Prompt action on all fronts needed to nail rapists

The horror of the Shanti Mukand Hospital rape incident was revisited earlier this week in a posh south Delhi nursing home, Holy Angels.
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Published on Oct 18, 2003 12:01 PM IST
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PTI | ByFREEHAND| Soni Sangwan, New Delhi

The horror of the Shanti Mukand Hospital rape incident was revisited earlier this week in a posh south Delhi nursing home, Holy Angels. This time the victim was even younger — a 13-year-old patient — and the alleged rapist was no ward boy or sweeper, he was a doctor.

The same doctor who was treating the young girl for bone tuberculosis ended up raping and sodomising her. On two earlier occasions, he examined her in the presence of her mother and it was finally on the third visit, when the victim’s aunts accompanied her, he saw an opportunity to act. Under the pretext of examining her, he asked the girl to undress and then attacked her.

What he had not bargained for was the fact that the girl would tell her aunts about what had happened. The supreme confidence with which he just sat in his cabin after committing the crime suggests that he knew that the girl would not tell anyone. But the girl, who is an extremely shy and introverted person, broke down in her aunts’ arms just outside the doctor’s examining room and told them everything.

When the enraged aunts charged in and confronted the doctor, he reportedly begged them to forget the incident and come to a settlement with him. He kept telling them that reporting the matter would bring bad name to both the parties and that they should settle things with him. In fact, the next day, when he was arrested, while he refused to admit to anything, he did suggest a compromise on more than one occasion. More than just another rape incident, this case may actually be treated as a textbook case on how such crimes should be handled. Firstly, the manner in which the case was reported. Here the role of the aunts is commendable. First they confronted the doctor, raised a hue and cry in the hospital and then brought in the police. In our social system, the families of the victims generally think twice before coming out in the open about such an incident.

Then the role of the police. Knowing that the case involved a high profile doctor and a well-established nursing home, they worked on two fronts simultaneously. While on the one side they ensured that the doctor did not disappear, on the other, they went about ensuring that the victim was immediately sent for medical examination and counselling. They also went about collecting circumstantial evidence and witnesses who recalled seeing the girl coming out of the examining room and crying have been traced and spoken to.

In fact, trained counsellors played a big role in this case. Swanchetan, an NGO attached with the Southwest district, acted as the Rape Crisis Intervention Centre. The child was sent to the NGO and she was counselled there. This counselling served two purposes — it gave the child the support she needed and it also worked to strengthen her case. It was only after the counsellor here had confirmed to the police that there were no contradictions in her recalling of the assault and that her version appeared to be completely factual that the police formally arrested the doctor.

While the family of the victim, the police, the counsellors, all played important roles in the investigation, the one section of society that played a negative part in the case was the medical fraternity. Till date, no organisation of doctors has come out formally to denounce the doctor. If anything, the medical fraternity did its best to pressurise the police not to lodge an FIR. The official position of the doctors is that they will act only after he is convicted. Agreed, we should not hang him until his offence is proved. But we should also not try to impede a fair investigation. Phone calls to plead the doctor’s case came in from all quarters.

Last week, I had agonised over what kind of human can inflict such violence on another human as had been done in the Shanti Mukand Hospital case. This week, I am no closer to any answers, only many more questions. What turned a doctor — someone who is supposed to be trusted implicitly, someone who is supposed to bring succour, someone who is supposed to alleviate our pain — who is incidentally also the father of two young daughters, into such a beast? I still have no answers.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2022