(This story was first published on 12 January 2019. It is being reposted from The Quint's archives to commemorate six years to the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots)
Aafreen* says she was raped during the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots. She filed a complaint. She waited to give evidence during trial. She was repeatedly pressurised to ‘compromise’.
Now, after six difficult years, her wait has finally ended.
As she gears up to submit evidence and be cross-questioned, she fights anxiety. Despite having waited for her moment of truth, she can’t help but feel vulnerable again. Add to it, the discomfort of being eyed head to toe.
Aafreen’s* is not the only rape trial from the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots – there were five others. Of the six, The Quint had exposed how five Muslim rape survivors reached a compromise with the 22 Hindu rape accused. The deal was replete with pressure and threats, besides bribing rape survivors to change testimonies.
While five rape survivors succumbed to pressure and struck deals, Aafreen stood her ground.
Why the 6-Yr Delay?
While the delay came with a rush of difficulties for Aafreen, the three rape accused in the case – Kuldeep, Sikandar and Maheshveer – were comforted by it. The delay meant buying more time outside of jail.
After the alleged rape in the September of 2013, the FIR was registered in February 2014, following intervention of the Supreme Court. The charge sheet was filed by the end of 2014 and the case was committed to the sessions court in January 2015 – all of which took two years.
“It was after this that the lawyers of the rape accused filed discharge applications and sought repeated adjournments which delayed the case,” private counsel of the rape survivor, Ratna Appnender, told The Quint. It was during this time that Aafreen was forced to move out of Muzaffarnagar due to repeated pressure and threats from the accused to reach a settlement. Thereafter, she came all the way from Delhi for the hearings.
Appnender added that it was only in the last few months of 2018 that charges were framed. Aafreen was given summons to appear in the last week of December and appeared for the first day of trial on 3 Jan. And just like that, six years slipped by.
Rape Survivor ‘Pressurised to Compromise’
They had recently made desperate attempts to strike a compromise in the case. The Quint had reported how a few days before Diwali in November 2018, the relatives of the rape accused paid a visit to the rape survivor’s home. Aafreen and her husband were away then, but the relatives told Aafreen’s neighbour to convince her to make a compromise,and accept money.
But the intimidation didn’t stop there, the lawyers of the rape survivor submitted in court that witnesses were influenced recently.
The Quint went 40 kilometers from Muzaffarnagar court to Shamli to meet the witness who confirmed that the brother of one of the accused had visited him twice. Both times he was insistent that Aafreen ought to strike a compromise and put an end to this ‘court drama’.
All efforts to close the case by the rape accused have fallen flat so far. Kuldeep, Sikandar and Maheshveer are well aware of how the other 22 Hindu men got off the hook by striking a compromise. They feel a sense of bitter bewilderment at them.
Kuldeep owned a small store in the village but since he was tagged a rape accused after the riots, he has not spent a single day working. He is the first one to sit behind a metal fence meant for the accused in the court room. “I have always been prone to accidents in the family. See my earlobe, I was bitten by a mad dog a few days ago,” he says. He spends his time at home, alone in his room and sometimes helps the family with work on the fields. By the end of the day, he rests his head in his cupped hands.
Maheshveer, 58, the oldest of the three, says he has gone through six years of being named a rape accused all alone. “I never got married. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want kids. I’m a loner. I had to argue with my parents a lot,” he says reflecting on the past. As if convincing himself, he repeatedly says, “I did not commit the crime.” He joins Kuldeep to sit soon after – his knees are giving away, he says.
Sikandar, 33, who has been working at a sugarcane factory, grew tired and weary but never sat down. Moments before entering the court room, the seemingly confident man snapped out of deep thought and said, “Whatever is written in my fate will happen. I cannot fight it. What if this is happening to me now so my next life is better? If I have to end up in jail, I will.”
The Rape Trial: The Beginning of The End
The trial is an in-camera proceeding, which means it is not open to the public, but that doesn’t seem to stop them.
From the moment the rape accused and the survivor stepped in with their respective counsels, the doors of the court room have remained open. Men, clad in shawls to brave the harsh winter winds, stand at the door of the court room. Two policemen in uniform stand tall outside, driving away the curious onlookers.
Within the quiet walls of the courtroom, Aafreen is being cross-questioned, fighting a battle that has become synonymous with her life, as the three rape accused await their fate. She awaits the end of trial, and the end of a long tiring wait to see her perpetrators be brought to shame.
*name changed to protect identity