogating, PT instructor Vijendra Kumar Singh has accepted that he had sexual intercourse with her, but with the girl’s consent.”

 

Several questions remain unanswered. First of all, why did the institute’s administration not inform the parents or file a police complaint against the PT instructor? The director of the institute, Ishwar Chand Baid, said the parents were not informed because the victim had pleaded with the college management not to inform her family about the incident as she was “ashamed”. This doesn’t add up to what her father maintains she told him.

 

The post-mortem report states that all of the victim’s organs were found “healthy” — that is, no abnormality was found. However, the report states “small amount of frothing” was found in her larynx. The report further states that the definite cause of death can be confirmed only after the release of forensic science laboratory (FSL) and histopathological reports.

 

However, friends and family don’t trust this report. “The autopsy report states no injury marks were seen in the body, but we have photographs of bruises on both her elbows,” said Jogesh.

 

Jogesh said the director of the college is very influential and has the protection of powerful politicians. “They are desperately trying to hush-up the case,” he insisted. If her father had not received that phone call in which the victim had told him that Singh had raped her, it would certainly have been more difficult to counter the claims put forward by the institute.

 

Listening to her family talk about her, the 17-year-old comes across as a bright student and a passionate painter. She had come first in a state art competition when she was in Standard 12. When she was just seven, one of her paintings was featured in an art magazine published by the Rajasthan Secretariat. Speaking to The Indian Express, her father had said, “She was very bright and really wanted to study.” It is horrific that her eagerness to learn may have placed her in such a vulnerable position and may even have resulted in her death.

 

The girl’s family and other members of her community continue to protest at Barmer against both the police and the college administration. They are demanding a CBI probe into the incident. It remains to be seen how far the investigation will go to clarify exactly what happened to this young girl, but for now, what is painfully evident is that there’s far too much silence and too little outrage surrounding this case.

 

This article was republished from Newslaundry.com.

 

 

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