Thursday, December 04, 2014

Tribal woman cop's death: How Gujarat police sought to interpret clear case of sexual abuse as suicide

By Our Representative
The Nirbhaya case helped bring incidents of violence against women sharply into focus, but large number of women activists are starting to wonder why, if the victim is from a vulnerable community, she rarely draws attention. The death of a lady tribal police constable from Rajpipla in Gujarat Vasanti Vasava on November 24 under mysterious circumstances is being cited as an example which should have drawn as attention on lines with UP's Badaun gang rape of May 2014. There is little knowledge in general public about this gruesome incident, even in Gujarat. In in Rajpipla, a small town in South Gujarat in tribal dominated district, Narmada, things changed only after the Gujarat Women Rights Council, a recently floated group by a well-known Dalit rights activist of Navsarjan Trust, Ahmedabad, Manjula Pradeep, took up the death of Vasanti as a case of sexual assault and murder when the police was frantically trying to project it as a “simple case of suicide”.
Pradeep was busy in Vadodara district with her month-long campaign on violence against women, which had begun on November 25, declared by the UN as International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The campaign was to continue till December 10. Around 50 activists, led by her, were moving addressing women in one village after another. On November 26 late night, news trickled about the death of Vasanti, 28, which, Pradeep was told by Rajpipla municipality chief Mahesh Vasava, was sought to be projected as death due to suicide by hanging with a thick nylon thread tied to the ceiling fan.
Manjula Pradeep negotiating with cops
Vasanti’s body was discovered on November 26 evening from her room in the Rajpipla police quarters. The police kept the family members, who called it a murder following sexual assault, at bay. It changed it into a “probable murder case” only after activists, with the help of tribals, staged protests at the police station. Even then, the police kept quoting a suicide note allegedly written by Vasanti which said, “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 in Gujarati has Vasanti’s “signature” in English.
The family members said the handwriting was not Vasanti’s and the note was fake, but cops wouldn't listen. All this was made known on November 27, when Pradeep and her team reached Rajpipla, headquarters of Narmada district, where the incident had taken.
While Vasanti’s brother Raghuvir Vasava was in a state of shock, other family members complained to her that they were not being heard. A young boy who has just completed his 12th, Mahesh later told Pradeep that Vasanti would often tell her about sexual abuse by head constable, Vijaysinh Deepsinh, the accused, and would weep profusely, not knowing what to do. Backed by activists, the family members of the victim refused to perform the last rites. Tribals took out rally 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 demanded that they wanted the body’s post mortem be done at Vadodara’s SSG Hospital, which had forensic test facility. Backed by protesters in Rajpipla, they succeeded, and the body was moved to Vadodara.
Rally in memory of Vasanti in Rajpipla
The victim’s family members kept arguing that the police was trying to shield the accused, who worked in the same police station for nearly a decade, and was privy to many a “secret" of several top brasses of the police department in Narmada district. Meanwhile, the accused “disappeared” from Rajpipla.
Pradeep and other activists began negotiating with the police over the need to arrest the accused if the last rites were to be performed, even as tribals continued their protest. They insisted that the anti-atrocities law should be part of the FIR, as the accused belonged to a dominant caste, to which the police finally agreed.
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 several hundred people. On activists' demand, the body was buried, instead of being cremated, as they said it might be needed in case more investigation was necessary.
On December 1, 2014, at around 4 pm, almost five days after the first FIR was registered, the the Narmada police arrested the accused from the outskirts of Ahmedabad. 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. Armed police was present in large numbers fearing law-and-order problem “on orders from Gandhinagar”, to quote the police, but things did not turn violent.
“We believe in peaceful methods and adopt legal means to ensure justice to the victims”, Pradeep told the police officials, adding, “All this would not have happened had you not goofed up by rushing to declare it as a case of suicide.”

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