She was 23 years old. A Dalit from a village in Hoshiarpur district in Punjab’s Doaba region. Daughter of a small-time tailor. Dared to live in Chandigarh. And even had an illicit relationship with a powerful, married man for whom she worked. Does that somehow justify her murder? Does anything justify any murder?
Pardon the questions. They don’t matter. The moot point is that our system has once again been laid bare, and the answers are already clear to anyone with a set of eyes, a mind that works, even just a heart that beats. The 23-year-old woman could be anyone.
Jyoti was found dead, her head smashed, on a road in Panchkula in November 2012. If you read the news, you must know by now that prime accused Ram Kumar Chaudhary, the Congress MLA from Himachal Pradesh’s Doon segment, and all other 11 accused have been acquitted in the case. It was indeed murder, says the court. But, a murder with no killers. The court was virtually helpless in the face of a shoddy probe, as the police remained conveniently clueless.
After the case has fallen flat, gaping holes in the investigation have been pointed out by the court. These are large enough to underline the open secret that the probe was ‘managed’ from the start.
The whole case was primarily built around call details and mobile phone tower locations. But the police failed to even get some of the records verified from the mobile service provider, and they could not be held as evidence. As has been detailed in a report in HT by my colleague Bhartesh Singh Thakur (online at read.ht/iwN), mobile numbers allegedly bought by Chaudhary on a fake ID are still working. The court said this meant the mobile company “found no hanky-panky” in the consumer application forms that allegedly carried forged signatures.
The data overall remained unreliable, and thus the chain of events — that Jyoti was assaulted in a car and thrown, unconscious, on the road, after which a truck was driven over her head — was never proven.
The other crucial part of any murder investigation, perhaps the primary part, is establishing and proving a motive.
Here, the police theory seemed tragically plausible in a scenario involving a young, innocent, reckless woman and a man drunk on power and money. It said Jyoti worked for Chaudhary as a kind of office manager and they developed wilful sexual relations. Jyoti got pregnant, and Chaudhary took her to a clinic where an abortion was carried out. Then, Jyoti started pressuring Chaudhary to marry him, and he allegedly got her killed in a bid to bury the matter and keep his reputation clean. But even the security camera footage from the abortion clinic was deleted, and the doctors refused to identify Chaudhary.
The starkness of the episode becomes even more apparent in the court’s severe indictment of the investigating officer — replaced after the first chargesheet was found exceptionally weak — deputy superintendent of police Virender Sangwan. This officer said it did not come to his mind that he should have followed up on two numbers that Jyoti had dialled barely hours before her murder.
The legal part — a compromised police and a court tied up in law - is done for now. Appeals to the high court and beyond will probably follow, as is the procedure.
Two things remain. Jyoti’s family, and people like us.
Insinuations have been floating around that Jyoti’s father took money to first dilly-dally and then backtrack. He later claimed threats, and did eventually re-record his statement against the MLA.
But the court has noted this “strange” behaviour of the father and also Jyoti’s sister, whose wedding Chaudhary had attended. Now the father says he wants a CBI probe and will “fight till the Supreme Court”. Observers can have reasons to doubt him. But he’s not the only one who deserves justice here.
Where are the candles? Yes, candles that came out barely 20 days after this Jyoti’s murder, but for a different girl, gangraped and murdered in the national capital in December 2012.
Where are the activists who cried for that teenager who killed herself allegedly after a senior police officer molested her? Remember her name? Forget it. Where are those who light candles for trees being cut for building a bridge? Or, those outraged at a play being banned?
Is Jyoti being judged for her character? Did she have to be from a certain background? Did she have to display some ideal kind of feminist independence that was curbed, snuffed out? Is it permitted to murder women who have sex with married men? Terms like ‘an inherently misogynistic system’ and ‘patriarchal rot’ are not being used. Is alliteration the only connection between Jyoti and Jessica? Why are we so selective in our outrage? I don’t have the answers.
Meanwhile, Ram Kumar Chaudhary’s political career is looking up again, and he has profusely thanked God. God bless us.