Law student who has accused Swami Chinmayanand of rape being escorted by police personnel | PTI photo
Even as India can lay claim to having more progressive and comprehensive laws against sexual assault than many other countries, the subversion of these laws by VIP rapists with the patronage of governments, police and, seemingly, even a section of the judiciary, raise serious questions regarding the denial of justice for victims of sexual assault.
The case against Chinmayanand, a three-time MP of the BJP and a former union minister and "guru" to many leading the present UP regime is the most recent example. The details of the case are well known and need not be repeated here. It was believed that after the Supreme Court intervention on the letter petition filed by public-spirited lawyer Shobha Gupta and the setting up of a special investigation team to be monitored by a designated bench of the Allahabad High Court, the young woman from Shahjahanpur would get justice.
But this has not happened. The 22-year-old, who says she is a survivor of rape, is herself in jail. She is accused of extortion under IPC sections 385/ 507/ 201. All of these sections are bailable. Even as her case for bail was listed, the SIT team arrived at her home early on Wednesday morning and dragged her to a waiting jeep, traumatized and terrified. When her case came up for hearing, she was denied bail. It was found that the SIT had deliberately added another section - 67A under the IT Act which is non-bailable.
Yesterday, I travelled with my colleague Subhashini Ali and a team of activists from the All India Democratic Women's Association to Shahjahanpur where we met her parents, lawyers and the SIT officers. I met the student in jail along with her mother and brother.
What we found was the blatant misuse of power to protect the accused in a rape case. Regretfully, the most well-intentioned orders of the Supreme Court have been used as an excuse to limit the scope of the investigation. It has been a step-by-step process. But the most important fact to emerge is that there has been no FIR filed on the complaint of rape which was registered by the Delhi police on September 7. She was traced and brought to Delhi on the orders of the Supreme Court. In Delhi, she gave a detailed complaint of the horror she underwent from the first time she was raped, reportedly by the accused Chinmayanand, in October 2018 till August of this year. She gave the names of those who had conspired with him to enable the sexual assaults. Her complaint was forwarded by the Delhi police to the SIT which confirms having received the complaint on September 8. However, till today, no FIR has been filed by the SIT on her complaint. In fact, this complaint does not figure at all in the investigations being conducted by the SIT.
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When we met the officers of the SIT in their office yesterday, we inquired why an FIR was not filed on the student's complaint. Surely this should have been the basis of their investigation, we asked. Their reply was "We have no locus standi to file any fresh FIRs. The Supreme Court in its orders has specifically asked us to investigate FIR 442 and FIR 445. So our investigations are only on these FIRs."
These two FIRs are on entirely different issues and have nothing to do with the charge of rape. One of the FIRs (445) was filed by the father when he found his daughter missing soon after she posted a video alleging that she was being threatened and her life, and those of other young women like her, were being ruined by a "swamy". At that time, the distraught father, linking "swamy" to Chinmayanand since his daughter was studying in an institution owned by him, filed a complaint that he suspected she had been kidnapped by Chinmayanand. The second FIR 442, was filed by Chinmayanand's lawyer, alleging that Chinmayanand had received extortion threats on his mobile phone demanding a payment of five crores.
When the Supreme Court was to give its order on September 5, the government's lawyer informed the court that there were two FIRs registered, 442 and 445. He did not mention that the woman's complaint had not yet been registered. The Supreme Court ordered that the SIT should investigate both FIRs. Nowhere did the court say that her complaint should not be registered as an FIR or that no fresh FIRs germane to the case should not be registered, but that is the extraordinary interpretation made by the SIT of the court order.
In its status report filed before the special bench of the Allahabad High Court, which is supposed to monitor the case, the SIT makes absolutely no mention of the girl's complaint of rape. On its part, the High Court accepted the status report at face value. In the light of such a blatant omission, the concept of "monitoring" by a bench of the High Court especially set up for the purpose, surely needs clarification.
When we further asked the SIT officers whether, in the light of their interpretation of the limited scope of the Supreme Court order, they had passed on the woman's complaint to the local police and administration to register an FIR, they said it was not "their mandate." In other words, neither are they acting on her complaint nor have they asked anyone else to do so. Thus the main issue of the rape of a young woman has been eliminated by the SIT. In legal papers, her voice is silenced, she does not exist except as an extortionist. In the meanwhile in every press conference being held the SIT focuses entirely on the issue of extortion, damning the girl. So, while sabotaging the legal aspect, at the same time public perception is sought to be influenced against the girl.
What of the man she has accused? Chinmayanand was arrested on September 20 on the charge of 376c This concerns the abuse of a position of authority to "induce a person to have sexual intercourse" not amounting to rape. The SIT came to this conclusion in the course of their investigation into the charge of extortion. In the words of a senior officer of the SIT, "In one case, the girl is the victim and in the other, the accused. We have taken into account both cases."
Many decades ago, when we were fighting for justice in the Mathura rape case, the guilty police personnel claimed that the girl had no marks of injuries on her body which proved that it was not rape but consensual intercourse. At that time, the Supreme Court had upheld this perverted reasoning which takes violent sexual assault out of the context in which the victim finds herself. It took several years of hard struggle to get the law changed.
Today, in 2019, the Chinmayanand case shows that decontextualisation of rape and sexual assault and a total ignorance or insensitivity of the condition of a rape victim and her subsequent actions remains deeply ingrained in the minds of those expected to bring justice to the victim.
Even if we accept the case of extortion against the girl, can rape be equated with the accusation of extortion as done in the approach of the SIT? What was the context in which a young woman denied justice acts in a particular way? If she is guilty of extortion, does it mean that she was not a victim of violent rape? We asked these questions of the SIT members. They did not have much to say on this aspect. They did reiterate that they had consulted the legal department before filing the cases.
A grave injustice is being committed right before our eyes. Eight years ago, Chinmayanand was accused of rape by an inmate of one of his ashrams and a case of rape was filed against him in November 2011. The complaint was that he had held her captive and she had been assaulted for several years. When the Adityanath government came to power, it made a request before the CJM of Shahjahanpur to withdraw the case of rape against Chinmayanand. The CJM refused and issued a warrant against him. The case went to the High Court which granted a stay on Chinmayanand's arrest.
In the current case, the woman was just 21 when she was first assaulted. She did what she did to save herself. She showed courage in taking him on, knowing that the system was in his support. Today, she is being taught that you cannot challenge a rapist when he is a VIP. Everything is being done to break her spirit. What is the message being sent to other victims of rape and sexual abuse and assault? Stay silent, otherwise you will end up in jail. She wept on the shoulder of her younger brother when we were permitted to meet her in jail. She showed him bruises on her arms when she had been grabbed by the policewomen who had come to arrest her. She said she felt humiliated. What about me, she said, what about what I have suffered. He consoled her with the news that there are many people who support her struggle for justice. She brightened up and reiterated her resolve to get justice.
Karat is a Politburo member of the CPI(M) and a former Member of the Rajya Sabha-ndtv.