Gangrape in Modirashtra: Sangh Parivar Stands Indicted

What is a Chief Minister supposed to do if victim of a gangrape and her batchmates – who have similarly faced assault at the hands of the rapists – and their parents come to meet him to seek strict action in the case which has rocked the entire state ?

Courtesy demands that the chief minister spares time and at least meet the victim and formally tell them that ‘no guilty would be spared’.But when it comes to Narendra Modi, all such courteous behaviour, it appears is just a waste of time.

The latest case of gangrape in a Primary Teachers Training Colleg (PTC) in Patan, 130 kms from Ahmedabad, by her own teachers is a case in point.

It is being reported that the high profile CM of Gujarat did not deem it necessary to meet the victim because of his otherwise ‘busy schedule’.

The reasons for his non-meeting the victim are not far to seek.

In fact the exposure of this case had rather brought out the naked reality of the much tom-tommed ‘vibrant Gujarat’ before the masses. It was the time when media was singing paens to the ‘dynamic leadership’ of Modi who had ‘vanquished his opponents’ inside and outside the party. It was the time when he was anointed no 2 in the BJP hierarchy at the national level and the BJP president asked other CMs of his party to follow the ‘Modi model’.

The manner in which the whole case came to light – and has shocked the saffron regime – was rather unexpected for Mr Modi.

In fact once the matter spilled over beyond the confines of the four walls of the college, the anger of the Patan residents against the whole episode knew no bounds.The whole town remained closed for two consecutive days to demand prompt action against the guilty. Angry residents of Patan city took out a massive rally, which saw the participation of more than 25,000 people, to demand action against the six teachers. Apart from Patan, most of the major towns and cities in Gujarat witnessed similar rallies in support of the dalit girl victim.

The media in general and the Gujarati media in particular deemed it necessary to bring into focus facts relating to the case.And definitely they were not at all soothing for Mr Modi. It duly reported that, the alleged rapists – the six teachers in the Primary Teachers Training College – namely Manish Parmar, Suresh Patel, Ashwin Parmar, Kiran Patel, Atul Patel and Narendra Patel – are close to Ms Anandiben Patel, who herself is a close confidant of Mr Narendra Modi himself. A section of the media also reported that Atul Patel – the ringleader of the these rapist teachers – was election agent for Ms Anandiben Patel in 2002 elections. The importance of Ms Anandiben Patel in the government can be gauged from the fact that she was awarded the much cherished after revenue department after the recent elections to the assembly.

It also came to light that the PTC in question which was meant for girls had only a single lady teacher. This sole lady teacher Bharatiben Patel, who was earlier shifted/ transferred out of the college as she had reported to higher autorities similar cases of misdemenour by her own colleagues in the college. It was significant that Ms Anandiben Patel handled the education department during that period.It was also discussed in the media, how the system of internal markings had become a weapon in the hands of such teachers to abuse and brutalise the girl students in other PTC colleges as well. (There are 134 such ‘girls only’ PTC colleges all over the state where 16,000 girl students were undergoing the two year residential course.)And how a insensitive administration slept over earlier demands raised by concerned citizens to not only remove the system of internal markings but also take serious action in earlier cases of sexual assault in colleges.

Perhaps the other no less shocking aspect of the case ( at least as far as Mr Modi was concerned ) is that it happened in Patan, the new venue of the official celebrations for 15 th August since last few years. The shifting of the official venue to Patan was then seen as a shrewd move by Mr Modi, to connect himself to the historic legacy of the Rajput kings which ruled from Gujarat for a considerable period of time.

It is now part of public memory that the sexual exploitation of the hapless Dalit girl continued for around six months wherein she has been raped 14 times by these six teachers.The matter came to light only because she fainted during prayers on 31 st January.

The plight of this hapless daughter of a dalit labourer Babubhai Makwana who hailed from Jetalvasana village of Mehsana district, touched a wide cross-section of people. It was not surprising that ordinary people, who had rarely joined any anti-Modi demonstration, felt compelled to register their protes this time. Perhaps this is the most troubling signal for Modi and his regime in this case.

People came to know that the victim was the most intelligent and smart among her brothers-sisters.When she scored distinction in 10 th and 12 th standard it became a news not only in her village but adjoining villages as well. The only handicap faced by her to studies after 12 th was father Babubhai Makwana’s poverty. Babubhai, father of five children did not earn enough for helping everyone in his studies.

Looking to the fact that his daughter showed extra promise, he asked his son to discontinue studies and help his parents in the daily chores.Babubhai hoped that once his bright daughter – takes up a job after completing her Primary Teachers Training Course then all their difficult days would be over.

While admitting his daughter to the college Babubhai even met few of the teachers and explained to them his pathetic economic condition. He was pleased when the teachers assured him full support. Little did Babubhai realise what was in store for his daughter. Perhaps he was rather naive about the state of rot which has set in the educational institutions where it is not uncommon that teachers metamorphose into harassers.

The indifference shown by the administration towards the case was not lost on the media. According to a signed writeup in the DNA, the reporter Jumna Shah raised the question :

Is the Modi government insensitive towards Patan gangrape case? According to babus in the Sachivalaya, the government should have handled the case with a little more sensitivity, which is completely missing from the government’s response to the issue.

For example, the education minister’s aide dubbed the issue as “routine”, while home minister Amit Shah said that the police had done their job and now it’s up to the education department to act.

The CM, who launched ‘beti bachao’ movement with great fanfare, had no time to even meet the victim or her family members due to his ‘busy’ schedule. “This is not expected of any government in a democracy,” remarked a senior official.

It was rather shocking to note that despite involvement of their own colleagues in the rape saga, the state association of teachers in Gujarat – a body close to the Sangh Parivar -, did not deem it necessary to issue a condemnatory statement.

A four member team of National Commission for Women which had visited the victim ( as reported in newspapers on 8 th Feb 2008) made it clear that it was not ‘only a one-off incident’. In fact the initial investigations indicated that ‘more girls have been raped, but are scared or unwilling to register their complaints.’

The severe indictment by the National Commission for the Scheduled Castes of the Gujarat government as well and its no. 2 minister in particular has exposed the chinks in the Parivar’s armour. In fact, the very day when the BJP, had organised a mass meeting of women in Delhi, to set the agenda for the coming elections, the Chairperson referred to the incident and this has appeared in the media.

Quoting Mr Buta Singh, the Times of India report ( 21 st February 2008, ‘Gujarat minister shielding Patan rape accused) stated that ‘…[t]he accused teachers were close supporters of Patel who was Education and Women’s Welfare Minister when the sexual exploitation started’. Accusing complicity of the college administration itself in the nefarious activities, he added that the said girl’s college had turned into a fief of the accused as the only lady teacher was transferred out after she reported to the Department of Education about the conduct of the Principal two years ago..The preliminary report makes it clear that ‘while the six have been arrested, the cases against them were weak and left sufficient room for them to get scot free.’

The biggest problem before the Modi regime seems to be the exposure to a wider populace of the ‘myth of women’s security’ in Gujarat.People came to know that there is tremendous ‘gender disparity in the police’ which ‘hampers probe in crime against women.’ (Indian Express Feb 21, 2008)

The Gujarat police is facing a handicap as it battles an upswing in violent crimes against women. The police have to make do with the presence of a lone lady police constable in the controversial Patan gangrape case. Similar is the minor girl sex scam in Vadodara. The state has just five women IPS officers, three deputy SPs,four women police inspectors and seven police sub-inspectors (PSI), and except for on women PSI, none of them are posted to handle the Patan gangrape case.

It has been more than ten years that Supreme Court in its ‘Vishakha Judgment’ case had issued guidelines for formation of Gender committees in various institutions to avoid Sexual Harassment at Workplace. According to independent surveys most of the workplaces in Gujarat ( this includes the educational institutions) have not set in appropriate mechanisms for redressal of complaints of the victim. According to the Supreme Court guidelines, it is mandatory that the complaint committee formed in such a case would be headed by the women and not less than half of its members would be women. Participation of representative of a voluntary organisation in the complaints committee is also necessary.

This is the same period during which the BJP ruled the state. Can the BJP escape the blame that it flouted Supreme Court guidelines in this case ?

Apart from its blatant connivance in the 2002 genocide – which has received condemnation at various levels – it was clear to everyone after the ‘Patan Rape Case’ that the powers that be have enough time for the corporate bosses but when it comes to genuine grievances of the people, it is least bothered about it.

As of now although magisterial probe has been announced in the case, no terms of reference have been set. The Patan district collector would conduct the enquiry as per the rules set up by the state government. And one can just imagine the fate of any such enquiry.

As noted in a detailed writeup on the issue by Dwarakanath Rath, a famous TU leader from Ahmedabad tells, need of the hour seems to be taking administrative action against the accused. The accused teachers can be blacklisted and derecognised from their degrees by the Education Department as is practised for Doctors and Lawwyers. He adds ‘This administrative action can encourage the victim and the concerned people to face the trial further. Always it seems that in the judicial trial one is going to face a very difficult task. 1832 applications related to crime against women were withdrawn in past one year ( DNA, 11.2.2008)”

Of course the most notable aspect of the whole case is the courage shown by the victim and the support she received from her batchmates and the sole lady teacher Bharatiben Patel. In fact, if they had not decided to take unilateral action in this case, this case also might have remained confined to the four walls of the PTC college.

The 97 students filed a signed memorandum to the Principal on 31 st January. The Principal went to Gandhinagar and placed the complaint before higher authorities. Although he was assured of action in the matter, the students were doubtful about the outcome. Taking advice of Prof Bharatiben Patel, they informed their guardians about the issue. The guardians rushed to the college.

It is reported that on 4 th February morning the guilty teachers were assaulted by the students with sticks and bricks. Their bikes were also damaged. If the police had not intervened, the angry mob could have lynched the perpertrators.

The exposure in the case has brought back similar memories of the recent past of Gujarat. Everyone is aware of the victory of Bilkees Bano in the gangrape case(2002). The tough fight which Bilkees with due support from her husband Yakoob, waged against her perpetrators is a saga in itself.

The gangrape of Bijal Joshi by her own friends on 31 st December 2003 had also reached national headlines.

Bilkees, Bijal and now the hapless Dalit girl from Mehsana – all faced similar plight.

The biggest silver lining in all these dark cases is that they did not remain silent, but preferred to speak out. While someone may find theirs to be a lonesome voice but by their action they have challenged the patriarchal notion that rape is a crime which brings shame to women.

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