Burying the Truth Deeper

Were women of Bhatta-Parsaul raped, as Rahul Gandhi had alleged? Different state commissions can’t seem to agree
Uttar Pradesh
TIGHTROPE WALK The various probes into Rahul Gandhi’s allegations of sexual assault of women at Bhatta-Parsaul have only succeeded in embarassing the Congress still further

NEW DELHI ~ It is party versus the Government, once again. This time in Bhatta-Parsaul, the twin villages of Greater Noida, where violent protests against land acquisition were followed by a brutal police crackdown in May this year. Of course, the nondescript villages came into national focus after Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi sneaked in despite heavy police and joined a farmers’ sit-in. Days later, Gandhi led a delegation of villagers to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at his residence, 7 Race Course Road, in New Delhi. Gandhi had, emerging from his meeting with the PM, held a rare, impromptu press conference alleging that bodies were buried under a large heap of ashes measuring several feet across, and that Uttar Pradesh police personnel had also raped women in the villages. “Everybody in the village knows it. We can give you pictures. Women have been raped, people have been thrashed. Houses have been destroyed,” Gandhi had told reporters, handing out pictures that he, along with the villagers, had submitted to the PM. The pictures showed ashes, burnt houses and ransacked homes.

Earlier this month, at the beginning of the monsoon session of Parliament, the Government had said in the Rajya Sabha that an inquiry by a committee formed by the National Commission for Women (NCW) did not find the charges of rape valid. Replying to a question posed by BJP MP and spokesperson Prakash Jawadekar, Women and Child Welfare Minister Krishna Tirath told the Upper House, “An inquiry committee constituted by the National Commission for Women visited the Bhatta-Parsaul villages in Uttar Pradesh on 12 May 2011. No specific case of rape has been confirmed by the inquiry committee.”

The BJP succeeded in embarrassing the Congress with the minister’s admission, which went against the Gandhi scion’s allegations made to the PM.

Barely a few days after the Government’s admission in Parliament, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC), headed by Mayawati associate-turned-foe and Barabanki Congress MP PL Punia, declared that women were indeed raped and directed the Gautam Budhh Nagar police to register cases based on affidavits filed by seven alleged victims of rape. The district administration, however, has contested the allegations, saying these never came up during various visits and probes by officials of different commissions: the NCW, the National Human Rights Commission, and one by Punia himself on 25 May.

Punia, on the other hand, maintains: “Seven women of Bhatta and Parsaul villages have in an affidavit said that they have been raped by policemen. The same was corroborated in front of the Commission. NCSC official Latha Priyakumar conducted the investigation.” Punia is not willing to relent either. An NCW team that first visited the site after Gandhi had made the allegations said that some women in the villages did allege sexual assault during a preliminary visit. Later, a thorough probe by the commission ruled out rape. In June, the NHRC had in its elaborate report—that ran into 800 pages—ruled out rape. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati had hit back at the Congress after these reports negated the rape allegations levelled against the state police personnel.

Punia’s enthusiasm has once again brought the issue back into the news, and Mayawati, under whom he once served as principal secretary, is unlikely to let him have his way. That NCSC member Priyakumar has been an active Congress leader in Tamil Nadu for nearly two decades is only going to strengthen Mayawati’s allegation that the Congress has been politicising the matter.

For the Congress, too many commissions may have already spoilt the probe.