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
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
Anjana Mishra Solidarity Committee, Hyderabad