Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence


Annex 2

FROM THE FRYING PAN INTO THE FIRE

  India has celebrated its 50th year of independence. 1998 was the 50th year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The position of women, however, is one of serious concern. On the one hand, there are loud and vociferous declarations on the part of the State that women's empowerment is highest priority and that women should be equal partners in every sphere of society. On the other we find that the perpetration of violence against women is increasing day by day. Every act of violence against women is perpetrated by the State either through direct, active participation, or indirect collusion. The latter takes on the form of the legal machinery turning a blind eye to an act of violence or providing a cover up for the guilty. This gives the guilty license to perpetrate more such acts.

  There are any number of cases, which occur on a daily basis, some being reported and most not even surfacing. Each case is more brutal, more blatant and shocking than the other is. The change that has come about as a result of the women's movement is that there is a significant increase in the reporting of incidence of violence within the family. Simultaneously there is a deliberate attempt on the part of the State to suppress the issues at as early a stage as possible. It could be indifference on the part of the local police station to write the FIR. It could be the lawyers not prepared to take up such cases. It could be the judiciary not having substantial evidence to punish the accused. There is enough legislation, yet no effective implementation. This can no longer be explained away as gender blindness or lack of sensitivity. It is simply that the State realises that it cannot afford to allow family violence to come out into the public. It realises that once the personal becomes political, the power shifts. A classic case of sustained suppression/repression/oppression is that of Anjana Mishra, of Bhubaneswar, Orissa.

  Anjana was married to Subhash Mishra an IFS officer in 1987, when she was just 17 years old. From the first night of her marriage she started getting beaten up and harassed for not bringing enough dowry. Immediately after the first child was born, she was taken from Sambalpur to Rourkela and admitted into a private nursing home on Subhash Mishra's statement that she was mentally unstable. She was subjected to shock treatment and kept on sedatives. After she was discharged from the nursing home she was brought to her parents and dumped there. She spent 10 months there and after an understanding arrived at between her and Subhash Mishra in the presence of her parents and the State Human Rights Commission, she went to live with her husband and child in Sambalpur. Throughout she was being subjected to torture, but her only solace was that she was with her child. There was also an attempt on the part of her husband and his brother to have her admitted in Mount Abu as a Brahma Kumari. She narrowly escaped this. She had her second child after a gap of five years of the first child's birth.

  In July 1996, when the second child was around 10 months old, she was admitted into the Kanke Mental Hospital, Ranchi, on the pretext of having a check up. Her husband just admitted her and left without her knowledge. She was in the hospital for 9 months and 10 days though she was declared normal three days after being admitted into the hospital. She was rescued by women's organisation from Bhubaneswar at the behest of the State Human Rights Commission and kept in the women's shelter home, Busundhara, in Cuttack. Anjana filed the FIR against her husband from this place. The case was to be handled by the Chief Prosecutor of the Orissa High Court, Advocate General Indrajeet Ray. She was summoned to the residence of the Chief Prosecutor on 11 July 1997 to discuss the case details and there he molested her with an attempt to rape. The authorities in the shelter home first approached the Chief Minister, J. B. Patnaik for justice. The latter asked them to wait for four days and meanwhile quickly sent Indrajeet Ray off to London on some mission. Anjana and activists supporting her immediately lodged a complaint with the Cuttack police station. Even here there was an attempt at foul play by the police trying to get Anjana to sign on a fabricated statement. There was a demand from Anjana that she does not have confidence in the local police and she would like her case to be dealt with by the CBI. On a clamour from other women's groups from within and outside Orissa, the case was given to the CBI. Anjana was taken home to Bhubaneswar by her parents.

  She laid a condition that the State provide her security since she apprehended threat to her life and person. This was done after much fuss from the authorities. Anjana was offered a certain sum of money, a government job and a house by the Chief Minister, if she withdrew her case. She refused the same. A lot of pressure was brought on her parents to persuade Anjana to withdraw her case against Indrajeet Ray and disappear from the scene. She firmly stood her ground. It went to the extent of her parents filing a petition for removal of Anjana from their home. She filed a counter that she had no say in the performance of her marriage to Subhash Mishra, and that if she got thrown out of her husbands home she had a right to live in her parents house. The court decreed that Anjana had a right to live where she chose. Her parents then went away leaving Anjana totally alone in the house. It was expected by the powers that be that she would, out of fear, go to the shelter home. She did not. Meanwhile the media and public support was steadily building up. She was coping with the problems of living under constant threat of attack.

  The case against Indrajeet Ray finally came up for hearing sometime in November 1998. Four key depositions had taken place. The first deposition of the hearing was in the open court and the subsequent depositions were held in camera. The hearing was coming to a close and the evidence against Indrajeet Ray had been steadily mounting. Just when the final depositions of the inmate of Busundhara, Doli, and Anjana Mishra were to commence, the accused managed to get a stay order. This stay order was passed on 8 January 1999. Shocked and upset at the sudden turn of events, Anjana Mishra decided to go to Cuttack in order to meet her lawyer and gauge the implications of the stay order. She therefore asked for a P.S.O. to escort her to Cuttack on 9 January 1999. The escort however, did not turn up and finally on the evening of 9 January 1999 Anjana Mishra proceeded from Bhubaneswar to Cuttack by taxi, accompanied by a friend. On the way the car was stopped and she was pulled out and gang raped by 4 men at gun point from 9 pm on 9 January 1999 to 4 am on 10 January 1999. The Chief Minister, J B Patnaik, on hearing the news, it is reported, stated it was nonsense and politically motivated.

  There are efforts on to divert public attention by raising questions as to why her friend (male), accompanied Anjana. What is the connection between them? Why does Anjana dress in untraditional attire, like jeans now? We, from the Anjana Mishra Solidarity Committee demand that:

    —  Indrajeet Ray should be immediately imprisoned.

    —  The Chief Minister, J B Patnaik, should render a public apology for making an irresponsible statement that the brutal gang rape on Anjana Mishra was nonsense.

    —  The cases of Anjana Mishra should be expedited so that she can start living a normal life.

    —  Diversionary tactics of swaying public opinion against her should be stopped immediately.

    —  We can no longer tolerate this expectation that a woman has to conform to a certain image in order to gain sympathy in her quest for justice.

    —  We demand justice as a human right.

  The truth is that there are 1,000s of Anjanas all over the country. Many are probably rotting in mental hospitals. In the rare cases where a woman risks everything and musters the courage to speak out, like Anjana Mishra, every attempt is made to silence her in the most brutal manner possible. If this happens to a woman who has a privileged class and caste background and is also educated, what will be the plight of women in more vulnerable positions?

  Anjana Mishra Solidarity Committee, Hyderabad

Womankind Worldwide

January 1999


 
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Prepared 25 November 1999