When 19-year-old Fatima (name changed) woke up on the morning of September 8, 2013, she had no idea this would be the most horrific day of her life.
The day began normally enough.
She put away the groceries as per her father’s instructions, hung his cleaning exactly as he had wanted and cooked his father’s favourite mutton-rice just as he expected. It was shortly before noon when her father decided to go to the local mosque.
Moments later, Fatima realised that a group of people had entered her house, making it impossible for her to escape.
Within moments, she was gheraoed in her own home — with two men taking turns to rape her.
Six years later, Fatima and her 77-year-old father are still awaiting justice.
For the septuagenarian, it is extremely painful to watch those who raped his then-teenage daughter roam around scot-free while Fatima has still not recovered from the shock. “Sab barbad ho gaya (Everything is ruined). We have lost hope for justice. The government has done nothing for us. The accused were arrested and later let off. We don’t even have enough money to hire a personal advocate to fight. My daughter is still in trauma, and I don’t know if she will ever recover,” said the father, wiping away tears from his wrinkled face.
In shambles: Six years and counting, victims of the Muzaffarnagar riots are still waiting for justice. (Source: Reuters)
The fate of the other survivors of the Muzaffarnagar riot of 2013 is similar. Those who were accused in other rape and gangrape cases were also acquitted by the Uttar Pradesh trial court — witnesses changed their statements, police officers turned hostile, medical examinations were delayed and pieces of evidence were manipulated to provide lethal ammunition to the accused in all four cases of gangrape. Those who sustained lifetime injuries on their dignity are now left with little hope of justice.
How were those accused in gangrape cases acquitted?
Case No 1: Medical examination of the survivor was conducted three months after the incident. The medical report said no injury on the body and that she was 17 weeks pregnant. The doctor or the police were never cross-examined regarding the delay.
Case No 2: The survivor was examined 40 days after the complaint was filed. The doctor said, since the woman was a mother of five children, conducting a medical examination is not justified. Rape was ruled out and neither the doctor, nor the police were cross-examined on the delay or the conclusion they arrived upon.
Case No 3: The survivor was examined a week after filing an FIR, and the order copy has no mention of the medical report.
Case No 4: The order copy has no mention of the findings of the survivor’s medical examination report and the doctor was never cross-examined.
65 men and women, killed during the 2013 Muzzfarnagar riots, face a similar fate.
Momin lost eight family members during the riots and in the last six years, reportedly received several death threats to take the cases back. A few witnesses of these cases were apparently falsely framed in a murder case and allegedly asked to change their statement. “48 were accused in the case and one by one, all were freed from jail. We have no expectations from the government and there is no hope for justice. We are intimidated, threatened and slapped with false charges for pursuing these cases,” said a disappointed Momin.
In a very systematic way, the art of sabotage was allegedly practised during the trials, starting from the very beginning. When intimidation and threat were not received well by the witnesses and survivors, money was used to lure them. “When the accused are released from jail, they come and threaten us saying 'Ab hum jail se bahar hain, kya ukhad logey tum log hamara' (We are out now, you can't do anything to us). Witnesses get scared and change their statements and they are also lured with money,” said Mohd Saleem, a social worker campaigning for the survivors of the riot since 2013.
Protection? Even as over 150 accused have been acquitted, the prosecution claims their investigation was flawless. (Photo: Reuters)
The prosecution, however, maintains that they have done a superb investigation — but if the witnesses change their statement, they can't do anything about it. “In most cases, eyewitnesses changed their statement and told the court they saw nothing. If the witnesses change their statement, then nothing much can be done apart from asking them to pay penalty. The police have done a good job and no suspicion should be raised against the prosecution. The government, police and judiciary are here for justice,” said Dushyant Tyagi, public prosecutor for the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riot cases.
As of now, in almost 45 cases which include gangrape, rape, murder and 26 rioting cases, over 150 of those accused have been acquitted by the trial court.
It is surprising that in most of the cases, the police was not cross-examined to clarify the anomalies in the various police and medical reports.
What is even more shocking is that even after declaring six villages as riot-suffered and filing cases against 168 people, the government apparently does not want to file an appeal in a single case before a higher court against the judgment of the lower court.
Those who survived the 2013 riots and those that lost their lives have a very slim glimmer of hope that justice will be meted out someday.
The survivors and the families of the dead have witnessed a change of government from Akhilesh Yadav to Yogi Adityanath as their chief minister — but the denial of justice remained a constant.