The fields were strewn with women's clothing—tops, dupattas, shawls and undergarments. 'Mass rape!' screamed the media, as the Jat agitation over reservation in Murthal, Haryana, turned riotous in mid February.
No way, shouted back the police. The clothes were thrown away by women fleeing the riot, said officers.
Caste violence, looting and arson were rampant during the week-long agitation. The inability of Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, who leads the first ever BJP government of Haryana, to handle a law and order problem was evident.
Even as the Jats were assured of reservation and the agitation ended, the focus shifted to the hushed-up allegations of gang-rape during the riot. In a status report filed before the Punjab and Haryana High Court, the state government acknowledged damage to property, but maintained that no molestation or rape took place.
The court, which had taken suo motu cognisance of the allegations, asked victims to file complaints to the judicial magistrates instead of the police.
The government later admitted that a woman based in Narela, Delhi, had registered a complaint. Haryana Deputy Inspector-General Rajshree Singh said an FIR had been filed against seven people in connection with a gang-rape.
The FIR says the men allegedly dragged the woman and her minor daughter out of a van near Murthal. The woman was allegedly raped and her daughter molested.
However, the two persons she identified turned out to be her brothers-in-law. With reports saying the alleged victim was entangled in a property dispute with her brothers-in-law, the police were initially reluctant to entertain the case.
On April 11, the Haryana Police did a U-turn. An affidavit by Inspector-General Mamta Singh, who is heading the special investigation team probing the allegations of rape and molestations, told the High Court that the section on gang-rape had been added to the initial FIR on the riots.
The police told the court that it had received two other anonymous complaints of rape, and that it was taking note of news reports on gang-rape and molestation.
The first complainant was a college student from Faridabad, who was allegedly raped while she was on her way from her hostel to home. The second one, whose letter has gone viral on social media, is a non-resident Indian based in Australia.
The key witness to the gang-rapes, Bobby Joshi of Delhi, alleges that he was attacked and threatened. He says an anonymous caller warned him against “speaking too much”.
The Jats are a socially and politically powerful community in the state. Is that why the government failed to rein them in? Is that why nobody is talking about the enormous damage to public property? Is that why no action has been taken on the gang-rape allegations?
“It is all a media-made sham,” says a senior Haryana government official. “They [media] are saying ten women were gang-raped. As per law, they cannot print names of the alleged victims, but they can certainly share details with the police or the chief judicial magistrate.”
The Haryana government, police sources say, has advertised in newspapers and radio channels, urging victims to depose before the special investigation team. People of villages near Murthal also have been exhorted to provide evidence. None has come forward yet.
“It is difficult to imagine that a rape victim will keep quiet and not complain in this era,” says an officer. “Moreover, they have the support of the media as well as the judiciary, which has been monitoring the case.”