Motihari gang rape: muddled facts and a media circus

Conflicting statements, vague medical reports, media pronouncements — this case is a tragic mess.

ByManira Chaudhary
Motihari gang rape: muddled facts and a media circus
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In the district of Motihari in Bihar, there’s a volleyball game going on between the media and local administration. Blame and multiple versions of what happened to a 17-year-old girl are being bandied between different players, including investigating police officers, hospital staff, activists and the family of the victim. While the claims, allegations and justifications swirl, what is becoming increasingly difficult to isolate is what happened in Motihari.

The gang rape of a 17-year-old in Bihar’s Motihari district caught the media’s attention last week. Initially, this was the story that came out. On June 15, an FIR was lodged against a local man named Samiullah, alleging that he had attempted to rape a girl from Ramgarhwa on June 13. The girl also alleged that Samiullah and five more men came to her house on June 15, disrobed her and beat her brutally. From June 23rd, reports started coming in that the victim hadn’t just been brutalised on June 15, she had also been gang raped by the same six people named in the FIR. The media swung into high-paced action and the police released orders of nabbing the six accused.

Till date, the confusion about whether the girl was raped or not remains. Apparently, the National Commission for Women may bring the victim to Delhi for another medical examination. The latest development in the case is that two police officers of Ramgarhwa police station, Sub-inspector Subodh Kumar and Assistant Sub-inspector Vijay Singh, have been suspended for “dereliction of duty”. The Sub-divisional Police Officer (SDPO) of Raxaul, East Champaran, Jitendra Kumar Pandey, on whose orders Kumar and Singh were suspended, said the decision was uninfluenced by any external factors. “There was no pressure on us,” Pandey told Newslaundry. “The officers were suspended because they could not carry out the investigation in this case properly and could not nab the accused on time.”
Pandey’s statement notwithstanding, the fact is the Motihari case has had concerted media coverage and unfortunately, this has only served to confuse the facts.

The trial by media

Nationally, CNN News18 was the first one to break the story on June 23. Just hours later, other news organisations and publications, including NDTVDeccan Chronicle,FirstpostThe Times of IndiaThe Quint and Hindustan Times, too reported the story. However, details differed in most reports, beginning with basics like the girl’s age and the date when the incident took place.

Publications hyperlinked reports by one another and hence ended up borrowing most of the details of the case, without verifying the details on their own.

Television news channels, including Times NowAaj TakABP News and News 24, all went with a single focus: questioning the role of the police and their inaction in this case. News24 went ahead and did an “exclusive” report claiming that Sadar Hospital, where the girl has been admitted, had botched up the medical reports of the victim.

The local media, however, seems divided on their reading of this case. Akhilesh Jha, a journalist with Sadhna News, pinned it on the current government and said that it is a return of jungle raj (law of the jungle), a criticism that’s frequently lobbed against the Nitish Kumar-Lalu Prasad Yadav coalition. He added, “This issue is now being politicised by the local leaders and will soon blow up to be a much bigger issue.” Ritesh Kumar Verma, Bureau Chief of Dainik Bhaskar (Bihar) seemed cynical of the allegations being made by the victim. “The girl has changed her statements since the day she was admitted,” he said. “We have known about this since June 13 and the case was initially only of a brawl between the two families,” Verma told Newslaundry.

Although there were some reports in the local media after June 13, they didn’t report the gang rape. Initially, the story was one of violence — the girl had been stripped and beaten, according to the first articles. Once it was picked up by national mainstream media, the case entered the spotlight and was described as “Nirbhaya-like”. Disturbingly, the 2012 gang rape in Delhi has become something of a gruesome catchphrase and for better or for worse, it draws the attention of viewers and readers. When the Motihari gang rape was likened to Nirbhaya, it too became high profile and this was milked to its maximum political potential by leaders like Bharatiya Janata Party’s Sushil Kumar Modi.

Yet even now, more than 10 days after the incidents, there’s no clarity on what really happened. A recent story by Catch News completely debunks the gang-rape allegation and claims that their on-ground investigation reveals that the charges of rape were framed. Perhaps Catch considers itself a veritable authority on criminal cases before the police administration have had a chance to complete their investigation? Especially given the eagerness to use this incident politically, reports like Catch’s could potentially harm the process of investigation.

The Catch report does not feature a single quote from the victim’s family. A line in the report says, “The victim’s family says the girl was molested when she was going to defecate in the field”, but it is not clear if the family said it directly to Catch or if the comment is from someone else’s report. Also since when have we accepted the veracity of the claims made in medical reports — especially in cases of sexual abuse — and police statements at face value?

Same case, different versions

Here’s what Newslaundry was able to find out from its own investigations. A 17-year-old girl of Ramgarhwa village of Motihari was allegedly raped by six men and her private parts were allegedly brutalised. A first information report (FIR) was lodged against a man named Samiullah (the main accused in the case), his three brothers and father, and one more person belonging to the same community.  The FIR raises more questions than it answers, but more on that later.

According to Mamata Rani Verma, an independent advocate and activist in Motihari, the girl was raped on June 13 when she was returning home in the afternoon and stopped mid-way to relieve herself. The accused then allegedly assaulted her and raped her. In an attempt to defend herself, the girl attacked Samiullah with a blade (she carried one because she does some casual sewing work in the village). The blade left a gash on Samiullah’s private parts. “The girl then ran back home and informed her parents about the incident, after which they went to the accused’s house to speak with his family,” Verma told Newslaundry.

Newslaundry also spoke to the girl’s mother, who alleged that Samiullah’s family verbally abused them and threatened to hurt them if they tried to file a complaint against Samiullah. On June 15, Samiullah’s family (his three brothers, father and one more person) allegedly barged into the girl’s house, thrashed the girl, raped her and brutalised her private parts. “They locked me and my husband in and attacked my daughter. They tore off her clothes and gang raped her and then dragged her outside the house where they tried to insert a pistol and other things inside her and then left her in that state outside,” the girl’s mother told Newslaundry.

According to Verma and the mother, the neighbours called the police after witnessing the alleged incident, after which the FIR was lodged and the girl was taken to a Primary Health Centre.

The FIR lodged, however, points towards “attempt of rape”, not rape. In the copy of the FIR that Newslaundry accessedthe complainant alleges Samiullah attempted to rape her and she saved herself by attacking him with a blade that injured his private parts in the process.  In a conversation with this correspondent, Jitendra Rana, the Superintendent of Police, Motihari, said, “When we were called on June 15, the girl just told us that the boy had molested her and that on the 15th, the boy’s family came to the girl’s house where both the families got into a scuffle, which led to the injuries on the girl’s body.” Rana further added that the girl had not mentioned anything about the gang rape at that point of time.

The girl’s mother, however, told Newslaundry that her daughter told everything to the police but they had no knowledge of what was finally registered in the FIR.

A case of two medical reports

The first medical check was conducted in the Ramgarhwa Primary Health Centre on June 15, where an initial medical analysis was done and an injury report was made. The report indicated vaginal swelling and marks of injuries on the girl’s body.

On June 18, however, the girl was referred to the Sadar Hospital of Motihari, but medical tests to determine rape were conducted only on June 22. The preliminary report said there were two one centimetre-long abrasions on the girl’s inner thigh. However, there is nothing about any evidence of sexual contact or brutality. Sources in touch with the family say that when the medical staff was asked to conduct the medical examination, they refused, saying that they didn’t know how to do it. After the incident was publicised, another medical examination was scheduled and conducted at Sadar Hospital on June 22. The report includes the phrase “two-finger loose”, which suggests the two-finger ‘test’ was done on the girl despite being banned in the country.

Rana said that the hospital could not have conducted a medical test earlier since the girl made the rape allegations only on June 21. Verma, on the other hand, claims that despite repeated requests, the doctors were not attentive towards the girl. The girl is still admitted in the same hospital.

Newslaundry has accessed both medical reports.

The case as it stands now

Samiullah surrendered himself on June 23, in Chhatauni town of Motihari. According to Rana, he has been taken into custody under different sections related to rape, sexual assault and violence. On June 25, the other five accused were also arrested (from Banjariya town). The investigation is underway and the police has said that they’ll examine the claims of gang rape made by the victim.

There have been widespread protests in Bihar regarding this case and questions are being raised not only about the police, but also about the state government and Nitish Kumar as well, who fought anti-incumbency sentiments in 2015 on the commitment of good governance and promises of lowering the high crime rate in Bihar under the previous administration. Since the trial by media and politicisation has already begun, an unbiased investigation seems unlikely. The only thing that is certain is that this girl’s trials — regardless of whether or not her allegations are true — have only just begun.

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