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Tuesday, Sep 24, 2019

Intimidation, family pressure: When child rapists walk free due to hostile witnesses

Intimidation, pressure by family members, panchayats are forcing rape victims, most of them minors, in Haryana to turn hostile.

chandigarh Updated: Dec 30, 2018 14:13 IST
Aneesha Bedi
Aneesha Bedi
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Families often pressurise victims to keep quiet
Families often pressurise victims to keep quiet(Getty Image)
         

He’s the father of a young girl who was raped by two men when she was a minor. But, he later turned hostile leading to the acquittal of the rapists, one of them an army man, by a Bhiwani district court. “Agar gaon mein hukka pani rok diya jave toh hor option hi ke hai? (If one does not get to eat and drink in the village what other option does one have?)” asks the 51-year-old man from Bhiwani.

More and more witnesses are turning hostile in cases under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act in Haryana. In the past 21 months there have been 65% acquittals in 1,577 cases that were decided out of 2,845 cases registered, reveals data from each district.

The recent ruling by the Supreme Court to launch witness protection schemes across India has once again shed light on witnesses, especially women and children, withdrawing complaints, resulting in poor conviction rates.

“More than the police, it is the society that disappointed us,” says the rape victim’s father. His statement throws light on the dominant patriarchy in the state, which ironically was the launch pad for PM Modi’s ambitious Beti Bachao Beti Padhao programme.

Politics, Panchayats

The rape victim, then 17, in her plaint, two years ago, told the court that she befriended the army man, Rahul, because she wanted to serve the nation. She later refuted claims, made earlier, that Rahul and his friend Mukesh picked her in a car from her university.

The father says she is now married to a man who knows what she has been through and has “agreed to accept” her.

The panchayat had its own moral stand on the matter, which questioned the victim’s upbringing “as she sat in a car with boys.”

“Any father would want his daughter’s rapists to be given harsh punishment,” says the victim’s father, adding, “There were veiled threats from the villagers warning me that my son could also be implicated in a rape case to teach me a lesson.”

Be owing to pressure from khap panchayats, family members or simply for lack of protection from the state, several cases have been dismissed as sexual abuse survivors withdrew their allegations.

According to a month-long investigation by HT, the conviction rate hasn’t improved in the state labelled “gangrape capital” of the country this year.

Family Pressure

Often, family members turn villains. After a 10-year-old accused her step-father, an alcoholic of doing “gandi baat (dirty act)” with her for over three months, impregnating her, her mother refused to depose against her husband even after medical tests confirmed rape, and later the foetus was aborted.

The Child Welfare Committee (CWC), Rohtak, ultimately had to step in to help the minor after the mother, a key witness in the case, pressurised her to withdraw the case.

“We have had to ensure that there is no contact between the mother and the victim as we worry that she will force the girl, now 11, to turn hostile in court,” said Dr Raj, chairman, CWC, who just uses one name.

Similarly, in Panchkula district court, a 35-year-old man was acquitted of rape charges after his 13-year-old daughter and wife turned hostile last month. Sitting outside the court complex an hour before the court was to pronounce the order, the mother said, “Who will take care of our expenses, I don’t even have money to make a phone call.” When asked if she was being unfair to her daughter, the minor jumps up, saying, “Jaise mummy kahegi wahi karna hai (I have to do whatever mummy says).”

Hindustantimes
HIGH RATE OF ACQUITTALS

According to a study conducted by international non-profit organisation Save The Children Foundation, between January and April 2017, out of two POCSO cases registered every day in Haryana, only two convictions were reported while eight accused were acquitted as witnesses turned hostile. Almost half of the rape cases in Haryana involved child victims. In 518 out of 1,187 rape cases, the victims were minors.

According to the statistics available with the Women and Child Welfare Department, Haryana, Sonepat, Panchkula and Ambala had the highest conviction rates and Mewat and Dadri the lowest.

However, the number of acquittals was more than double the total number of convictions in rape cases of minors from January 2017 to September 2018.

Lengthy Trials

Minor victims in Haryana are particularly at risk when the perpetrator is powerful, influential, or rich and the victims or witnesses belong to socially or economically marginalised communities. According to a research report titled Implementation of POCSO Act in Haryana by one of the fellows of the Chief Minister’s Good Governance Association Programme (CMGGA), a collaborative initiative of the Haryana government and Ashoka University, “many families prefer taking the settlement money offered by the accused rather than facing societal criticism”.

Kritika Choudhary, author of the research study, adds, “Another major loophole in the system is the lack of coordination across concerned institutional departments, which is also why victims turn hostile.”

In the 328 cases registered in the first four months of 2017, only two of the accused were convicted, says the report.

Hostility: A Problem

The state is also among three in India to have passed the The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2018, which provides for stringent punishment including death penalty for those convicted of raping girls below the age of 12. However, Sunil Jagran, sarpanch, Bibipur village, Jind, doubts if this will help as he believes panchayat members who know an accused exert pressure on victims till the end of trials. “Hostility is a deeply-entrenched problem in child abuse cases,” he says.

Hindustantimes

First Published: Dec 23, 2018 14:05 IST