A horrific sequence of events culminated in the arrest of a senior police officer in Uttar Pradesh, northern India, on May 4, on accusations of raping a child who was brought to his station after she had earlier been kidnapped and gang-raped by four other men.
The accused, local station house officer Tilakdhari Saroj, is also accused of colluding with the four men who had abducted and assaulted the 13-year-old girl from the marginalised Dalit community, allegedly to settle a score with her father. Local authorities also suspended 29 police personnel who were at the police station when the incident happened.
The disturbing events came to light 10 days after the traumatised child’s ordeal, when she was sent to a nonprofit group for counselling. The case highlights the ill treatment and injustice commonly experienced by Dalits, a socio-economic group that falls outside India’s caste system.
The Dalit community were once considered “untouchable” under the ancient Hindu caste system and are increasingly facing persecution and abuses in the world’s largest democracy of 1.3 billion people.
The survivor’s mother filed a police case Tuesday, invoking India’s laws on rape, criminal conspiracy and kidnapping, as well as laws protecting children and safeguarding the rights of marginalised communities like Dalits.
In the complaint, the survivor’s mother named the four men who abducted her daughter on April 22, after which she filed a missing person report at the police station. The men then allegedly resurfaced on April 26 with the girl in tow and brought her to the police station themselves.
At the station, the four men convinced Saroj to hand over the girl to her aunt instead of her family. Saroj then told the aunt to bring the girl to him the next day to record her statement. The aunt did so, and Saroj raped the girl in his office.
On April 30, a different set of cops brought the now traumatised girl to the custody of a child welfare nonprofit, whose counsellor learned about the child’s ordeal and took her testimony to the district’s child welfare officer. This led authorities to arrest Saroj, along with the four men and the girl’s aunt.
Uttar Pradesh is considered to be among the most dangerous places for women and Dalits in India. The state with 200 million people reports an average of 11 rape cases daily, and even more crimes against marginalised girls and women. In 2020, a caste-based sexual violence case in the state triggered the Dalit Lives Matter movement alongside the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S.
The 13-year-old Dalit’s multiple rape case caught national attention because Uttar Pradesh is run by Yogi Adityanath, a member of the Hindu nationalist ruling Bharatiya Janata Party who is touted as India’s next prime minister, after Narendra Modi. Adityanath openly advocates caste supremacy, which observers say largely leads to sexual violence against Dalits.
Abirami Jotheeswaran of All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch, a national Dalit rights and advocacy body, called the incident a case of “state violence.” “The fact that an officer of the state abused his position and committed this crime shows caste prejudice and lack of sensitization in places that are supposed to give justice to Dalit women and young girls,” she told VICE World News.
Besides punishing the culprits, Jotheeswaran said the focus should be on rehabilitating the 13-year-old girl with the help of the state. “We have to hold our government accountable for this,” she said.
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