March 20, 2016

Women’s Organisations Demand Justice for Murthal Victims

ON the call of various national women’s organisations – AIDWA, AIPWA, JWP, Purogami Mahila Sanghatan, Pragatisheel Mahila Sanghatan, Swastika Mahila Samiti, Anhad, Janwadi Mahila Samiti, Delhi, Janwadi Mahila Samiti, Haryana, and Sakriya – hundreds of citizens participated in the peoples march in Murthal on March 12. They demanded constitution of an SIT by the Punjab and Haryana High Court to investigate the cases of gang rapes reported in media on Murthal National Highway No: 1 during the Jat reservation agitation. Several organisations were there with their banners and holding high the placards with this demand. The march passed through those very places where the vehicles of these people were burnt and they were left helpless and vulnerable for all types of loot and humiliation. At the end, a public meeting was held near the Sukhdev Dhaba which provided all types of help to the victims during the night on February 22, 2016. The public meeting was addressed by several leaders of national women’s organisations and justice loving people. A memorandum was submitted through the CJM to the chief justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court, to Advocate Anupam Gupta (amicus curiae) and Prakash Singh, chairperson of the investigating team appointed by the state. The memorandum explained that a team from AIDWA had visited Murthal and interacted with many villagers and roadside dhaba owners who appeared to be terrorised and traumatised. The team found that the families that were targeted were those who were passing through Murthal to attend marriages or visiting relatives in other states. Such families were in a particularly vulnerable situation because of lack of local information and any support structure. Not only did the administration allow the situation to drift and escalate, it was also learnt that the police intervened in the situation and discouraged the victims of sexual assault and their families from lodging formal complaints. The police argued that there was no chance of identifying and intercepting the culprits in the current situation and lodging of complaints will only result in bringing further trauma and ‘dishonour’ to their families. The police strictly warned the locals of dire consequences if they opened their mouth on the issue. They were threatened that the youth of their villages would be framed in police cases if they confirm the occurrence of the sexual assault incidents. However, on the basis of the inputs gathered, the team inferred that the occurrence of heinous crime of sexual assaults cannot be ruled out. Hence, the women’s organisations feel that there is a necessity to hold a high level enquiry into these reports of such a grave nature. An immediate constitution of an SIT with adequate representation from the legal profession and women’s organisations who have a track record of human rights interventions is necessary as the State machinery is not acting and is in fact denying that sexual assaults have taken place. Therefore the SIT that has been constituted does not instil confidence in the victims to fearlessly depose before it. In these circumstances, given the dubious role of the police and the administration in Haryana, the organisations expressed serious doubts regarding the impartiality of the investigations and urged upon the chief justice to institute a high level enquiry to bring out the truth. This would send a strong message to the victims to come forward and depose without fear of intimidation and retribution and give a message to the perpetrators of the crime that they cannot go scot free and will be brought to justice. It will also reassure the people of Murthal that justice is being done as they are traumatised not only by the incident but by the dubious role of the police and administration.