"Aap kya bol rahi hai, sachi mein? Mujhe toh vishwas hi nahi ho rahaan. (What are you saying, are you serious? I cannot believe it," were the first words of Aafreen* (name changed to protect identity), the survivor, after a trial court in Uttar Pradesh on Tuesday, 9 May, convicted two men in a case of gang rape during the 2013 Muzaffarnagar communal riots. There were three perpetrators in the case but one of them has since died.
"Truth has won. I was saying the truth, now everyone will know that. Finally, everyone will know that," Aafreen, who was raped as a 27-year-old, told The Quint.
As a reporter who has covered her journey for over five years, I can say that showed emotional resilience against threats, physical attacks, and constant out-of-court settlement offers for money were repeatedly rejected by her.
While speaking to the reporter before the verdict, she was extremely anxious. "What will happen?" she asked. "Only good things," she kept answering.
Supported by a husband, who had to deal with a lot of this himself, he stood by her against all odds.
The final arguments began in 2019. Delhi-based lawyer Vrinda Grover and her team were there along the way, filing affidavits about witnesses being tampered with and the threats she was receiving.
Grover and her team of lawyers moved the Supreme Court on 3 March 2023, stating that because of various issues the case was not getting heard, including the judge being transferred or on account of administrative reasons.
"The aforesaid scenario thus troubles us and we are thus of the view that the trial Court should be asked to take up the matter on priority and there is no reason why in a final argument case, the matter should be adjourned for long dates," the order by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice Ahsanuddin Amanullah read.
What Happened 10 Years Ago?
In 2013, during Muzaffarnagar communal riots which started in Kawal on August 27 and spread to other parts, it reached Aafreen's home two weeks later. While her husband was out on September 8, taking their eldest son to the doctor she decided to stay back and take care of her three-month-old son.
When the violence came closer to her home she dashed to the fields with her newborn. Three men, Kuldeep Singh, Maheshvir and Sikander Malik caught up with her.
They threatened to kill her child if she would not comply. She was raped by all three. She knew all three of them, as her family would stitch clothes from them.
Kuldeep Singh who died in 2020 after suffering from an alcohol problem, owned a small electrical repair shop, Sikander Malik, 36, worked at a sugarcane factory, and Maheshvir, 60, works at a government-owned alcohol shop in Muzaffarnagar district.
Back in 2014, after the cases were brought to the notice of the Supreme Court, the court had ordered they be tried in fast-track courts and the trial be completed within two months. It took ten years and many judges for the court to reach its verdict of conviction.
Aafreen was not the only woman to have accused men of rape. There were six others. The Quint has stayed with this story for several years.
To read about how the courts let the women down, read here.
Vrinda Grover's Reaction
The accused have been convicted under Section 376D for gangrape and sentenced to 20 years rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs 10,000, Section 376 (2)(g) for committing rape during communal violence and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment and a fine of Rs 5,000 and Section 506 for criminal intimidation and sentenced to 2 years rigorous imprisonment.
Vrinda Grover said that the judgment has come 10 years after the incident, which was deliberately delayed and protracted to exhaust the victim and coerce her to accept hush money.
"Since the inception of this case the complainant has had to repeatedly approach the superior courts for enforcing her statutory and constitutional rights."Vrinda Grover
"The institution of the proceedings was protracted by non-registration of FIR for which the victim had to approach the honourable Supreme Court," she said, adding that the victim was forced to move the Supreme Court through a contempt petition.
"Despite various order of the Hon’ble Supreme Court directing expeditious disposal of the trial, it saw protracted and deliberate delays. Forcing the victim to approach the honourable Supreme Court yet again for direction of day to day hearing," Grover said, adding that this shows the egregious apathy of justice mechanism towards a victim of sexual violence.