Vulnerable women: Victims of neglect

By Rajiv Shah
The Nirbhaya case may have helped bring cases of violence against women sharply into focus, yet large number of a women activists have begun to wonder, as to why, if the victim is from a vulnerable community, she rarely draws attention. The mysterious death of a lady tribal police constable from Rajpipla in Gujarat — Vasanti Vasava — between November 24 and 26, 2014 highlights how a state machinery treats atrocities committed on such women. Tables were turned only after the Gujarat Women Rights Council, a recently floated group by a well-known dalit rights activist, Manjula Pradeep, took up the death of Vasanti as a case of sexual assault and murder at a time when the police was trying to turn it into a “simple case of suicide”.
Manjula was busy in Vadodara district with a 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 for nearly a month, and around 50 activists, led by her, were moving around different villages. On November 26 late night, news came about the death of Vasanti, aged 28 , which, she 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.
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.
On November 27, Manjula 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 had just completed his 12th, Mahesh later told Manjula that Vasanti would often tell her about sexual harassment by head constable, Vijaysinh Deepsinh, the accused, and would often cry profusely, not knowing what to do. Backed by activists, the family members of the victim refused to perform the last rites, 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 led by Manjula 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, all of them tribals, the activists succeeded in their aim, and the body was moved to Vadodara. 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 district. Meanwhile, the accused “disappeared” from Rajpipla.
Manjula 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 even insisted that the anti-atrocities law should be part of the FIR, which the police finally conceded. 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 problemth “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”, Manjula 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.”

Comments