Khurshid Anwar, a 55-year-old executive director of an NGO called Institute for Social Democracy allegedly committed suicide on Wednesday from his Vasant Kunj apartment in New Delhi.
Anwar had been accused of rape by 24-year woman from Manipur, and the police had registered an FIR in this case on Tuesday evening. He was charged with a case of poisoning and rape based on the complaint of the girl. According to an IANS report, the girl said that she attended a party on 12 September with nine members of Anwar's NGO at his house and this is when the incident took place.
The report adds that “she got drunk and started vomiting. Anwar and the others advised her to stay at Anwar's flat. She agreed and went to sleep. The next morning when she woke up, she found out she had been sexually assaulted but kept silent as she feared her identity would be revealed..the girl filed a complaint before the National Commission for Women, which forwarded it to police.” A Times of India report also says that the victim had accused Anwar of spiking her drinking with sedatives.
Anwar is also believed to have left a note where he has questioned the rape charge. According to IANS, Anwar wrote in the note, "I am upset about the way the girl is campaigning against me without any fault of mine, and maligning my 30 years of career and reputation."
Anwar’s suicide has prompted some of his friends to raise the question of how he was being vilified both on social media and by some sections of the electronic media. Earlier today, a statement circulated on Facebook pointing out that Anwar was already declared guilty by the media and on social media and that is what prompted his suicide.
The statement reads,
“We the undersigned are shocked at the manner in which a section of the social media relentlessly vilified Khurshid Anwar, social activist and writer with regard to an allegation of rape against him. A section of the electronic media also contributed to the vilification, causing him to commit suicide this morning, the 18th of December, 2013…. Due and fair process of law is necessary not only for the aggrieved but also for the accused.” View full statement here:
Mahtab Alam who was one of the signatories to the letter on Facebook, told Firstpost that, “A section of media had already declared him a rapist. India TV had a one hour long programme where he was called a rapist. They have removed it from the website now. Clearly the way a certain section of media and people on social media acted was wrong and that’s why we have put out our statement on the same.”
But Anwar wasn’t the only one who was vilified online.
As Kavitha Krishnan, Secretary of All India Progressive Women’s Association points out, “I wasn’t at all happy with the way this campaign unravelled on social media. Not just Anwar, but the complainant was also vilified on social media. She was called a communal plant and it was done in a manner that was intimidatory.”
Activist and editor of Manushi, Madhu Kishwar is one of those to whom the girl had turned to for help after the incident. Kishwar told Firspost, “This incident happened on 12 September, when the victim was invited to the house of Khurshi Anwar for dinner along with the whole team of Boond. Boond is the NGO where she was volunteering. The victim was allegedly given laced drinks. The girl contacted me on 19 September. Six people from Boond (including the victim) came to my office to talk about the incident. I video recorded everything, given it was a sensitive issue. The victim talked extensively and she was in a very depressed and shaken state. She described in detail the effect the drinks had on her, she had completely to passed out.”
Kishwar adds, “I told the girl that she would get an unedited version of her DVD. I also told her that I would not use it in anyway, unless she decides to pursue the case. The girl was very shaken, she was facing problems at home as her mother and aunt were sick and she needed money for their treatment. She was under a lot of pressure to not follow the case.”
She also points out that the girl and her friends were maligned for putting out the story. She says, “The story came out on social media via Facebook where these friends of the girls started discussing it on one of the pages of Boond. There were called ‘Sanghi’s to ‘communal.’ One of the reasons the girl came out of her shell was it was alleged that she was trying to blackmail Anwar for money.”
While Kishwar says that the girl’s account was very strong, she too cautions against trial by media and social media.
She says, “Look at Justice Ganguly’s case. Indira Jaising is baying for his blood even before a trial. We need to calm down and allow due to process to take place. Let there be a free trial. The manner in which we conduct live media trials is wrong. Even those who are falsely implicated can be ruined for life. Victims deserve dignity when they are being tried, so do the accused.”
Krishnan hasn’t endorsed the letter circulating on Facebook, says that the tragedy could have been avoided in the first place. “I was initially trying to get in touch with the complainant. The complainant should have been encouraged to come forward earlier. Instead of the campaign that took place in the virtual world, there should have been a proper investigation. It would have also given him a chance to put forth a proper defence,” she adds.