Sun, Jan 20, 2013 - Page 9 News List

In India, suicide of another rape victim puts spotlight on inaction

Many sexual assault victims have endured a poorly funded and gender-insensitive justice system, rights groups and lawyers said

By Manoj Kumar, Nita Bhalla and Ross Colvin  /  Reuters, BADSHAHPUR and NEW DELHI

Illustration:Constance Chou

On the evening of Dec. 26, last year, as an Indian govrnment-chartered jet was heading to Singapore with a critically injured New Delhi gang rape victim on board, the teenage survivor of another gang rape was taking her own life.

After writing a suicide note on a page torn from a notebook that named her alleged attackers and accused them of destroying her life, the 17-year-old schoolgirl drank pesticide typically used on the wheat fields surrounding her village in the northern state of Punjab.

By the time she was found, she was in agony and vomiting repeatedly, relatives said.

Little-seen television footage shows her arriving at a hospital wrapped in a red blanket, unconscious or already dead, as her weeping mother cradles her head.

The brutality of last month’s gang rape in New Delhi, which led to the death of the woman, generated anger across the country.

However, the police handling of the Punjab assault has also sparked outrage and debate about how the police and judicial system often fail victims.

“Enough is enough,” Punjab Chief Justice Arjan Kumar Sikri said in court as he demanded a full police account of their handling of a “very sordid state of affairs.”

India’s understaffed and overburdened courts can take years to process rape cases, sometimes up to 10 years, according to police and lawyers.

Just 26 percent of rape cases decided in 2011 led to convictions, the National Crime Records Bureau said.

The Punjab girl alleged that on Diwali, the biggest day in the Hindu religious calendar, she was abducted, drugged and raped by two men in an irrigation pump house in the middle of a field where nobody heard her screams, she said.

Four accused — two alleged attackers and two accomplices — are in custody awaiting trial for the rape of the schoolgirl, who cannot be identified for legal reasons.

Two policemen have been dismissed for dereliction of duty. One of them, Sub-Inspector Nasib Singh, is in custody and faces charges of “abetting” her suicide.

Singh, who headed the police post in the girl’s village of Badshahpur, is accused of delays in registering the allegations and questioning and arresting the suspects, said Shashi Prabha Dwivedi, an inspector-general of police in Punjab who is a member of a special panel that has been set up to investigate the case.

Dwivedi said an initial investigation showed that Singh did not “handle the case properly” and it appeared he had also tried to broker an illegal, out-of-court settlement between the girl’s family and the families of her alleged attackers.

Dwivedi would not say what the specific evidence was against Singh, citing the need to keep details of the inquiry confidential.

Singh’s son, Gurinder Singh, said his father was innocent of the charges and was being made a scapegoat by politicians and government officials. His father had yet to get a lawyer, he said.

COMPROMISE

Some Indian Supreme Court lawyers say it is not atypical for the police to pressure victims and their families into out-of-court settlements. Most policemen are underpaid and over-worked and often have little interest in investigating a case that could take years to reach a judgement.

The girl first reported the rape to the police on Nov. 19 last year, according to relatives and the head of the village council, or panchayat, who accompanied them to the police post.

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