Jagdish Joshi IAS
(This article was written sometimes in 2014 after the rape and murder of two girls in Badaun)
The tragic and brutal rape and murder of two teenage girls in District Badaun of Uttar Pradesh recently drew diverse reactions and comments in the media from politicians and social scientists. Besides condemning the poor state of law and order in the Samajwadi Party governed state of UP, there was a pointed reference to lack of toilet facilities in the rural India which perhaps facilitates the rapists in trapping their victims in open fields after dark.
These reports and comments reminded me of a similar situation brought to my notice by anonymous petitions during my stint as Assistant Collector Beed in 1969-70. I called the Tahsildar and showed him the petitions received, all of which referred to a ghost in the village which attacked women who went out in the evening to answer the call of nature. He informed me that there were whispers in the village regarding these assaults but no one was forthcoming to give details of the persons who had been attacked or who had seen this apparition. I had during my tours as Assistant Collector in Beed and Aurangabad often noticed rural women going out after sunset to sit on some lonely stretch of village road to answer the call of nature. This was the general practice in the State as most of the homes did not have toilets those days and perhaps even today. The Tahsildar also informed that most of the women had not complained out of fear and shame and only a few had confided to their husbands that they were attacked while on their nocturnal outings. The Tahsildar had discussed the matter with many prominent citizens in the village like the Sarpanch, the Police Patil ( who is supposed to report all criminal matters and incidents to the local police station) and the Chairman of the Society but no one was willing to go and complain to the police authorities as it was a matter of honour of their womenfolk!
The social fabric of our rural society is so caste ridden that no one is willing to raise their voice against harassment and exploitation by members of the higher caste who invariably are also the caste groups dominating the political set up. We see this today in the Yadav dominated government of the Samajwadi Party in UP which appears to have provided a license for aggression and exploitation to this community. Coming back to the Beed episode, we find a similar scenario operating in the Marathawada region in the sixties of the last century. The institutions of the Watan Patwaris and Police Patils had provided a strong support for the civil administration but had also conferred many privileges on these officials which were exploited to their advantage. Their close proximity to the Revenue and police officials in the District had emboldened them to coerce and blackmail the weaker communities in the village.
After watching the situation for some time, I called the Tahsildar and had a heart to heart talk with him. He was a young direct recruit and one of the finest I had occasion to work with. He confided that he had his suspicion but would give me a credible report soon. He was back next week and reported that the villain of the piece was the Police Patil. He said that he had got the confirmation from very reliable source but said that nobody was willing to make a statement on oath against the Patil. I decided to make my move to exorcise this rapist ghost from the village. The Assistant Collector those days was the appointing authority for Police Patils. I issued him a show cause notice requiring him to show cause as to why action should not be taken against him for dereliction of duty.
A show cause notice to a Police Patil in Marathawada those days was a matter of serious challenge to his hereditary authority enjoyed by his family since the days of the Nizam. He promptly engaged a senior lawyer and sent me a reply denying charges of dereliction of duty. He was sent another notice to remain present in my office in person. On the day fixed for his hearing he arrived promptly at 11.00 am and reported to the Shirestedar (head clerk) in the office. Being a Monday, it was a day assigned for hearing of cases and the Patil stood out amongst the throng of petitioners, proudly sporting his ceremonial pheta(turban). I had advised the Tahsildar to make his appearance around 2.00 pm and when the court adjourned for the day, I promptly summoned the Patil. The court peon stood outside my room and in his clear and loud voice called the Patil to present himself before the Sub Divisional Magistrate. It was a great humbling day for the Patil as he walked into my court; I knew at that moment we had won the day. He did a deep mujra (bow) as was the tradition in Marathawada and stood before me with folded hands. I asked the Tahsildar to read out the one charge of misconduct framed against the PP- that of not sending a single report to the police station on the dreaded ghost that had been harassing the womankind of the village since last six months! That hit him like a sledge hammer and he just collapsed; he went down on his haunches took off his pheta and wept into it. I walked out of the court asking the Tahsildar to take the Patils signature on the letter of his resignation from the post of PP.
The ghost which had terrified the womenfolk in that village in Beed disappeared suddenly after the Police Patils visit to the Assistant Collectors office. A new PP was installed after a month as the Patil had offered to resign due to his ill health!
There are many more ghosts walking and stalking the womenfolk in our countryside today and the cases of rape that do get reported are the ones where the victim is killed and her body becomes a mute witness to the dastardly deeds of the perverts in our society. I pity the poor women who are silently suffering such exploitation of their bodies and who do not report fearing the loss of honour or even their lives at the hands of their own kith and kin in honour killings.
These cases should convince the State Governments to pursue the village sanitation programmes more vigorously. Let a beginning be made by including the programme of construction of public and private toilets in the MPLADS and MLAs Local Areas Development schemes. This inclusion would speed up the implementation of the scheme as the local MLA’s and MP’s will surely take some pride in improving the sanitation in the rural areas and provide more dignity to their womenfolk!