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Be there. Be there for a Safer India

July 22, 2006 14:26 IST
Though I know he is the man who committed the crime, I acquit him, giving him the benefit of the doubt.' Thus spoke Delhi's Additional Sessions Judge G P Thareja on December 3, 1999. He was delivering the verdict in the case of the rape and murder of Priyadarshini Mattoo.

How many of us know who Priyadarshini Mattoo was? Not many, I guess. And why would we even know who she was? She was not a well-recognised sportsperson. She was not a well-known face from a popular television show. She was not a publicity-hogging politician. She was not a face that you would see on large billboards. So why would we know her? And why would we even care?

But care we must.

Care we must because she was a law abiding citizen. Care we must because she was a loving daughter to her parents and caring sister to her siblings. Care we must because she was a human being. And above all, if for nothing else, then at least for our selfish reasons, care we must because tomorrow it could be our sister or daughter who will suffer at the hands of a rapist while the law of the land stands on the sidelines as a mute spectator.

Priyadarshini was a 23-year-old third-year law student at Delhi University. On January 23, 1996, she was first raped and then brutally murdered by stabbing and strangulating with a wire. And who was the alleged rapist and murderer? Santosh Kumar Singh, Priyadarshini's senior in her college, and son of a senior police officer J P Singh, who at that time was the inspector general of police in the state of Pondicherry.

And where did this horrible crime happen? No, not in any dark alley during some dark night. It was committed in broad daylight in a very active residential area of Vasant Kunj in New Delhi. And the crime was not committed on an impulse. On the contrary, it was clearly a pre-meditated crime committed by someone who was known to be a danger to the victim.

Santosh Singh had been stalking and harassing Priyadarshini for many years. She even had a restraining order against him but nothing prevented Santosh Singh from committing this heinous crime.

As per the information available, Santosh Singh barged his way into Priyadarshini's house and allegedly raped her, then strangled her with a wire. His barbaric act did not stop there. Before leaving the house, he assaulted Priyadarshini's face so hard with a motorcycle helmet that it was beyond recognition.

During the course of the trial, Santosh Singh's father J P Singh also served as joint commissioner of police in Delhi, the jurisdiction under which the crime was committed. Since it was a direct conflict of interest, at the instructions of the court the case was handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation.

Even though the overwhelming evidence pointed to Santosh Singh, the Indian judicial system acquitted him because the agencies prosecuting the case bungled up the prosecution. In his long judgment, Judge Thareja was very critical of the role of the Delhi police.

Said the judge: 'The influence of the father has been there in the matter and there was deliberate inaction.' He also accused the Delhi police of assisting the accused during the investigation and trial. 'Lalit Mohan, the inspector, was instrumental in creating false evidence and false defence for the accused. The witnesses of the police including a sub-inspector deposed falsely.'

Justice Thareja's judgment held the CBI responsible for unfair investigation and obstruction of justice. He blamed the CBI for its failure to produce Virender Prasad, Priyadarshini's household help, as a key witness. The Delhi police had claimed that Virender Prasad had gone missing and was not traceable but a journalist was easily able to find him in his native village in Bihar.

The judge also added that the CBI fabricated the DNA test in the rape case as it was not obtained in accordance with the judicial procedure and could not therefore be admitted in evidence in view of Section 45 of the Indian Evidence Act.

As is obvious, the judgment was a huge disappointment for Priyadarshini's family and friends. Following protests from Priyadarshini's friends and family, the CBI appealed the district court's verdict in the Delhi high court in April 2000. But till date, there have been no presentation of evidence or hearings in the high court.

The worst irony of this tragic case is that the accused Santosh Singh not only went on to enjoy his life but he today is a practicing lawyer in Delhi. What a cruel joke!

Indian citizens need to step up to the plate and take up this challenge. If the criminal judicial system becomes ineffective, criminals will roam the streets of India without fear and inflict their evil designs on innocent citizens.

Priyadarshini's father is still knocking the doors of the Indian judicial system to get justice for his dearest daughter. A group of Priyadarshini's friends, some known to her, most of them unknown to her, have come together to fight for justice for Priyadarshini.

The group Justice For Priyadarshini has taken an oath to keep fighting for justice until the guilty is served justice. This group is fighting to reopen Santosh Singh's case file and retry the case. The group is right now lobbying at all the right places.

On Sunday, July 23, on the day of Priyadarshini's 33rd birthday, this group will organise a vigil and a protest rally at India Gate in Delhi to demand the reopening of Santosh Singh's case files and a retrial of this rape case. It is imperative upon all of us to stand in support of this group and show solidarity with them by attending this rally. It is time we stand up for what is right and be counted.

People like Santosh Singh should not be roaming free. Instead they should be taken off the streets so that our daughters and sisters can feel safe and live freely.

Would you step up to the plate, raise you voice against injustice and get counted? Would you? I am sure you would. So please note down the venue and time.

What: Justice for Priyadarshini Rally
Where: INDIA GATE, NEW DELHI
When: 4:30 PM on July 23, 2006

Be there.
Be there for your sister.
Be there for your daughter.
Be there for your mother.
Be there for a safer India.

Lalit Koul is the editor and publisher of Kashmir Herald, an online news journal available at http://www.kashmirherald.com. He can be reached at editor@kashmirherald.com

Lalit Koul