By Rajiv Shah
The mysterious death of the lady tribal police constable from Rajpipla — Vasanti Vasava — between November 24 and 26, 2014, has evidently exposed the indifference on the part of the police establishment, which becomes particularly glaring if the victim is a woman and is from a vulnerable community. Significantly, this came to light when the Gujarat Women Rights Council and the Navsarjan Trust were still busy in Vadodara district with their campaign against violence against women, which had begun on November 25, declared by the United Nations as International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The campaign was to continue for nearly one full month, and activists, led by Manjula Pradeep, were moving around different villages of the district. On November 26 late night, news came about the death of Vasanti, a 28-year-old police constable, which was sought to be projected as death due to suicide because of hanging with a thick nylon thread tied to a ceiling fan.
Vasanti’s body was discovered on November 26 evening from her room in the Rajpipla police quarters. The police first made out that she had committed suicide and an official note has been made that the “body was pulled down from the ceiling fan.” The police first registered a case of suicide, but later changed it into a “probable murder case” and lodged an FIR against Vijaysinh after pressure from the victim’s family members, protesting tribals and activists. Even then, the police continued quoting a suicide note allegedly written by Vasanti which says, “I am committing suicide as per my own wish and no one is responsible for my death. Please do not perform any medical tests on my body after my death. This is my last wish.” The note, written in Gujarati, emphasises on skipping the medical tests by repeating the line in large letters under Vasanti’s alleged signature in English. The family members, however, said, the handwriting was not Vasanti’s and the note was fake.
Pradeep and her team cancelled their programme and rushed to Rajpipla on November 27, headquarters of Narmada district, where the incident had taken in the police quarters, where Vasanti lived. While Vasanti’s brother Raghuvir Vasava was in a state of shock, the family members alleged that it was murder. It at this point that the police complaint repeatedly called it a case of suicide. Raghuriv was brought to his normal senses by Manjula Pradeep. A young boy who had just completed his 12th, he complained to Manjula Pradeep that Vasanti would often tell her about sexual harassment by head constable, Vijaysinh Deepsinh, the accused, and would often cry profusely. He said, his plea to the police that it was a murder plain and simple was not being heard. The activists’ entry on the spot turned out to be a major embarrassment for the Narmada police. Backed by them, the family members of the victim refused to perform the last rites and staged a protest in Rajpipla demanding immediate arrest of the accused.
With the district magistrate’s order in hand, which said that there should be a complete videography of the post mortem, and that it should be performed in the presence of a lady doctor, the activists led by Manjula Pradeep demanded that they wanted the body’s post mortem to be done at Vadodara’s SSG Hospital, where there is facility of getting forensic tests. Backed by protesters in Rajpipla, all of them tribals, the activists succeeded in their aim, and the body was moved to Vadodara’s SSG Hospital. The victim’s family members kept arguing that the police was trying to shield the accused as, remaining in the same police station for nearly a decade, he was the “secret keeper” of several top brasses of the police department in Narmada. Already on leave, the accused “disappeared” from Rajpipla. Meanwhile, Manjula Pradeep and other activists began negotiating with the police over the need to arrest the accused if the last rites were to be performed. Finally, Narmada deputy SP Manoharsinh Jadeja gave it in writing to the family members of the victim that Vijaysinh would be arrested within three days, enabling the last rites to take place on November 29 amidst a gathering of large number of people. The body was buried with police giving guard of honour, instead of being cremated, as activists insisted it might be needed in case more investigation was necessary.
However, things did not turn to normal for Vasanti’s family members and tribals. They backed Vasanti’s brother Raghuvir, who insisted, “The police first registered a case of suicide and showed us a suicide note. Then under pressure they registered the FIR, but said that Vijaysinh was not in town as he was on leave. Now they are saying they will complete the probe. We do not trust them.” He said, “We know they have tried to cover up this case as Vijaysinh is a very influential constable who knows the secrets of many top officials. They fear that he will harm them if they initiate any action against him.” He added, his sister Vasanti had told him that Vijaysinh was trying to get promoted to the post of a PSI and had been pestering her to continue a physical relationship with him. “She used to cry for hours, recounting the trauma of the sexual abuse at the hands of Vijaysinh. He was protected by the other officials as he kept their secrets and even now, they are trying to shield him instead of getting justice for their female colleague.”
On December 1, 2014, at around 4 pm, almost five days after an FIR was registered in the mysterious death of Vasanti in Rajpipla, the Local Crime Branch of the Narmada Police arrested Vijaysinh Deepsinh from the outskirts of Ahmedabad city. According to the police, Vijaysinh had been evading arrest ever since an FIR was lodged against him for the abetment of suicide of lady constable Vasanti Vasava. He was brought to Rajpipla and was put in police remand for four days. Meanwhile, a silent rally was taken out on December 2 in Rajpipla to condole the death of Vasanti, in which activists from Gujarat Women Rights Council and Navsarjan Trust participated. Other participants included Rajpipla municipality chief Mahesh Vasava, the first person to inform Manjula Pradeep about the gruesome incident on November 27 during a rally in a village, executive president Bharat Vasava, prominent citizens Prof Prafull Patel and Dr Shantilal Vasava. The theme was to highlight the need to violence against women. Though armed police was present in large numbers fearing law-and-order problem, on orders from Gandhinagar, nothing of the kind happened. “We believe in peaceful methods and adopting legal means to ensure justice to the victims”, Manjula Pradeep told the police officials, adding, “All this would not have happened had you not goofed up the matter by declaring it a case of suicide.”