Urgent Appeal: Extortion and Harassment of Victims of Domestic Violence by Police in Assam

URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME

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Urgent Appeal No. BHRPC/UA/21/210                    Dated: 02 June 2010

Dear Friends,

Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) forwards this Urgent Appeal issued by Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) regarding an incident of extortion of money by police from a victim of domestic violence and harassment of social activists in Assam  and requests all to take appropriate actions.

Yours Sincerely

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar

15, Panjabari Road, Six Mile,

Guwahati-781037, Assam

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION – URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME

Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-075-2010

2 June 2010

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INDIA: Police extort money from a victim of domestic violence in Assam

ISSUES: Violence against women; domestic violence; corruption; police inaction

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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information that police officers in Silchar Police Station, Assam allegedly harassed and threatened a victim of domestic violence in order to extort money from her, and neglected the investigation of her case. The victim’s father-in-law is a senior member of the District Bar Association and she has been unable to find legal support. Gender-based violence remains a major issue in India. The corruption, lack of professional conduct and lack of gender training among police officers adds another difficulty to the already almost insurmountable obstacles that victims face when pursuing redress.

CASE NARRATIVE:

According to the information we have received from the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC), a human right organisation based in Assam, Ms. Sharmista Das was subjected to severe physical assault by her husband Mr. Rananjay Da and her in-laws.

Shamista’s husband left her and their two daughters on 3 September 2009; she and her mother have heard that he married another woman and went to live with her in Shillong, Meghalaya state. We are told that after her husband left, Sharmista’s in-laws continued to demand more dowry money and to ill-treat her. On 15 September they reportedly expelled her from her home, forcing her to abandon her belongings and wedding gifts, including jewellery, clothing, utensils and furniture. Sharmista and her two daughters then took shelter at her mother’s house.

On 3 November she registered a First Information Report (FIR) at the Silchar police station (Case No. 2126/2009) under section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 which criminalises the subjection of a woman to cruelty by her husband or his relatives. The officer in charge of the police station, Mr. S. K. Chauhan, reportedly demanded that the victim’s mother, Sima Dutta give him Rs. 5,000.00 (USD 100) before agreeing to investigate the case. He then arrested three of the accused: Sharmista’s father-in-law Mr.Rupendra Mohan Das alias Ratul Das, her mother-in-law Mrs. Mitra Das, and her sister-in-law’s husband Mr. Joydeep Roy Choudhury. However he failed to arrest Sharmista’ husband, the main accused. A female constable allegedly asked for Rs. 900 as remuneration for guarding Mitra Das for the night.

On 4 November the police produced the three accused before a local magistrate who remanded them to judicial custody. On 9 November they were released on bail following the filing of a charge sheet. According to the Indian law, once a charge sheet is filed in court, the prosecution proceedings against the accused begin in the judicial system. Nevertheless there has been a significant delay in initiating this step in the case. Such delay is common with the judicial system in India and often it takes two to three years for even the initial stages of a trial to begin in criminal cases, due to overwhelming case loads. At the time of writing this appeal, the court has not yet framed charges against the four accused and the trial has not begun.

On the same day the police also filed a charge sheet in which they accused Mr. Rananjay Das of being an absconder and avoiding the process of law. Yet the complainant has seen no evidence of a legitimate investigation, or attempt to find him.

Mrs. Dutta further reported that OC Chauhan demanded Rs. 1,200 (USD 25) as a bribe from her on 12 November, which she felt obligated to pay.

Given the lack of progress in this first case, on March 10, 2010, Sharmista filed another FIR in the same police station to recover the things she had had to leave at her home when she was expelled (Case No. 509/10 under Sections 379 and 406, IPC). She also filed an application to the District Magistrate for a search warrant of Rupendra Mohan Das’ and Joydeep Roy Choudhury’s houses (Case No. 155 M/2010, under section 94 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973).

Sub-Inspector Narayan Tamuli is the Investigating Officer (IO) who was entrusted with the execution of the search warrant. When Sharmista and Mrs. Mithu Sen, a social activist, visited the police station on 17 March 2010 to enquire about the progress of the case, they report that OC Chauhan and SI Tamuli intimidated them into paying respectively Rs. 3,000 (USD 64) and Rs. 20,000 (USD 424) as bribes.

According to the victim, when she accompanied the SI to visit the house of her husband’s father Mr. Rupendra Mohan Das, the inspector did not attempt to recover the items listed in the search warrant, although she pointed them to him during the search. Instead the officer reportedly took a few items into his possession. Moreover we have been told that the police officer did not visit the other address mentioned in the search warrant.

On 20 March Sharmista returned to the police station accompanied by two social activists, Mithu Sen and Aleya Islam Laskar, to inquire about the progress of the investigation. According to their testimony, SI Tamuli demanded a further Rs. 50,000 (USD 1,060) from them and threatened them with dire consequences if they didn’t. They report being forcibly kept in detention for over two hours and were eventually released due to the intervention of persons contacted by the social activists.

According to the victim and the activists, Mr. Rupendra Mohan Das, Sharmista’s father-in-law, is an advocate and an influential senior member of the District Bar Association, Silchar, with strong connections with the local politicians. They believe this to be the reason that no advocate of the District Bar is willing to represent Sharmista in a trial against her in-laws. Members of BHRPC have also spoken with some advocates who, requesting anonymity, said that they are under severe pressure not to accept the brief against Das or any member of his family.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION:

The demanding of bribes from complainants by police officers, sometimes by force or by threat, is frequently documented in India. Nevertheless, only a small percentage of such allegations are investigated, and when they are it is relatively rare for few sanctions to be effectively taken against perpetrators.

Also, according to the BHRPC, Officer Narayan Tamuli himself has been accused, along with two other police officers, of having tortured to death Motahir Ali (of Bhatgram Village under Katigorah Police Station) in Cachar, Assam on 21 September 2007. A departmental enquiry was conducted into the incident and the accused were placed under suspension, but then reinstated. This is despite a magisterial enquiry that concluded that: ‘the police of Kalain Out Post was pro-active on the brutalities inflicted on Motahir Ali simply for the reason that the deceased family could not afford payment of gratification beyond the reach of the poorest family.’

A case was also registered in the Assam Human Rights Commission regarding this incident, yet the accused have not been prosecuted, nor the victim’s family paid any kind of compensation or reparation.
That a police officer with such strong accusations against him was able to remain in full service reveals much about the extent of the impunity in the area. Please see our previous statement for a more detailed analysis of this gap between the extent of corruption in the police system and the limited number of cases effectively investigated.

As this case clearly shows, police officers continue to be encouraged by the lack of any negative consequence if caught violating the rights of civilians. It leaves those without money or influential connections extremely vulnerable, with their access to the justice system blocked.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS:

Although criminalized by the Dowry Prohibition Act 1961, the persistent practice of dowry payment remains emblematic of women’s inferior status in India, and is often a cause of extreme forms of gender-based violence. When this sum of money (given by the bride’s family to the groom’s family at the time of the wedding) is considered insufficient, the bride is often mentally and physically harassed by her in-laws. Too often this harassment can extend to the attempted burning murder of the woman. Indian Government statistics show that 8172 cases of so-called ‘dowry deaths’ were reported in 2008 among 81,344 cases of ‘cruelty by husband and relatives’.

It is extremely difficult for the victims of those prosecutions to find support in society, and to find access to effective remedies. The patriarchal structure and the dominating values of Indian society continue to protect and encourage gender-based violence and dowry harassment, and the functioning of the criminal justice system usually reflects the values and customs of a country. According to government statistics, in 2008 the conviction rate in the cases of dowry deaths was only 33% and 22% in the cases of ‘cruelty by husband and relatives’.

The social stigma against women who try to escape such persecutions also impacts on their ability to find redress in India’s corrupted criminal justice system, which tends to work only in favour of its most powerful social elements. The AHRC has reported numerous cases of dowry deaths in which the police simply refused to file the case, or later neglected the investigation because the husband belonged to a rich and influential family, or used the case to extract bribes from the victims and/or the accused. Please see our appeals: Failure of police investigation into alleged dowry death of a womanA failing criminal justice system betrays the poor in India, especially the women and Alleged police inaction into dowry death of a woman for examples of such cases.

To support this appeal please click here: 

SUGGESTED ACTION:

Please join us in expressing your concern, and in asking for the thorough investigation of this case of corruption and domestic violence.

Please be informed that the AHRC will write a separate letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences.

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SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear __________,

Dear ,

INDIA: Police extort money from a victim of domestic violence in Assam

Name of victim: Sharmista Das, resident of Narsing Road, Shibam Apartment Ground, Ambicapatty, Silchar, Cachar, Assam
Names of the perpetrators of domestic violence:
1. Mr. Rananjay Das alias Rupam Das, resident of Sri Sumit Endow, Moulavi Road, Ambicapatty; the victim’s husband
2. Sri Rupendra Mohan Das alias Ratul Das, the victim’s father-in-law
3. Mitra Das, the victim’s mother-in-law
4. Joydeep Roy Choudhury, the husband of the victim’s sister-in-law
Names of the police officers involved:
1. Mr. S K Chauhan, Officer-in Charge (OC)
2. Mr. Narayan Tamuli, Sub Inspector (SI) of Police
3. A female constable, name unknown.
All staff of of Silchar Sadar Police Station

Date of incident: Between 3 November, 2009 and 2 March 2010
Place of incident: Silchar Sadar Police Station, Cachar District, Assam

I am writing to voice my deep concern regarding the case of Sharmista Das, a victim of domestic violence who was harassed by police officers who failed to investigate her case properly.

According to the information I have received from the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), Sharmista Das and Mr. Rananjay Das got married in 2003. Considering the dowry she brought for her wedding as insufficient, the victim’s husband and his family started to physically and mentally abuse the young woman. The victim reports having frequently been subjected to ‘severe physical assault’. The victim’s husband left her and her two daughters on September 3, 2009.I am further informed that on September 15, 2009 Sharmista’s in-laws reportedly drove her away from her home, forcing her to abandon most of her possessions and wedding gifts, including jewellery, clothing, utensils, furniture, furnishings etc. Sharmista then took shelter at her mother’s house with her two daughters.

I am told that on November 3, 2009, she registered a First Information Report at the Silchar police station (Case No. 2126/2009 under section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 yet police officers not only showed unwillingness to investigate the case properly, but extracted money illegally from the victim. First, the Officer in Charge of the police station, Mr. S K Chauhan, forced the victim’s mother, Sima Dutta, to give him Rs. 5000.00 before accepting to investigate the case and asked for additional Rs 1,200 on 12 November, which I am told she gave out of fear. I am moreover informed that a lady constable asked for Rs 900 to keep one of the accused for a night in detention.

Following the filing of the FIR, the police arrested three of the suspects: Sharmista’ father-in-law, her mother-in-law and the husband of her sister-in-law but they failed to arrest the main accused, her husband. According to Sharmista, the police did not carry the investigation properly actually neither did they try to arrest her husband. Nevertheless, in an attempt to justify their inaction, the police told the court that they could not arrest Mr. Rananjay Das and that he was avoiding the process of law.

Despite the filing of a charge sheet against the four accused on November 9, no prosecutions have taken place against them yet. According to the victim and local social activists, the victim’s father-in-law is an influential member of the District Bar Association, and the local lawyers have been under pressure not to represent Sharmista in a case against her in-laws.

I am aware that on March 10, 2010, Sharmista tried to recover the belongings she had to leave at her matrimonial house by filing another FIR in the same police station (Case No. 509/10). She also applied for a search warrant of Rupendra Mohan Das’ and Joydeep Roy Choudhury’s houses at the District Court magistrate on the same day. (Case No. 155 M/2010)

I am appalled to learn that the police officer who was made the investigating officer of the case, and entrusted with the execution of the search warrant, Sub-Inspector Narayan Tamuli, has been accused of having tortured to death a young man, Motahir Ali, in order to extract bribes from him. Although different inquiries were launched in the case and found him guilty, no sanctions were taken against this officer.

When Sharmista and Mrs. Mithu Sen, a social activist, visited the police station on 17 March 2010 to enquire about the progress of the case, they report that OIC Chauhan and SI Tamuli intimidated them into paying respectively Rs. 3,000 (USD 64) and Rs. 20,000 (USD 424) as bribes.

Furthermore, when Sharmista accompanied Narayan Tamuli to visit the house of her father-in-law, the inspector did not recover the items listed in the search warrant but reportedly took several miscellaneous items in his possession instead. It is further alleged that he did not visit the other address mentioned in the search warrant.

And worryingly, when, on March 20, Sharmista returned to the police station, accompanied by two social activists Mithu Sen and Aleya Islam Laskar, S. I. Tamuli reportedly forcibly kept them in detention for over two hours and threatened them, in order to get them to give him Rs. 50,000 as a bribe.
I consider Sharmista’s case to be a clear illustration of the damage done when a police officer is allowed to keep his position of power, despite strong accusations of corruption being taken against him or her.

It further highlights the advantage experienced by the wealthy and influential in distorted, corrupted policing system. Women victims of gender-based violence are often the most vulnerable, since they must defend their case while facing extreme social and systematic stigma; in most cases they do so in isolation and without resources.

Given the seriousness of the situation, I therefore urge the government of India to promptly ask for an impartial investigation – conducted by a police officer who do not belong to the same police station – into these allegations of corruption and intimidation, during which the officers involved should be removed from duty. If enough evidence is gathered, Mr. S K Chauhan and Mr. Narayan Tamuli must be prosecuted. In the meantime other police officers must be appointed to conduct the investigations into the cases filed by Sharmista, and execute the search warrants.

I also urge the authorities to provide Sharmista with the services of a lawyer of her choice, and to probe the allegations of pressure exerted by Ratul Das on the local lawyers. Adequate measures must be taken to guarantee the protection of Sharmista, her mother, other witnesses and her lawyers. The victim is entitled to compensation for the prejudices undergone; please ensure that these are swiftly processed.

I look forward to your intervention in this case,

Yours sincerely,
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PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Mr. Tarun Gogoi
Chief Minister of Assam
Assam Secretariat, Dispur
Guwahati-6, Assam
INDIA
Fax: +91 361 2262069

2. Ms. Krishna Tirath
Minister of State
Ministry of Women and Child Development
6th Floor, ‘A’ Wing
Shastri Bhawan, New Delhi – 110001
INDIA
Fax: +91 11 23381495
Email: secy.wcd@nic.in

3. Chief Secretary
Assam Secretariat, Dispur
Guwahati-6, Assam
INDIA
Fax: +91 361 2260900
Email: psccy_it@assam.nic.in

4. Director General of Police
Assam, Ulubari
Guwahati-7, Assam
INDIA

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrc.asia)

URL of the Appeal: http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/mainfile.php/2010/3466/

URL of the automatic system to send the appeal: http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/support.php?ua=UAC-075-2010

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