Rajat Sharma

Ankita’s murder: How our system has become insensitive

AKB30 In a horrific incident in Dumka, Jharkhand, that has caused nationwide outrage, a 17-year-old girl Ankita was burnt to death by a stalker named Shahrukh. He poured petrol on her while she was sleeping in her home at night on August 23 and set her on fire. After battling for life for five days, Ankita succumbed to her injuries on Sunday. Shahrukh and his friend Chhota Khan alias Naeem have been arrested.

Before her death, Ankita implored her father to ensure that Shahrukh, the stalker, gets the harshest punishment. Shahrukh has been tormenting her, whenever she went out of her home to attend school and tuition classes.

I will not call this a mere incident, or a crime. It is a dark blot on our society. It is also a dark blot on Jharkhand government, which could have saved her life by taking timely action.

Dumka is an area which is under the influence of Chief Minister Hemant Soren and his family. His brother Basant Soren is the MLA from the area. For five days, when Ankita was battling for life, the state government remained silent, and when she succumbed to her injuries, people came out in the streets to protest. It was then that Chief Minister Hemant Soren broke his silence and said that ‘we should get rid of all such social evils from society’.

At the time when the chief minister was mouthing inanities, Shahrukh, the culprit, was smiling in front of cameras, as he was being taken away by police. That smile appeared to be mocking our system and our society. It overshadows what Ankita told the magistrate on her death bed. She described how Shahrukh was tormenting and stalking her, was threatening her to either marry him and convert to Islam, or face death. Her last words to her father were, “Papa, do not spare Shahrukh, ensure that he is punished”.

Ankita’s crime was that she was resisting Shahrukh’s advances and had to ultimately give the supreme sacrifice. She had suffered more than 90 per cent burns and her chances of survival were slim. Yet, she did not lose courage. She lost to the vagaries of our system. She was in Dumka, a small town, and she needed better treatment in a top hospital. Her family managed to get her admitted to RIMS (Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences) in Ranchi, but even RIMS did not have facilities to treat burn patients.

The Jharkhand government did not try to shift her to Delhi or any big metropolis. It was only after her death, when protests erupted, the government woke up from its slumber and arrested Shahrukh. The murderer looked unrepentant. He was smiling before the cameras, as if saying, nobody can harm me.

His case history shows he had been stalking other girls in the locality too. Shahrukh was a neighbour of Ankita. On the fateful day, he had threatened to kill Ankita. The latter told her father, and at the dead of night, Shahrukh sneaked into her bedroom, poured petrol on her, lit the matchstick and fled. His friend Chhotu alias Naeem had arranged petrol for committing this gruesome act.

Jharkhand government has now entrusted the probe to Additional DGP M.L.Meena. On Monday, he went to Ankita’s house with a team of experts and recreated the crime scene. Outside, on the streets, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and BJP activists took out protest march and burnt the effigy of CM Hemant Soren, while demanding justice. Protests were held in Dumka, Jamshedpur, Ranchi and Godda. They demanded death punishment for Shahrukh.

As politicians stepped in, Union Minister Giriraj Singh alleged that Hindus in Jharkhand are being discriminated against because of ‘Muslim appeasement’ policy of JMM-led government. He said, Congress and other parties would have raised furore if the victim had been a Muslim girl, but in Ankita’s case, the Jharkhand government did not arrange proper treatment for her.

BJP leader and former CM Raghubar Das alleged that the chief minister, along with his ministers and MLAs, was busy visiting picnic spots, when Ankita was fighting for her life. He also alleged that fundamentalists are trying to change the demography of Dumka and Santhal Pargana region, by resorting to ‘love jihad’. Das alleged that infiltrators from Bangladesh and Rohingya Muslims are grabbing land by marrying local tribal girls, while the JMM government has become a silent spectator.

AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi demanded the “sternest and speediest punishment” for the culprit who committed this heinous act. “Such a criminal has no right to live in a civil society”, he said. “There are no words to condemn this brutal act and Shahrukh must be punished”, Owaisi added.

Owaisi avoided any remark about Hindu-Muslim issue, and it is a welcome change. He minced no words in condemning the murderer. In contrast, Chief Minister Hemant Soren tried to obfuscate while speaking to the media. First, he tweeted saying: “My heartfelt tributes to daughter Ankita. I have directed that Rs 10 lakh ex-gratia be paid to Ankita’s family and this horrendous case be disposed on fast track. Have also directed DGP to submit early report on progress of probe by ADG-rank officer.” While speaking to reporters before cameras, Soren said, “such incidents do happen. Government keeps watch on all incidents. Please do not spread confusion if you do not have concrete information”.

The chief minister’s lack of sensitivity was clearly showing in his remarks. There were heart rending scenes at Ankita’s funeral on Monday. Her grandfather said, Ankita died a painful death as she had suffered severe burns. “Her murderer must be punished”, he said. Her sister said, “Since Ankita’s mother had passed away, she did not share her ordeal with others. If she had told us about how Shahrukh was tormenting her, we could have alerted all. She told her brother only on August 22, but the next day, Shahrukh poured petrol on her.”

Ankita’s family has alleged that the local DSP Noor Mustafa tried to “weaken the case”. BJP has now made it an issue. State BJP chief Deepak Prakash said, Ankita was 17 years old, but DSP Noor Mustafa showed that she was an adult in the FIR. Moreover, charges under POCSO Act were also not added in the FIR. The BJP leader alleged that the DSP was acting as if he was a JMM activist. “Action must be taken against him”, he demanded.

Leader of Opposition and BJP leader Babulal Marandi also alleged that DSP Noor Mustafa was shielding criminals. He alleged that a case under SC-ST Act was filed against an accused Zulfiqar, but the DSP did not file chargesheet within the 90 days’ time limit, and the accused came out on bail. Jharkhand Police IG Operations said that some complaints have been received against DSP Noor Mustafa and they are being investigated.

The moot point is: whenever such horrendous incident takes place, it exposes the fault lines in our system.

For a criminal to have the gumption to pour petrol on a girl inside her house,
for a police officer to try to shield criminals publicly,
for the police not taking Ankita’s case seriously for five days,
for a hospital that lacked basic requirements like Paracetamol tablets and syringes for a burns victim,
for a criminal laughing and smiling in front of cameras,
for the family members of the girl helplessly weeping in public,
I can only say, there can be no bigger tragedy that this.

If common people had not come out on the streets, this case would have been filed and forgotten as another crime against a girl. Had the media not highlighted Ankita’s case and forced the chief minister to react, the case could have died a gradual death.

Some may say that police had arrested the culprits, and it is for the judiciary to give punishment. The government’s duty is to give ex-gratia, and the opposition’s work is to take the ruling party to task. So, every arm of civil society did its work perfunctorily after the death of a daughter.

So long as lip service is given and work is done perfunctorily by different arms of society, our daughters will never remain safe. So long as we do not consider others’ daughters as our own daughters, such horrendous crimes will continue, and such cases of brutal crime shall remain buried, and later forgotten, in the pages of history.

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