Ajmer rape case
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In 1992, the Ajmer Serial Gang Rape & Blackmailing Case was one of India's biggest cases of coerced sexual exploitation. The incidents occurred in Ajmer, a city in the state of Rajasthan. The scandal involved hundreds of young girls, some college students some still in schools. The news of the scandal broke after a local paper, ‘Navjyoti’ published some nude images and a story which spoke about school students being blackmailed by local gangs. Most accused were from the clan of khadims (caretakers of sunni-sufi shrine) of Ajmer Dargah of Moinuddin Chishti and most victims were young Hindu girls.
The investigation of the case was stalled by police under political pressure as the main accused, Farooq Chishty was president of the Ajmer Indian Youth Congress. Nafis Chishty and Anwar Chishty who were also among the accused were vice-president and joint secretary of Ajmer Indian National Congress. Eventually, 18 serial offenders were charged in the court. Eight were convicted for life, 4 among them were later acquitted in 2001, and most of remaining were set free after reducing their sentence to the jail term already served.
"The accused were in a position of influence, both socially and financially, and that made it even more difficult to persuade the girls to come forward and depose," says retired Rajasthan DGP Omendra Bhardwaj, who was then posted as the deputy inspector general of police, Ajmer. Supreme Court noted in this case, "Unfortunately many of the victims who appeared as witnesses turned hostile and one can appreciate the reason why they did not want to depose against the appellants as that would have exposed them as well, and would have adversely affected their future life." The case has been compared to the Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal.
The blackmail operation was discovered to be a chain of serial offenders. A specific group of local influential men were targeting young girls. First Farooq Chisti trapped one of the girls from Sophia Senior Secondary school, Ajmer and took obscene photos of her. Then the accused blackmailed the girl into familiarising them to her classmates and friends. Eventually, other girls would be raped, sexually exploited and have their pictures taken at a farmhouse. The cycle continued so forth. The gang continued to expand its operations and victimise an increasing number of girls. They photographed the girls in compromising positions, using the images to exploit the victims.
The editor of Navjyoti, Deenbandhu Chaudhary, had admitted that the local law enforcement authorities were aware of the scandal almost since a year before the story broke, but they allowed the local politicians to stall the investigations.
Chaudhary stated that finally, they decided to go ahead with the story because that seemed to be the only way to wake the local administration into action. Finally, the police lodged an FIR against eight of the accused. Further investigations led to 18 men in total being charged and tensions ran high in the town for several days.
People took to the streets to protest and communal tension grew. A three-day bandh was observed and much subsequent news of the widespread exploitation and blackmail started coming in. Retired Rajasthan DGP Omendra Bhardwaj, who was the deputy inspector general of police in Ajmer at that time stated that the social and financial aristocracy of the accused stopped many more victims from coming forward. Another grim realisation was that many of the victims, being young and vulnerable, had already committed suicide.
What followed next was another saga of political influence and administrative incompetence. The case is still far from being closed. Many victims who were supposed to be witnesses, turned hostile. The stink of social stigma and ostracisation was so bad that girls of the town were generalised as being victims of the gang. The number of victims was believed to be several hundred.
Only a few of the victims came forward. The situation was so bad that prospective grooms, who were supposed to marry girls from Ajmer, would come to offices of newspapers, trying to find out if the girl they were going to marry was one of ‘them’. Anant Bhatnagar, state general secretary, People’s Union for Civil Liberties and a resident of Ajmer said that people used to say if the girl was from Ajmer, they would need to find out what kind of girl she was.
The Rajasthan police's Special Operations Group (SOG) arrested Saiyed Saleem Chishty, 42, one of the accused from Khalid Mohalla in Ajmer town on 04 January 2012.
Most of 18 accused charged with abduction and gang rape were Muslims, mainly from the clan of caretakers of sufi shrine of Ajmer Sharif Dargah of Moinuddin Chishti. This Muslim dargah is also frequented by Hindus. Main accused Farooq Chishty was president of the Ajmer Youth Congress. Nafis Chishty was the vice-president of Ajmer Indian National Congress (INC) and Anwar Chishty was the joint secretary of INC. Moijullah alias Puttan, Ishrat Ali, Anwar Chishty and Shamshuddin alias Meradona were also sentenced by the court. Absconder Suhail Chishty hid for 26 years before surrendered 26 years later. Absconder Salim Chishty was arrested in 2012. Another main accused, Alamas, is still absconding.
According to the police and women-focused NGOs, it was difficult to build a case against the perpetrators, as most victims were reluctant to come forward. However, the photographs and videos used to blackmail the victims helped identify the accused and build the case against them.
Thirty victims were identified in the investigations; out of these, only about a dozen filed cases, and ten later backed out. Only two victims pursued the case. Of the 18 accused who were charged with abduction and gang-rape under the Indian Penal Code and Indecent Representation of Women (prohibition), one has since committed suicide. In 2013, the Rajasthan High Court upheld the decision though it reduced the period of the sentence from life imprisonment to the period already served by him.
In 2004, the Supreme Court dismissed both appeals filed by the state, as well as the convicts. A bench comprising Justice N. Santosh Hegde and Justice BP Singh said "having regard to the facts and circumstances of the case, we are of the view that the ends of justice would be met if the sentence is reduced to ten years rigorous imprisonment.
It has been well documented that most of the victims were young Hindu girls.Most of the victims were from well to do families and some of them were daughters of IAS and IPS officers. The most disturbing part of the horrific case has been the quiet suffering of the victims. After the rape, most victims experienced harassment and threats, with no support from society or their families. According to police investigations, about 6 victims allegedly committed suicide. Ajmer Mahila Samooh, who tried to take up the victim's cause, withdrew after receiving threats. Small-time tabloids were quite a sensation in Ajmer at that time. As if the mass exploitation of hundreds of girls was not enough of a blow to the town’s conscience, many victims were even allegedly blackmailed further by these tabloids and local papers. They had access to the explicit images of the girls, and the owners and publishers sought money from the families of the girls to keep them hidden.
The incident shocked the entire country. People took to the streets to protest and communal tension grew. A three-day bandh was observed and much subsequent news of the widespread exploitation and blackmail started coming in. The police were also criticised for not acting even after having information about the ongoing sexual abuses. It had also stalled the case because the local politicians warned action against the accused would lead to massive communal tension.
Musabbir Hussain, joint secretary of the Anjuman Committee which oversees the Ajmer Dargah, told Indian Express "It’s a case that nobody in Ajmer wants to talk about because of the nature of the crime. It’s a blot on our city’s history."
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