During the Kathua gangrape-murder incident while the lawyers at the Jammu Bar Association played a hostile role and prevented the police from filing the chargesheet, what also came through is the thorough investigation and collection of evidence which had been done prior to the filing of the chargesheet. In fact, one of the lawyers for the accused commented derogatively against a woman member of the Special Investigative Team — the comment was “after all, she is a woman!”
It is in the context that I find the need to narrate this horrific incident of gangrape in Mumbai, which is known as the “ragpicker” case. Though in terms of brutality it is comparable to the Delhi gangrape and murder case of December 2012, this case did not create much media hype, may be because the victim/survivor was a poor ragpicker, a migrant to the city. In the course of the Rahat survivor support programme, we have come to realise the select manner in which media hype gets created around certain selective issues.
Though not a high-profile case, it must be recorded for the thorough investigations carried out by the local police and the efforts put in to secure the conviction of the nine men who had brutally violated the woman on the night of September 20, 2013, the Ganesh Visarjan day, when a large number of youth are out on the streets, dancing to the drum beats in drunken frenzy.
The dalit woman, let’s name her Suman, was so poor that she did not have a roof over her head and used to sleep in the trucks parked on the road. During the day, she used to collect scrap from garbage bins to eke out a living. She was a widow, who hailed from a rural district, and visited Mumbai whenever she needed some extra money for her 15-year-old daughter’s treatment. At her village, she worked as a farmhand. She spoke a local dialect, which was difficult to understand.
Of the nine men who abused this 40-year-old woman, six were young enough to be her sons — in the age group of 22-25 years, while three others were slightly older, in the age group of 29-32 years. Two of them were awarded life imprisonment, while the rest were given 20 years.
Around 2 am on that fateful night, four of the accused, who were drunk, noticed Suman sleeping in the truck and pulled her out. They dragged her to a nearby junction on the main road and raped her. They took out her sari, pulled down her petticoat and threw it on the tin roof of a shop (where it lay till the police recovered it the next morning) and tore out her blouse. While she was being raped in this stark naked state, some men who had come out for a late-night smoke saw her and yelled at the men to let her go.
But they were not finished yet. They started making calls to their friends to join in the fun and asked Suman to wrap the sari around her, made her sit on a motorbike and took her to a nearby jungle. Even as she was crying out in pain, the group of nine continued to rape her.
To add to the “fun and frolic”, one of them bit her on her chest, breast, lips and face. Then he forced her to perform oral sex and urinated on her face. Some others followed. Another broke a twig from a shrub and inserted it into her vagina repeatedly, causing her to bleed. Unable to bear the brutality, she fainted.
She opened her eyes next morning, just as the first rays of the rising sun fell on her face. Her tormentors had fled by then. Though every pore in her body was sore, she forced herself to get up, slowly draped the sari, with blood-soaked mud sticking to it and made her way to the local police, stopping on the way to beg for water. They even took away a `100 note (her earnings of the previous day), which she had tied to the corner of her sari, despite her begging them not to.
The police, who, at that time, were relaxing with their morning chai and pav, thought she was a mad woman and shooed her away. But then she fainted again. A woman constable noticed that she had been sexually abused. The cops then sprinkled some cold water on her face, gave her some chai and immediately took her to the spot in the jungle where they recovered the broken beads of her chain, blood-soaked mud and the twig that was inserted into her. Only then they took her to the hospital.
The thorough investigation included matching the bite marks with the teeth formation of the accused and the forensic testing of the twig inserted into her and the plant from which it was freshly broken.
The next day, when we read a small news item in the paper, we approached her. She told us she preferred to stay at the police station than a women’s shelter home with all its restrictions, but that would be a violation of the law, so we urged the police to send her to a nearby women’s shelter.
During her evidence, she deposed that she had to make frequent trips to the hospital for the whole week as she was in acute pain and bleeding. She was on medication for several months but there was no relief from the severe abdominal pain she had.
It was a respite when she identified all the nine accused. She knew the first four, but the faces of all the nine were imprinted in her memory and she could recall them every time the horror of that night came back to haunt her.
She wanted to get back to her village and it was a challenge to track her each time she was needed for investigations and the trial. But the police did a good job of it.
Her evidence was recorded over 10 days since we had applied for continuous hearings during her evidence. She faced hostile cross-examination with stoic calm.
The police not only paid for her travel and food but her chai-paani as well, which included the expenses for her tobacco chewing. Since she was addicted, she became drowsy without tobacco and couldn’t answer the questions from a bevy of astute lawyers representing the nine accused. She did a fairly decent job of it.
The defence tried to make out that the police had falsely implicated the accused, that Suman was a prostitute and that she was in the habit of filing false cases of rape (as she had filed a case in the village and had not followed it up).
But the thorough investigation paid rich dividends. There were 47 witnesses and around 250 documents, in addition to matching the bite marks with teeth formations and body fluids. The call records helped identify the location of each of the accused at the time of the offence.
The judgment delivered by additional sessions judge, S.K.S. Razvi, started with the following comment: “The case unfolds the untold trauma of a woman, who was subjected to gangrape and natural and unnatural sex of inhuman form at the hands of the nine accused.”