Singh family targeted her as their daughter eloped with her brother

Two bottles of alcohol, a wad of notes and a snack treat were enough to buy the complicity of the police. A sub-inspector, constable and driver did nothing when Ritu Kumari’s (name changed) clothes were torn, she was attacked and burned with a cigarette. In fact, they laughed at her plight.

Sixteen-year-old Ritu became a vulnerable target for the Singh family, whose daughter had eloped with Ritu’s brother in June. As the boy, a Dalit, belongs to a ‘lower’ caste and the girl to the OBC, the incident sparked a backlash. The girl’s relatives came to Ritu’s house that same night with a group of other men and threatened to take revenge on the entire family.

“On July 31, the police arrived home. I was alone with my sister-in-law,” Ritu told The Hindu. There was no woman police present when they took Ritu to the Shastri Nagar police station in Patna.

“The girl’s mother was at the police station. She claimed I would know where my brother and the girl were hiding. So the police detained me. From there I was taken on a search mission in a police vehicle to Bela [about 70 km from Patna].”

The three police personnel, the girl’s mother Munika Devi, brother Sintu Singh and brother-in-law Ashwini Kumar Singh were present in the vehicle. No woman constable was present in the vehicle. They drove the whole night with Ritu looking for the absconding couple.

“When we reached Bela the [girl’s] mother paid Rs.10,000 to the police, gave them two bottles of alcohol and treated then to ‘litti choka’ [a local snack]. The rest of us were waiting inside the vehicle when Ashwini Kumar Singh attacked me,” Ritu said.

According to her police statement, Mr. Singh threatened her, “How can a Chamar boy be with a Kurmi girl? Just wait and watch how you get dishonoured.”

With these words, Mr. Singh tore off Ritu’s salwar kameez and injured her hands and legs. Ms. Munika threatened to avenge her daughter’s “kidnapping” by “doing the same” to Ritu.

Mr. Singh burned the hapless victim with a cigarette. A circular injury mark is visible on her chest. But this aspect is not part of her police statement. “I told the police, but perhaps they did not put it in my statement,” she said. Ritu has nail scratches on her thigh and arms. She has also kept the torn salwar kameez.

“I was screaming and crying,” said Ritu, “but the [girl’s] mother said there was no use as the police were drunk and could not do anything. In fact, they kept laughing. When I said I would file a case, they laughed it off saying if I did that they could easily suppress the case. They said nothing worked before the power of money.”

The search party found the runaway duo that night around 2 a.m. and returned to the police station. Ritu ran away and later went to Manu Maharaj, Patna’s Senior Superintendent of Police. She narrated the incident to Mr. Maharaj after which the police recorded her statement and filed a case on August 1.

The FIR was filed against the girl’s family members under the IPC Sections 341 (wrongful restraint), 323 (causing hurt), 354 (outraging the modesty of a woman), 385 (putting person in fear of injury in order to commit extortion), and 34 (common intention).

Atrocity Act

Initially, the police did not invoke the Scheduled Caste / Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocity Act). However, during the course of doing this story, the police sent a “correction slip” to the court to invoke the Atrocity Act as well, an officer told The Hindu on Monday.

The police personnel concerned have not been named in the FIR. When asked, the officer said their names would be added and “departmental proceedings will be initiated against them.” He refused to divulge their names fearing it would jeopardise the police’s reputation.

However, Mr. Maharaj told The Hindu, “Why would we suspend the officers? They helped the girl.” Ritu refuted this claim.

A few days earlier, the police even denied the incident. The special women’s police station, where Ritu had gone earlier, did not heed her complaint and merely directed her to the same police station she had escaped from.

Before this incident took place, the girl’s family had threatened Ritu. “Their abuses were very obscene. They threatened to abduct her if they failed to find their daughter. They swore revenge because my son ran away with a Kurmi girl,” Ritu’s mother told The Hindu.

Ritu, a standard 12 science student of a prominent college in Patna, has stopped attending classes.

“I am afraid what will happen to me. When they could assault me in the presence of the police, anything can happen. Out of fear of a backlash we had to leave our house last month. We spent three days on the road,” she said.

The harassment is still not over for Ritu. She suffers routine taunts from the girl’s brother and other people in the neighbourhood. “They boast about the fact that they could do all that to me before the police.”

Demanding justice, she said, “I want all of them, including the police, to go to jail for what they have done. Tomorrow it can happen to anybody. If I don’t get justice, my college will stage protests in the streets.”

Both Ritu’s brother and the girl with whom he ran away are said to be minors. As per the court’s records procured by Ritu’s family, the couple got married by faking their ages. Ritu’s family denied the charge of kidnapping made by the girl’s family. They showed a signed statement from the girl, saying she was not marrying under pressure. There is a greeting card the girl gave Ritu’s brother. According to the police, however, the girl has testified to the magistrate that she was abducted by Ritu’s brother and four other boys. Ritu’s brother is in jail.