Two years after they were raped during the one of the worst communal riots in Uttar Pradesh, victims in Muzaffarnagar are still struggling to get justice. While some have given up hope, others are fighting a lonely battle for closure.
Of the six cases of rape registered in the district, the trial is underway in five. The sixth case was reopened for investigation following an appeal from the victim, while the accused's lawyer has filed a revision petition opposing a fresh probe.
One of the victims, a resident of Loi village, says: “They have ruined my life.” Her husband asks, “We don’t even have money to buy medicines for our children when they fall ill. How can one expect us to continue fighting the case for so long?”
The fathers-in-law of two victims living in Chaman Colony of Kandhala town are hesitant to talk about the issue. They, however, expressed concern over the safety of the women.
They say life has become “a living hell” for the women’s children. The men who sexually assaulted the women aged 19 and 30 are free on bail and “building pressure on us to settle the matter out of court”, the fathers-in-law said.
Vrinda Grover, a senior lawyer of the Supreme Court who is fighting two of the cases, believes the accused are deliberately trying to delay court proceedings so that they can buy time to convince the victims and their families to withdraw cases.
The court should be strict towards the accused to avoid further delay in giving justice to these women, she says.
Charges are yet to be filed against the accused in some cases while some of the men accused of rape have sought more time from court to hire lawyers.
Grover’s claim was substantiated by local lawyer Sajeed. According to him, five of the six cases are being heard by a fast track court. After receiving threats from the family of the accused, two victims turned hostile and refused to identify the alleged rapists in court, he says.
“Some victims may have backed out due to social stigma or pressure from the family of the accused. However, the accused will not escape easily as the case also depends on the statement of eyewitnesses and doctors,” says Sajeed.
According to Sajeed, 16 of the 22 people arrested on rape charges are currently free on bail. Relatives of some victims accused local leaders of providing legal and financial support to the perpetrators instead of helping the rape victims.
Though the Uttar Pradesh government has deputed policemen to protect the rape victims and their families, Sajeed says the women still fear for their safety.
Social activist Rehaana Adeeb, who heads the NGO Astitva, says only a few victims have come forward to fight for justice while several others continue to live in misery.
The sectarian violence of September 2013 drove a wedge between the Jats and Muslims of the Muzaffarnagar region. The riots claimed 61 lives and uprooted more than 50,000 from their homes.
The violence in Muzaffarnagar was the latest in a series of flare-ups in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, ahead of the 2014 general election. The state also reeled under communal clashes in 2012, accounting for every third death in the country in such violence.
According to a Union home ministry report, 104 cases of communal tension and violence were reported in Uttar Pradesh in 2012 in which 34 people were killed and 456 injured.