Why a minor who accused the Haryana police of custodial rape is still held in state custody

On 9 October, student organisations and activist groups such as the Chhatra Ekta Manch, the Chhatra Abhibhavak Sangh and the Valmiki Sabha organised a protest march in Haryana's Butana village. The protesters demanded the arrest of the accused police officials and the immediate release of the young women from custody. Courtesy Manisha/ Chhatra Ekta Manch
15 January, 2021

It has been over five months since 40-year-old Kavita filed a complaint against members of the Haryana Police, accusing them of raping her daughter, who was 17 years old at the time, in police custody. The young woman faces charges of involvement in the murder of two police officials, and has been held in state custody since July, first in Karnal jail and then at a juvenile observation home. While the police are yet to take any action against the rape accused, the Haryana judiciary has twice denied bail to the young woman. A juvenile justice board and a district court both denied bail claiming that releasing the young woman to her parents would expose her to “moral danger.”

 Kavita, a Dalit woman from Butana village in Sonipat district, said that her daughter sustained severe physical injuries and mental trauma because of the gang rape. “If they only let her out on bail, I can look after her and make her feel safe,” Kavita said. “God knows how they treat her in that jail.” Despite being a minor at the time of the incident, Kavita’s daughter was lodged in Haryana’s Karnal jail from 6 July until late September, along with her 20-year-old cousin. The 17-year-old was later shifted to an observation home in Karnal.

 On 18 July, while the minor was still in Karnal jail, Kavita visited her. Kavita recalled it vividly. She told me that her daughter leaned against the wall for support and was hunched over because it was too painful to stand up straight. “Her arms were covered in bruises. Whatever part of her bare skin I could see looked blue,” Kavita said. She had gone to the jail three days prior to this meeting, on 15 July, and the jail officials had informed Kavita that her daughter had been sent for a medical check-up. “They didn’t tell me why she was sick or injured or what had happened to her. They just told me to come back later,” Kavita said. On the morning of 18 July, Kavita’s daughter told her what had occurred earlier that month, between 2 and 6 July, while she and her 20-year-old cousin had been in police custody.

 On 2 July, Kavita contacted officials of the Baroda police station to present her daughter and her 20-year-old niece before them. The Baroda police station oversees the functioning of a number of police posts including the one in Butana. The police had been looking for the young women in connection with the murders of two personnel from the Butana police station—Ravinder Kumar, a constable, and Kaptan Singh, a special police officer. Apart from Kavita’s daughter and niece, four men were also accused in the murder case. On 1 July, the day after the alleged murder, the Haryana Police killed one of the accused—Amit Kumar, a resident of Jind village—in an encounter.

 The sequence of events which transpired on the night of the murders remain unclear. The young woman’s narrative differs from the police version. A petition filed in the Punjab and Haryana High Court seeking a medical examination of the young woman describes the series of events leading up to her ordeal. The petition, filed by Rajvinder Singh Bains, a Chandigarh-based advocate who is representing Kavita, states that her daughter and niece were not involved in the murders, and have been falsely implicated.

 According to the petition, the young woman and her cousin had gone to meet Amit and his friend near Hariyali park on the Gohana-Jind highway on the night of 30 June, when the group was confronted by the two police officials from the nearby Butana police post. At the time, Amit and the 17-year-old were sitting in a car while the others were standing at some distance. “Police officials namely Constable Ravinder and SPO Kaptan who were on patrolling duty and drunk and started questioning them and demanded money from Amit on the pretext that they were sitting in the car at late night,” the petition said. It added that the officials attempted to molest the two young women and told Amit to send them to spend the night at the police station. Following this, a heated argument between Amit and the police officials led to Amit fatally injuring the officials, after which the group disbanded and left for their respective homes.

 The police, however, claim that the two police personnel were just questioning the group as part of a routine patrol. “The accused were inebriated. They might have driven while drunk as well,” Badar Singh, the station house officer at the Baroda police station, told me. “So the officials just went to check whether the girls were safe and see what they were doing there in the middle of the night. This is when Amit turned violent and attacked them with a knife.” Further, in their response to the petition, the police stated that Amit murdered the police officials at the behest of the girls, as they were concerned the police will reveal their “misdeeds” to members of their village. 

 By 1 July, the police had killed Amit in an encounter and caught two other men accused of the murder. Subsequently, the police began to look for the girls. “While looking for the women who were present at the scene of the crime, police officials were picking up all pairs of sisters in our village in order to interrogate them,” Babita, Kavita’s elder sister, and mother of the 20-year-old woman, told me. After realising what had occurred, the mothers decided to present their daughters to the police and make the case that they had not participated in the murder. 

 The next day, after Kavita contacted the police to present her daughter and niece, the police took them to the Baroda police station. Kavita said that the police beat her and her daughter at the Baroda station. “I was slapped around by them,” she told me. “My daughter was hung in the kadeva,” or shackles, “and beaten by the police in a separate room.” By the evening, Kavita said she was asked to leave, while the daughter and niece were kept in police custody at the station. 

 Kavita next met her daughter on 18 July, in Karnal jail, where the young woman sat bruised and in pain. According to Kavita, her daughter told her that after her mother left the station, ten to twelve police officials raped her multiple times while she was in custody of the Baroda police and even later at the Butana police post. “My daughter is still bleeding profusely,” Kavita said when I spoke to her in late October. “They inserted glass bottles into her. She is all torn up, her wounds are infected and she hasn’t received any proper medical attention.” Kavita said her niece was also beaten up and sexually harassed. “They had ripped her clothes off and beat her all night. She has the bruises to show for it still,” Babita told me. Both the mothers added that the officials used casteist slurs against their daughters and verbally abused them.

 On 30 July, Kavita filed a complaint at the Women Police Station in Sonipat, after which an FIR was registered. The FIR named three police officials as the accused—Sanjay, Radhe and Sandeep. “These are the three names that my daughter remembers hearing. Otherwise at the time, she was in no state to remember names and faces,” Kavita said. Before 30 July, Kavita and Babita had also visited the Baroda police station to lodge their complaint, but said they were dismissed by officials at the station. “They refused to even accept our written complaint,” Babita said. “They told us that our daughters murdered police officials and don’t deserve to be heard. They abused us and told us to get out.”

 On 27 October, in response to efforts by activist groups to bring the young woman’s story to light, the Haryana Police formed a special investigation team to probe the allegations. The SIT, which is led by Nikita Khattar, the assistant superintendent of police in Sonipat, has begun its investigation. “We have spoken to the two women and taken their testimony in detail again,” Khattar told me over the phone. “We will conduct another medical examination if deemed necessary. As and when the investigation progresses, we’ll have more clarity on the case, but as of now both the women are safe and will be given medical attention if that is needed.” 

 However, the young woman continues to be denied bail on the grounds that she was out late at night. On 8 September, her bail application was rejected by the Sonipat Juvenile Justice Board—a quasi-judicial body presided by a magistrate, which hears criminal cases against minors, known under the law as a child in conflict with law, or CCL. In the bail order, Manvika Yadav, the JJB’s principal magistrate, stated, “From the nature of the allegations, it prima facie appears that the CCL has criminal proclivities.”

 Moreover, Yadav appeared to hold Kavita responsible for letting her out of the house on the night of 30 June. “Board is of the opinion that if the CCL offender … is released from protective custody, she may again go back to the same environment and be exposed to moral and physiological danger,” Yadav wrote. “She may also be exposed to danger at the hands of other/opposite party.” 

The young woman then moved the district court, but to no avail. On 5 October, Rajesh Sharma, an additional sessions judge in Sonipat, rejected her bail plea on similar grounds. “Even the parent of CCL appear to have no control over the appellant as she was out of her home at such odd hours at night,” the order stated.  “Therefore, there is every likelihood that if CCL will be released on bail, the same will expose her to moral and physical danger and release of the appellant will defeat the ends of justice. Since two policemen on duty have been murdered, release of CCL on bail will cause much harm to her.” Bains has filed a bail plea in the high court, which is due to be heard on 15 January. The 20-year-old also still continues to be lodged in Karnal jail.

I spoke to Rakesh Chhikara, an advocate who filed the bail applications to the JJB and district court. He said he did not mention the allegation of custodial rape while asking for bail for the young woman. “The rape allegations and the bail appeal are two completely different matters,” he told me. “The girl was accused in a murder case of two police officials, we couldn't ask for her bail on the grounds of rape allegations against the police. The court would have seen this as slander and it would make our arguments even weaker.”

Notably, Sumitra, a resident of Sonipat, who was held in the same jail barracks as the young woman and her cousin, has come out in support of the two sisters, and said that she witnessed the injuries sustained by the 17-year-old. “She was in a very bad state when I met her, she pleaded for me to help her get medical help,” Sumitra told me. Sumitra was in jail between 5 August and 19 September and is currently out on bail. She was present at a press conference held by Bekhauf Azaadi, a Chandigarh-based rights group, on 27 October, seeking justice for the young women. Referring to the young woman, Sumitra said, “She revealed to me that she was raped. She told me they inserted empty glass liquor bottles into her. She had pus down there, and she didn't get medical aid at the jail.”

 Meanwhile, the local police have denied the rape and sexual harassment allegations. “We did a medical of the girls right after they were arrested and produced it in court,” Singh, the Baroda SHO, told me. “There was no evidence of violations there.” Uday Singh Meena, the assistant superintendent for Gohana, a tehsil which includes Baroda and Butana, also dismissed the allegations of gang rape, citing a medical examination conducted before the sisters were produced at the Gohana district court on 3 July. In their reply to the court, the police stated that multiple medico-legal examinations were conducted, including post the alleged rape, but no injuries apart from a “superficial small cut of 3 cm straight” were found on the young woman’s vagina. The police stated that the doctor who conducted the examination said that the cut could have been “self-inflicted” and there was no evidence of forced insertion of objects into her vagina.

However, according to Bains, the first two medical examinations in July were conducted in the presence of the accused police officials, and subsequently the Karnal jail officials. “It comes down to the survivors’ words against the officials, in whose interest it is to hide facts,” Bains said. “There is a new trend these days of stating in medical examinations that there were no new injuries observed on the body. What does that even mean, they should just make note of all the injuries on the body clearly.”

On 29 October, on behalf of Kavita, Bains filed a petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court seeking the constitution of a medical board for a comprehensive medical examination of both the young women outside Haryana, away from the influence of police officials. The petition also sought medical treatment for Kavita’s daughter and niece, as well as permission to visit her daughter at the observation home. On 19 November, the high court ordered authorities from Karnal jail and the observation home to ensure that both the young women receive medical treatment from the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh. Kavita was also granted permission to visit her daughter regularly in the observation home.

However, the high court turned down the request for an external medical examination. The order stated that “multiple times, medical examination of the victims were conducted but there was total silence maintained by them, at every opportune time, to disclose about the occurrence so caused. Considering the very fact of the victims, having been medically examined multiple times, it shall not be appropriate to further direct the constitution of Medical Board, for comprehensive medical examination of both the victims, more particularly, considering the duration of time having lapsed, since then.”

The court further noted that the “matter relating to allegation of custodial rape,” is now being handled by the SIT. It added, “That being so, the probe shall be conducted in the due course and it shall be open for SIT to examine the question of medical reexamination of the victims.” The high court order also stated that the young women “did not make any complaint of pain, gang-rape, internal injury or bleeding” during their medical examinations, or on the two occasions they were produced before a court, on 3 and 5 July.

“These girls were highly traumatised,” Kavita said. “What they went through does not even leave them in a state to understand what they went through, especially when they were produced in court immediately after arrest.” She said her daughter and niece were beaten up and coerced into silence. Bains too emphasised that the young women cannot be held responsible for articulating their trauma coherently. “This is something that occurs with most survivors of sexual crime,” he said. Though Bains petitioned for the young women to be medically examined again, he also said that it is too late for a proper examination to take place. “It’s been almost five months since the incident took place, the evidence has been compromised since,” he said.

I attempted to reach out to the three police personnel named in Kavita’s FIR. Sanjay, an assistant sub-inspector from the Butana police post, told me that he is unsure whether the young woman has named him, or another police official by the same name from the Baroda police station. “Either way I have nothing to do with this, I wasn’t present when the alleged rape took place,” Sanjay said. I reached out to Sanjay Kumar at the Baroda police station. “I have nothing to do with this case,” Kumar said. He stated that the complaint referred to the Sanjay at the Butana police station. As for Sandeep, the SHO Singh claimed that the sole official with that name posted at the Baroda police station had not been present in the locality when the crime took place. “He was not on duty,” Singh said. Radhe did not respond to a request for comment. 

On 9 October, student organisations and activist groups such as the Chhatra Ekta Manch, the Chhatra Abhibhavak Sangh and the Valmiki Sabha organised a protest march in Butana village. The protesters demanded the arrest of the accused police officials and the immediate release of the young women from custody. Meanwhile, to fund their fight for justice, Kavita and her husband have sold their house in Butana and have shifted to Jind village, where they live in a one-room rented accommodation. “We have left everything behind to fight for our daughter. We have no other reason to live now,” Kavita said. With dread, she recounted what one of the accused police officials told her after she had filed the FIR in the Sonipat police station. “He said to me, ‘tum sir pitak pitak ke mar jaoge, tab bhi tum yeh case nahi lad paoge’”—You’ll keep banging your head over this to death, but you’ll not be able to fight this case.