While the pain and shock of the three heart-wrenching, violent killings at Kherda, Javkheda and Sonai are still fresh in the memory, yet another horrific sexual assault had cut a young girl’s life short at Kopardi (taluka Karjat), Ahmednagar on 13th July 2016.
In such cases, generally, the needle of suspicion points at the lumpen and anti-social elements in the village. This fractures the peaceful co-existence of the village dwellers by disturbing their social interactions & relationships. Journalists, crusaders, intellectuals and social workers in cities analyze such tragic incidents and present their varied viewpoints and facts with limited understanding. As a result, a lot of them get recognition for their work of revealing the truth. However, they don’t have any concrete answers for the rehabilitation of the displaced miscreants in the society.
Karjat and Jaamkhed are two drought ridden taluks in the agriculturally prosperous and politically active Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra. Karjat taluk gets water through a canal and only 31% irrigated land. The population of Kopardi village in this taluk is 2022, which is divided into 4 clusters. Agricultural land in the village is not very fertile. Animal husbandry is the only secondary source of income besides farming. The dalits in the village own very little land and have to work as laborers in the farms to make ends meet. Transport from Kopardi is not easy since there are a very few buses visiting it. From morning 8 to evening 8.30, not even a single bus passes by this village. In this village, there is a primary Marathi medium school run by the Jilha Parishad. However, for secondary and higher secondary school, students have to travel to Kuldharan which is 5 kilometers from Kopardi.
On the ill-fated day of 13th July, around 6.30 pm, four cold-blooded men raped a fifteen year old girl. The violent assault and torture was pre-planned. Realizing that the victim was trying to resist, they strangulated her to death. In order to destroy the evidence of rape, these vicious men also stuffed the victim’s vagina with sand, soil and a couple of handkerchiefs. After which, they mutilated her body. Her hands were dislocated and her neck was severely twisted in an attempt to behead her. Her hair was pulled cruelly and her private parts mutilated. The victim has sustained 127 bites on body. The victim was an accomplished sports person and excelled at kho-kho. While she was being sexually assaulted, she had tried to wriggle out of the clutches of her assailants. As a result of this resistance and fight, the place wherein she was raped had caved in by 6 inches. The victim’s clothes were found near bushes about 50 feet away, eastward. The victim’s dead body was found under a neem tree in the western direction about 100 meters from the place of the violent assault. Assailant Jitendra aka Pappu Shinde was caught while transporting the dead body to a well in the Bajra farm at 7.30 pm. Assailant Jitendra was trying to destroy the evidence of rape and murder.
The victim’s cousin went looking for her when her mother informed him about her disappearance. In a farm near the road, he found the victim’s cycle. He started to look for the victim when he saw the assailant Jitendra. As the cousin started following him, the culprit fled and the mutilated body of the girl was found. She was immediately admitted to a primary health center (PHC) in Kuldharan village. The medical officer in the PHC center declared her dead. The police then followed the legal procedure of panchanama and filed a FIR. During the investigation, Police found a lot of things about the 4 criminals’ past record. Assailants Jitendra aka Pappu Shinde, Nitin Bhailume and Vijay Shinde are cousins (from maternal side). The fourth assailant Santosh Bhaval is a friend of theirs. The families of these four criminals work as farm laborers. Jitendra Shinde works as labour at a brick-kiln. Recently, he had bought a motorbike. All four of them were celebrating and had consumed liquor. Some people from the village informed that the assailant Santosh Bhaval was infatuated by the victim.
Considering the sparse rainfall and poor quality of the farmland, all farmers in this village earn meager incomes. Yet, all of them lived a peaceful life. In this village, there never has been any case of assault or atrocity before. This speaks volumes about this once peaceful and safe village. However, after this heinous crime, there is a palpable and uneasy tension in the village. On the ill-fated day of 13th July, when the victim’s mutilated body was brought to Karjat, the villagers requested to stall the postmortem until the assailants were legally punished. The police then located assailant Jitendra’s hide-out using GPS and arrested him. However, villagers complained that the police had hesitated and delayed the arrest of the remaining three criminals.
Karjat taluk is part of the constituency of the state’s cabinet home minister and Ahmednagar guardian minster Prof. Ram Shinde. On 14th July, the victim’s cousin filed a FIR in the afternoon at 1.10, at Karjat police station under IPC section 302, 376 (a). Then, the victim was cremated. Meanwhile, Minister Prof. Ram Shinde was promoted and allocated the prestigious portfolio of irrigation. On July 14th, he resigned from the home ministry and took oath as the Irrigation Minister. On 15th July, the second criminal was arrested. 48 hours after the rape and murder of the victim, the remaining two assailants were still not arrested. Therefore, a social organization named Shivprahar started an agitation to protest the delay in arresting the remaining two criminals. Minister Prof. Ram Shinde then promised to meet the family members of the victim. On 16th, the third assailant was arrested while the fourth assailant, Vijay Shinde was still at large.
Local papers broke the story of this brutal assault and murder after two days, on the 15th of July. News clippings of this unfortunate news circulated through social media as the State then found out about the tragic, brutal assault and murder of Kopardi’s Nirbhaya! Sadly, until then, not a single media house or news channel had covered the story of this heinous crime. The only exception was a channel, which showed this news on its ticker.
It was the criticism about the lack of coverage of this brutal crime, when compared to the coverage of the Kherda and Javkheda murders that drove the news channels to run a news story. The channels then started making noise about this brutal assault and murder. Considering the brutality and serious nature of this crime, forensic experts from Nashik’s Forensic Laboratory visited the place of rape and conducted thorough investigation. In the legal trial, the information given by the witness, the petitioner, the officer who carried out the postmortem and forensic report will prove to be crucial. However, experts say that, had the forensic investigation been done before the postmortem, a lot of evidence could have been successfully gathered. This would have also helped to prosecute the criminals with a strong evidential basis.
The violent sexual assault and murder of this 15-year-old girl has shaken and shocked everybody. Therefore, all lawyers in the district have taken a unanimous decision to not to fight the case of the accused criminals. Ahmednagar district is a politically active and important district. Yet, villagers have expressed concern and regret over the delay in the investigation by police. They also regret over the fact that the politicians did not influence the police force for a faster action. When ex-guardian minister Balasaheb Thorat was asked about the delay in investigation and prosecution, he agreed that “the delay is the collective failure of all of us”.
The victim was studying at Kuldharan’s Nutan Higher Secondary School in the 9th standard. This school is 5 kilometers away from Kopardi. A lot of students of this school come from nearby villages such as Pimpalwadi, Rakshaswadi, Daalwadi, Dupekarwaadi and Nathachi wadi. These students generally walk to this school in Kuldharan. Since last week, this school has been closed because of the brutal assault and murder of its talented student! This tragic incidence has sent shock waves in the nearby villages. The road from Kopardi to Kuldharan goes from Rehkuri Sanctuary and owing to the less traffic the villagers are now scared to even send their children to school. There are 60 policemen working at the Karjat police station. However, these numbers are not enough.
Since last two years, villagers are requesting for a police chowcki at Kuldharan. However, their requests had been turned down by the erstwhile district guardian minister Prof. Ram Shinde. He allegedly commented that unless there was a rise in the crime rate of that area, a police station could not be allocated. Considering the recently closed school and the frightened parents, Kuldharan will now hopefully get an outpost police station.
Last but not the least, it is important to understand the social ramifications and consequences of the brutal rape and murder of the young girl from Kopardi. The state of Maharashtra is known for its social justice and fair legal trials. However, the existing caste conflicts between that of the victim’s and the assaulters’ are fracturing the sociocultural dynamics and fabric of the state. An uneasy upheaval seems to be taking place. However, if we try to find out how our society help rehabilitate the rape survivors and their families, we see that the picture is very bleak and that a lot of work is needed.
In this land of great social workers and thinkers such as Phule, Shahu and Ambedkar, social justice and rehabilitation of rape victims and their families still remains a very seriously neglected issue. The situation of the victims and their families is worrisome. A young Pune girl who was assaulted by a peon is still not getting admission in any school! The Kopardi girl who was brutally sexually assaulted and murdered was going to be married off at the tender age of 15 due to the extreme poverty of her parents.
When Nirbhaya got brutally sexually assaulted in a Delhi bus in 2013 and died after a few weeks, the entire country was shocked and devastated by this heinous crime. After that tragic incidence, it seemed that the attitude of majority of men towards women had improved and they started treating women and girls with respect. However, the recent Kopardi incidence proves that this wave indeed was short-lived. What seems to have remained is the symbolic name given to these brave victims – Nirbhaya!
Several incidences of brutal sexual assaults are still being reported in the country. However, the long legal procedures, the apathy and non-cooperation of the police force and the callousness of people in the society deny justice to these unfortunate Nirbhayas. The unforgiving delays in getting justice and the twists and turns in the trials make the future look bleak for the surviving victims. Unfortunately, our society is still groping in the dark with regard to social justice and rehabilitation of rape victims. It is time that our society shakes its malaise, indifference and inaction and forces the government and legislation to form stricter laws, deliver quick justice with appropriate punishment and also establish a framework for the rehabilitation of the victims and their families.
Till the above happens, let the society find solace in its intellectual, social, legal and political debility.
Photographs: Jayantkumar Sonawane
Article Courtesy: Jayantkumar, Manas
Original Marathi article was published at Sumbaran