It was a case that shook Bengaluru. In July 2014, the city woke up to the news that a six-year-old had been raped in an affluent school in Varthur, Whitefield.
As details of the horrors inflicted on the child were reported, the school was dismissive, making emotions surge.
The city witnessed massive protests where residents from all walks of life took to the streets. The fate of the six-year-old had woken up Bengaluru’s parents to the fact that their child too, could face such violence.
After an investigation that was in the public glare, a man was arrested by the Bengaluru police. The very next day, he was let off, and the police called it a case of mistaken arrest.
Two gym instructors at the school – Lalgiri and Waseem Pasha – were soon held. They were charged under Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code (Rape), Section 4 of POCSO (penetrative sexual assault), and Section 6 of POCSO (aggravated penetrative sexual assault).
The chairman of the school, Rustum Keravala, was also booked under Section 21 of POCSO, for allegedly concealing information about the incident and also tampering with the evidence.
In October 2014, the Bengaluru (Rural) police filed a charge sheet in the case.
While the protests died down after the arrest, media reports on the issue stopped after the charge sheet was filed.
What Has Happened to the Trial?
According to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, such cases have to be tried by the special court within one year.
It has been almost three years since the charge sheet was filed, but there has been no conviction, and even the trial has not properly commenced.
After three long years, the evidence proceedings were to finally begin on 8 March, 2017. However, the hearing was postponed until 11 April.
A source told TNM that the prosecution has made a list of 30 witnesses and is still in the process of tracking them.
“It will take another two or three months. Also, the survivor’s family has left town. They will need to come back if they are called to depose before the court,” the source said.
If witnesses ask for time, the court must provide it. None of the witnesses have appeared in the last one year and the depositions have not yet begun, he added.
“Tracking all witnesses down is difficult. Also, the principal of the school initially said that the school had conducted background checks, and only then had they employed the gym instructors. She was of the opinion that they had not committed the crime. Later, she switched sides and came forward as a witness,” a source close to the investigation said.
So, Where Are the Accused?
All three accused, Lalgiri, Waseem Pasha and Rustum Keravala are out on bail, said sources with knowledge about the trial.
According to DCP Whitefield, Narayana, the police have no details about the whereabouts of the accused after they were released on bail.
One of the accused (Keravala) has gone back to Mumbai, but we do not have information about the whereabouts of the other two. The trial is on, and either they will go to the court or their lawyers will represent them. Varthur Inspector Sudhakar
A source with knowledge of the proceedings told TNM that the bail order does not allow the accused to leave the jurisdiction of the district headquarters until the trial is over, and that all the three accused have to appear before the court on every date of hearing.
“The police have to file a complaint stating that the accused has violated his bail conditions. Only then can the prosecution file a complaint with the court for issuing a non-bailable warrant against the accused. The police have not filed that complaint as yet,” the source said.
A court source told TNM that Keravala has not been present for a few hearings, and has requested an exemption citing ill health.
The other two accused have appeared in court during some of the case dates.
A Costly Delay
According to Kushi Kushalappa, from the NGO Enfold, the courts must ensure that accused under trial in POCSO cases do not leave town as they will be able to intimidate witnesses and also try to tamper with the evidence.
How can the system track the accused if no one is responsible? Bail orders generally state that the accused must not tamper with prosecution witness, but it does not state what constitutes tampering of evidence. This may give the accused who are out on bail leeway to intimidate the witnesses. Kushi Kushalappa, NGO Enfold
One of the main reasons for the delay in proceedings is that the court in Bengaluru lacks sufficient lawyers, a source said.
There are several hundred POCSO cases that are currently pending in the special court in Bengaluru Urban. These cases are handled by three public prosecutors. There is only one public prosecutor who handles cases in Bengaluru Rural jurisdiction.
“A request had been raised several times for employing more public prosecutors so that the cases can be heard in a speedy manner, but nothing fruitful has happened so far. If one lawyer is burdened with 425 cases, how can they be disposed within a year,” the source added.
Another major issue is the gathering of witnesses for POCSO cases. “Gathering witnesses and evidence is difficult. Tracking down persons and convincing them to come forward, especially in POCSO cases, is difficult,” the source said.
Lack of Follow Up
After the case made headlines, the Department of Public Instruction on 23 July 2014 brought out certain guidelines that the schools and preschools were supposed to follow, in order to protect the children studying in these institutions.
“They are only guidelines, not rules. There is no enforcement body which ensures that they are being followed. Most of the schools don’t, and the government schools have said no due to lack of funds for setting up CCTVs, employing personnel for Child Protection Committees etc,” Kushi added.
The outrage industry (that includes all of us) churns out sentiment after sentiment until the perpetrator is caught. But once that arrest is made, no one looks back anymore.
Never mind that the process of getting justice in India is long and arduous, and that the survivor and their family need the public pressure in order for the system to work at a semi-decent pace.
3 Years After Rape of 6-yr-old in Bengaluru, Trial is Yet to Start Theja Ram Mar 21 2017Tweet