In July 2014, residents of Bengaluru were shocked when news of a six-year-old girl’s rape in the affluent Vibgyor school in Varthur, was reported.
The case was widely covered by the media and as the horrors faced by the child was reported in detail, massive protests broke out and residents from all walks of life took to the streets demanding justice.
Nearly five years after the case shook Bengaluru, justice remains elusive to the little girl and her family, who have moved away from the city. Trial has not started in the case which is being heard by the Additional District and Sessions Court in Bengaluru. The process has been so long-drawn that the court has still not filed charges against the accused.
In July 2014, after the incident came to light, 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 Wasim 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).
Protests following the incident, July 2014, Image PTI
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 evidence.
In October 2014, the Bengaluru (Rural) police filed a charge sheet in the case.
The protests died down, a few follow up reports were filed by the media but this case too, largely remains forgotten.
What has happened to the trial?
According to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act, cases of child rape have to be tried by the special court within one year.
Three years ago, accused number 3 - Rustum Keravala obtained a stay order on the proceedings from the Karnataka High Court. The Public Prosecutor representing the plaintiff in the case - Anil Kumar, says that at every stage there were hurdles.
“After the stay order was obtained, the accused too got bail. Rustum Keravala had appeared for proceedings and stopped coming once the stay order was brought in. In several instances, the accused did not appear. And by the time, we got the court to agree to hear the proceedings against Lal Giri and Wasim Pasha, it was already 2018,” Anil Kumar told TNM.
On December 11, 2018, the court began hearing for framing charges against Lal Giri and Wasim Pasha. On January 2 this year, the court issued a non-bailable warrant against Lal Giri and Waseem Pasha.
Public Prosecutor Anil Kumar says that Wasim Pasha broke his leg and was hence not present in court for the framing of charges.
When TNM contacted the Varthur Police, where the FIR was registered in the case, the officer in-charge of executing warrants - Sriram, said that he has no knowledge about the case. “I don’t know what happened to the accused,” officer Sriram said.
Speaking to TNM, a source close to the case said that the proceedings were to begin on April 11, 2017. However, the inordinate delays in tracking down witnesses and the stay order by the High Court had made it difficult.
“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.
Why the delay?
According to Anil Kumar, the number of cases POCSO cases pending in Bengaluru is over 1200. Out of 207 POCSO cases reported in Bengaluru in 2018, none of them have seen convictions. 132 cases are pending trial and the rest are under investigation.
In 2014, 293 POCSO cases were filed in Bengaluru out of which 28 cases saw convictions and 96 cases were disposed of either due to lack of evidence or witnesses turning hostile. A whopping 160 cases from 2014 are still pending including that of the six-year-old girl.
This deplorable situation exists despite a Supreme Court ruling asking jurisdictional courts to ensure that POCSO cases are disposed of with a year’s time and that special courts are set up to hear these cases.
A source with knowledge about the workings of the POCSO courts in Bengaluru says that there are only three rooms in the sessions court which are allotted to hear POCSO cases. There are no special judges appointed to hear these cases exclusively.
“Judges have to hear other criminal cases as well as the POCSO ones. There is barely any time and there is only one public prosecutor to fight cases registered in Bengaluru Rural jurisdiction. The 2014 case where the 6-year-old was raped also falls under Bengaluru Rural Jurisdiction. One person has to handle around 900 cases. These are not only POCSO ones but also other cases. How is this humanly possible?” the source added.
The source says that the inordinate delay leads to witnesses turning hostile and sometimes the survivors losing hope of obtaining justice. “People just lose interest after one point. Witnesses don’t have the time or energy to keep tabs on what is happening to the case,” the source said.