Mandsaur rape case spurs protests by Hindu, Muslim groups; lawyers refuse to represent accused

The rape of an 8-year-old girl in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh on 26 June has galvanised the entire region to agitate, bringing together groups that are normally seen as holding antithetical ideologies. This, according to residents and activists, is primarily because Mandsaur is quick to organise politically aggressive movements, and has had a poor record of women's safety. The brutal nature of the crime has provided an additional impetus to the protesters.

"On the evening of 26 June, when the girl was waiting for her family members to take her back home, Irfan, the prime accused, abducted her. He took her to the bus stand area and allegedly raped her in the bushes quite close to the Laxman Darwaja," Manoj Kumar Singh, Superintendent of Police, Mandsaur, told Firstpost. The accused allegedly lured the girl with laddoos, and later took her to the deserted crime scene.

“What has happened is wrong. However, this does not take away from the fact that if the parents were getting late to pick her up, they should have informed school authorities,” said Kumar, who has served as a Gender Advisor to the United Nations.

 Mandsaur rape case spurs protests by Hindu, Muslim groups; lawyers refuse to represent accused

Members from various Muslim organisations came out in full force to condemn the incident and its politicisation on communal lines. Pallavi Rebbapragada/Firstpost

He added that as soon as the police made the photos of the accused public, they received nearly 1,000 phone calls from locals, thanks to which the prime accused were arrested quickly.

Mukesh Kumar Patidar, a local from Mandsaur, has been part of the protests that have been taking place every day in the district, in places such as Sitamau, Malhargarh and Neemuch. He said that thousands marched the streets of Mandsaur on Friday and Saturday. “The issue is being politicised now. But the larger problem is that the state is failing to deal with anti-social elements, who are a result of unemployment and poverty. There was a case registered against Irfan under Section 25 of the Arms Act. He, along with the other accused, had a history of alcohol abuse and complaints were often registered against them,” he said. Patidar added that the police should monitor those with criminal records. A 7-year-old boy, who was the first to spot the little girl while walking down kaanta gali (a deserted area near Laxman Darwaja, an old fort in Mandsaur), said she was badly injured and asked him to take her home to her parents.

On 27 June, when news of the incident spread like wild fire, there was a complete lock down in Mandsaur. Patidar is also the prakhand sanyojak of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. On Sunday, he said that  Hindu groups: Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Durga Vahini, Ram Sena and Bajrang Dal have consolidated as one entity, the samast Hindu samaj, to take up the cause of women's safety in the state. “We demand fast-tracking of justice. The chief minister has already given a commitment that it will happen. But this is not a political issue, it’s about human rights and we want every girl to feel safe in Madhya Pradesh.”

Amit Gupta, rashtriya adhyaksh, Bajrang Sena, told Firstpost the Hindu group has condemned the incident and staged protests in Gujarat, Bihar, and Madhya Pradesh. Its main demand is that if the accused are found guilty, they should be hanged near India Gate."We are not agitating because the accused happen to be Muslim. We would have made the same noise if they were Hindu. When Lord Ram was attempting the cross the ocean to wage war with Ravana, he narrated the shloka 'bhay bin preet na hoye gopala' which means even love doesn't happen without fear. We want the government to instill in the minds of people that they cannot get away with rape," Gupta explained.

Meanwhile, members of the Sampurna Muslim Samaj, a consolidation of Muslim groups have written a letter to the Madhya Pradesh governor Anandiben Patel and the district collector of Mandsaur, stating that they strongly condemn the monstrous act alleged to have been committed by the accused. The members of the Sampurna Muslim Samaj have stressed the need for fast-tracking justice and stronger laws that instill fear in anti-social elements and enable girls and women to walk on the streets fearlessly.

Babu Salim, former chairman of the Waqf board in Neemuch district, told Firstpost the Muslims in the region have two broad demands: That Irfan be hanged immediately and second, that he be denied space in any graveyard in Mandsaur or Neemuch.

Hanif Sheikh, a councillor from ward no. 34, where the incident occurred, told Firstpost that members of the Anjuman Muslim Welfare Committee and the MEW Welfare Society came together to unite Muslims against what occurred on 26 June. “Irfan’s family is known to me. They are simple people who were constantly troubled with their son’s wayward nature. Irfan was into drugs and alcohol and used to go missing from home for long stretches of time,” Sheikh added that the people of Mandsaur have united against him and will do anything to ensure that the matter isn’t politicised. “It’s about us and our people. A rapist is a rapist, and not Hindu or Muslim,” he remarked.

The Anjuman-E-Islam has written to the President seeking death penalty for the culprits in the Mandsaur rape case. Pallavi Rebbapragada/Firstpost

The Anjuman-E-Islam has written to the President seeking death penalty for the culprits in the Mandsaur rape case. Pallavi Rebbapragada/Firstpost

Mohammad Asgar, the president of the MEW Welfare Society, said that when the Muslims came forward to condemn the rape, they didn’t even know what religion the accused belonged to. Even after they found out, their sentiments remained the same. “Our reaction would have been the same had the man hailed from a Hindu family. This is a crime against humanity and we must rise above religious differences,” he stated.

MS Sisodiya from the Madhya Pradesh Crime Branch told Firstpost that the accused, who are from Mandsaur, are in police custody. He said that although Mandsaur is a largely peaceful place, it has in recent times become a symbol of rage and injustice.

Meanwhile, local lawyers have refused to represent the accused. Dashrath Singh Jhala, an advocate based in Mandsaur and member of the Mandsaur District Bar Association (MDBA,) a body comprising 622 lawyers, said no attorney in Mandsaur will represent the accused, and that this is a unanimous decision of the district Bar.

He told Firstpost that the accused are in police custody till 5 July, and the police will record the statement of the survivor once she’s a little better and is able to speak. “The people are not furious at the police per se, they’re enraged over the thought that the case will move ahead at a snail's pace, and the accused will live comfortably in the meanwhile,” Singh said. He added that public anger has been fuelled because the prime accused previously molested a woman and a case was lodged against him. Singh claimed Ifran was let go by the police after a warning.

Mahesh Patidar, another advocate from Mandsaur, said be it the deaths of farmers or the rape of a little girl, the people of Mandsaur have risen above caste and communal barriers to fight for human rights. He added it will be difficult for parties to woo locals unless women are safe and people from every single community are economically empowered.

Updated Date: Jul 01, 2018 18:46:32 IST