Naroda Patiya: Failure to bring charges of rape, without information about identities of perpetrators of sexual violence

Screen shot 2016-01-25 at 7.06.21 PMWell-researched, the 410-page “Conflicted Democracies and Gendered Violence: The Right to Heal” provides, to quote Navanethem Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2008-2014, “an incisive, comparative, and contextual framework for grappling with some of the most challenging issues of our time – gender and sexual violence in conflict.” Based on spot inquiry in Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, Odisha and Gujarat, and a plethora of documents, the study has been authored by a group of 10 researchers led by Angana P Chatterji of the Center for Social Sector Leadership, Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley. An excerpt from the case study of 2002 communal violence in Naroda Patiya area of Gujarat:

In Naroda Patiya, the ideologically ritualized sexual violence by vigilante Hindus against women led to the mutilation of victims by severing breasts and tearing open wombs and vaginas and to the forced abortion of fetuses and displaying them on trishuls—while, in numerous instances, the local police stood by and watched. A trishul is a three-pronged (usually metal) trident of religious significance to many Hindus and in militant Hinduism. The sexualizing of religionized aggression led to the display of public violence on Muslim sexuality.

On February 28, 2002, at approximately 8:00 am, about five thousand to ten thousand armed persons carrying spears, swords, tridents, gas cylinders, petrol bombs, and acid bombs attacked the Muslim community of Naroda Patiya. Located in eastern Ahmedabad, Naroda Patiya was a community of nearly one thousand low-income Muslim families. Attackers, led by members of the BJP and the VHP, another Hindu nationalist organization, shouted “Jai Sri Ram [long live Lord Ram],” “Not a single Miya [Muslim] should be able to survive,” and “Slaughter, Cut .”360 Some perpetrators used trishuls and wore saffron scarves and khaki shorts—the uniform of Hindu nationalist groups.

The attack on the neighborhood lasted until 10:00 PM. A court judgment found that “[members of the mob] were shattering the property of Muslims into pieces; they were ransacking the property of Muslims by getting into their homes; they were outraging the modesty of Muslim women; they were torching even women, children and cripples, burning them alive.” According to officials, 96 persons were killed, including 25 children and 35 women, and 125 persons were injured.

Grievous crimes of sexual violence were committed during the attack on Naroda Patiya. Hindu rioters raped, gang raped, inserted foreign objects into, and stripped victims. According to witnesses, most of the women victims—girls and women— were raped before they were murdered and burned. Several victims observed an attacker slice open the womb of a pregnant Muslim woman with a sword, extract her fetus, and subsequently throw both the woman and her fetus into a nearby fire; the woman was at or near full term in her pregnancy. Another witness described how a perpetrator sliced a young girl’s vagina open and threw her onto a fire. Witnesses also observed the rape of girls as young as twelve-years old.

Muslim women were killed by sword or burned alive in front of their families and alongside their children. One witness reported that his daughter was dragged away, raped by four to five men, and beaten. She later died at a hospital. The witness’s spouse and two other daughters were also dragged away and burned alive. Members of fleeing Muslim families were detained, stripped, raped, and then murdered. One woman recalled seeing “a naked girl running from twenty-five men.” Another survivor testified that four men cut off the string of her petticoat, sliced her hand with a sword, and gang raped her.

Victims and eyewitnesses stated that police officers were complicit in the sexual crimes against women both during and after the incident. According to human rights reports, Muslim requests for help went unheeded. For example, one victim-survivor recalled: “The police was on the spot but helping the mob. We fell in their feet but they said they were ordered from above [not to help]. Since the telephone wires were snapped we could not inform the fire brigade.” The local police station did not erect a barrier to block entry into the Muslim area or deploy mahila [women] police. Until evening on February 28, 2002, RB Sreekumar of the Indian Police Service had ordered that the godown (warehouse) area be kept open which enabled many escaping survivors to seek shelter. This was closed down by a subsequent reversal of the order signed by another officer.

Some police officers also actively participated in the violence. For example, witnesses reported that police officers led the mob to Muslim homes and fired on Muslims. One perpetrator testified that “there were 50-60 policemen.” At midnight, when victims of the attack were taken to a relief camp under police protection, groups attempted to block the vehicles carrying victim-survivors. Victim-survivors remained in relief camps for months until the government of Gujarat ordered the camps closed in October 2002. Four hundred survivor families have returned to the Naroda Patiya locality since 2002 and live with significant threat. Other survivors never returned to their homes in Naroda Patiya and resettled in homes provided by the Islamic Relief Committee.

Investigation

The FIR was filed at the Naroda Police Station on the night of the massacre. From February 28, 2002, to March 8, 2002, the First Investigation Officer (IO) of Naroda Police Station led the criminal investigation. The IO is authorized to record statements from witnesses, collect evidence, and arrest suspects. The first IO did not preserve physical evidence of the massacre, including victim remains or weapons, nor did he explore investigative leads, such as the source of the agent used to burn the victims, or arrest the perpetrators identified by witnesses and victim-survivors. Survivors and witnesses criticized the IO for his ill treatment of Muslims, insensitivity towards victim-survivors, and refusal to take statements from witnesses.

On March 8, 2002, the Assistant Police Commissioner of Gujarat took over the investigation. Although he recorded statements from a few of the injured parties at the hospital, he did not arrest any of the accused named in the FIRs. The investigator interviewed Hindus, but did not visit the victim-survivors’ relief camps. The Special Court concluded, “He was too careless to even know that the complainants and victims were Muslims.”

In May 2002, the investigation was transferred to the Crime Branch in Ahmedabad, where it remained until April 2008. According to a court ruling, the investigators within the Crime Branch often refused to record the names of perpetrators provided by witnesses. A witness alleged that the investigators only asked for the names and addresses of witnesses and completed the remainder of the witness statements according to their “whim and will.”

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), National Commission for Women (NCW), and National Commission for Minorities (NCM) criticized the police investigation and police operations. According to the final judgment in the case, “the entire police record of statements [wa]s suspect and unreliable .” One attorney at the NHRC noted, “When witnesses file complaints, the police enter their statements according to their [own] preference. They don’t file complaints properly. People are uneducated and the police don’t show them the statement, they just get them to sign it… In some cases, [the police] won’t write the name of the accused. In one case, for example, seven people were identified but they didn’t write their names.”

The NCW criticized the way police in Gujarat registered details of violence against women (NCW, 2002). The chair of the NCW stated that, “the number of FIRs registered was much less than the incidents of violence against women reported to the NCW”. An article in the New York Times stated that, “thousands of cases against rioters were dismissed by the police for lack of evidence despite eyewitness accounts”.

There is evidence that, during the investigation, police mistreated and re-traumatized victim-survivors of sexual violence. According to the Special Court, “the psychological aspect and the result of such crimes which…traumatiz[ed] victims is [a] very important factor. It is clear that none of the previous investigators has taken any care for the victims of the crime[s] all of which was necessary for effective investigation of [the] crime[s] to unearth the modus, the preparation, the conspiracy, the perpetrators, etc.” Moreover, investigating officers did not follow up with witnesses to obtain accurate, detailed information.

Police merged the 120 reports filed by victim-survivors of sexual violence into 26 official complaints two to three months following the massacre. These “omnibus” FIRs did not identify individual perpetrators but attributed the violence to anonymous “mobs.” The prosecutor was unable to bring charges of rape without information about the identities of the perpetrators of sexual violence, and the court was unable to determine criminal liability for the crimes. One victim-survivor reported, “I am not a ‘mob,’ I am a woman who was gang raped by three men. How can I hope for justice when they don’t even register my complaint properly?”

Prosecution

A stay by the Supreme Court of India from 2003 to 2008 delayed the beginning of trial. In 2008, the Supreme Court ordered a reinvestigation of the case in response to petitions filed by the NHRC and the civil rights NGO (non-governmental organization), Citizens for Justice and Peace. The Supreme Court appointed a SIT to conduct the new investigation.

In 2009, the Supreme Court constituted a fast-track court, a special prosecutor was appointed, and charges were filed against sixty-two accused, including prominent figures within the BJP and VHP. Of the sixty-two accused, fifty-seven had been arrested and released on bail between 2002 and 2009. Some of the accused released on bail threatened witnesses and pressured victim-survivors to get them to withdraw their cases and witnesses. During the trial, 327 witnesses testified, including 25 women and 42 doctors. Trial records reveal that the doctors who examined women after the attack did not testify about the evidence of sexual violence.

In 2012, approximately three years after the trial began and ten years after the attack on Naroda Patiya, an Indian court rendered the only judgment in the case. The Special Court judge convicted thirty-two defendants of murder, attempted murder, conspiracy, spreading enmity and communal hatred, and unlawful assembly, and acquitted twenty-nine defendants. A former government cabinet member and a leader of the Bajrang Dal were among those found guilty.

Although ten of the sixty-two defendants were charged with crimes of sexual violence, including rape, “assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty,” and an “act done with intention of preventing child from being born alive,” only one of the accused was convicted. The Special Court judge concluded that, although acts of sexual assault, rape, and gang rape did in fact occur, the prosecution did not successfully make the case against the identified individuals. The solitary conviction was premised upon the confession of a defendant who raped a (…)-year-old Muslim girl and killed her by throwing her from a roof. At the time of publication of this monograph, appeals against both convictions and acquittals were pending before the Gujarat High Court.

The trial judge found another victim was gang raped but concluded that the government had not proven the guilt of any of the accused. The trial judge ordered the government to compensate the gang rape victim-survivor in the amount of  500,000 Indian Rupees. The victim-survivor did not receive the compensation until months later, following several visits from the victim’s lawyers to the state Social Welfare Department and an additional court order. Allegations of police participation and complicity were not investigated and the government of Gujarat did not initiate disciplinary proceedings against police officers or public officials involved in the Naroda Patiya massacre. The judgment of the Special Court noted remarks criticizing the investigation by the police and, in part, by the Supreme Court-appointed SIT, especially regarding the phone call message links between powerful accused, policemen and politicians.

Click HERE to download the book. Contributors to the study: Angana P Chatterji, Mallika Kaur, Roxanna Altholz, Paola Bacchetta, Rajvinder Singh Bains, Mihir Desai, Laurel E Fletcher, Parvez Imroz, Jeremy J Sarkin and Pei wu

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s