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#MurthalRapes: Haryana govt all but shuts case, activists cry cover-up

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:59 IST

The investigation into the alleged mass rape near Murthal in Sonepat on 22 February, at the peak of the Jat agitation, seems to have hit a dead end.

The Manohar Lal Khattar regime has reportedly told the central government that while some women had been harassed, the reports of at least 10 women being raped were incorrect. It has thus contradicted the claims made by civil society groups, which have now demanded a judicial probe.

Also read - Bad to worse: alleged #MurthalRapes put Haryana govt in a bind

Unresolved mystery

The alleged mass rape has become somewhat of a mystery. After it was first reported last month, the government and the police denied it saying they had not received any complaint.

Then a police team led by Sonepat SP Abhishek Garg recovered women's undergarments from the fields where the alleged incident had taken place, indicating the possibility of the crime having taken place.

Soon, the Punjab and Haryana High Court, taking up the matter suo motu, asked for a probe, prompting the state government to constituted a Special Investigation Team.

By then, conflicting reports were coming thick and fast from the ground. The state had sent a principal secretary and an IGP to Murthal to verify the reports but they didn't find any evidence of the alleged mass rape. An team from the National Commission for Women, too, returned empty handed. Several civil society groups and journalist didn't find anything concrete either.

Some "eyewitnesses" to the alleged assault quoted in media reports did an about-turn when asked by the police to record their statements. Others kept insisting the mass rape had taken place but they wouldn't divulge details. A few "preferred to keep silent for safety".

We'll definitely proceed in the case whenever a complainant comes forward: Sonepat SP Abhishek Garg

In the midst of all this, a woman from Narela, Delhi, came forward alleging she had been raped near Murthal by seven men including her brother-in-law.

The woman claimed she and her minor daughter were travelling in a bus from Haridwar to Delhi on the night of 22 February. The bus broke down near Panipat, and she boarded a private passenger vehicle. Near Murthal, a group of seven men stopped the vehicle, smashed its windows and dragged the woman and her daughter out. They took them to the nearby fields, where one allegedly raped her while some of the others molested her daughter. The woman claimed that she was originally from Jatheri village in Sonepat.

Sources in the police said the FIR filed on the woman's complaint was cancelled because the "details given by her could not be corroborated".

Now, the Haryana government has all but closed the case.

Also read - View from the ground: Why we may never know truth about Murthal 'rapes'

Truth suppressed?

Activists though aren't amused. "It is an attempt to suppress the matter. The police had earlier said the clothes recovered from the fields were of women from the migrant blacksmith community. Now they are reportedly saying the clothes had been looted from a shop nearby and dumped there. Any rational person can distinguish between new and used clothes," said a member of Jan Sangharsh Manch who was part of the team which had visited Murthal after the alleged incident was reported.

"Secondly, why were women's undergarments alone dumped in the fields? If a cloth shop was looted, there would have been other garments as well."

The activists have also contested the police's initial claim that the underwear had been discarded by blacksmith women. The women from this community, they have argued, do not normally wear the apparel found in the fields. "Only a judicial probe can now bring out the facts of the case," said Sunita Tyagi of the JSM.

Prof Jagmohan Singh of the Association for Democratic Reforms echoed her. "A probe under a sitting Supreme Court judge should be carried out," he told Catch. "The state had been cut off for 36 hours when the reported assault on the women took place. By the time the investigation started, the evidence had been destroyed. This denial by the state is the most dangerous thing. You are conveying to the people that they can get away with anything."

The AFDR and the Democratic Lawyers Association Punjab have released a report, based on field visits, on the "developments in Haryana during the Jat agitation". It reads, "At Murthal, the agitators blocked NH-1, burnt 12 trucks, a bus and several cars. The women passengers were manhandled and even gang raped on the night of 21-22 February 2016."

Haryana was cut off for 36 hours. By the time the probe began, the evidence had been destroyed: AFDR

The report continues, "The officials of intelligence agencies in civil clothes were trying their hard to conceal the gang rape of women. However, the fact finding committee came to know from their interaction with local people, lower level officials and villagers and dhaba owners that the gang rape of women did take place. The media persons also confirmed it. The SHO, however, denied any such incidence. It is learnt that most of the women travellers were from Punjab, Himachal and Jammu and Kashmir."

Some activists have alleged that all three of Haryana's main parties have reason to keep the truth about "this particular episode" under wraps. While the ruling BJP doesn't want its image tarnished, the Congress and the INLD have a sizeable Jat support base and they have been talking about "attempts to target the community".

Sonepat SP Abhishek Garg, however, dismissed allegations of a cover-up saying, "We will definitely proceed in the matter whenever a complainant comes forward."

More in Catch - Why is Chhattisgarh govt scared of human rights defenders?

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#JatQuotaStir: how Haryana CM Khattar dug himself into a hole

First published: 18 March 2016, 8:17 IST