Jharkhand Horror: Raped 12-year-old tribal girl delivers baby, attempts made to marry her off to accused
The minor girl from the Sabar tribal community was raped in Jhakhand’s East Singhbhum. Shockingly, attempts were made to marry her to the alleged rapist. On Monday, after eight months of pregnancy, the survivor gave birth to a child. Meanwhile, Jharkhand’s Women and Child Development Minister is yet to visit her.
Sangeeta Sabar (name changed) was pregnant. She is only 12 years and eight-months-old. She was raped multiple times, but her rapists were free. No first information report (FIR) was lodged for months, let alone any legal action. Her family had not even approached the police.
She hails from Jharkhand's Sabar or Savar community – a denotified tribe. Due to dwindling population and abject poverty, the Sabar tribe has remained one of the priorities of the state government, at least on paper. Despite all this, justice proved elusive. Class and caste dynamics and accessibility to law enforcement kept justice at bay.
After eight months of pregnancy, when she was nearing her delivery date, the tides turned.
Sangeeta’s family lives in Tukda village on the West Bengal-Jharkhand border. The nearest police station – Chakulia – is roughly 15 kilometres away. The village is located nearly 80 kilometres from the Jamshedpur district headquarters. According to officials, this terrain of Jharkhand’s East Singhbhum has been affected by Naxals, is difficult to access, and barely has any mobile network.
In a village of nearly 200 households there are only two Sabar families. Sangeeta’s family lives on the outskirts – next to the river. A class five passout, she was expected to be attending school with class six arrangements.
Her father Mangra Sabar (name changed) works as a migrant labourer in West Bengal’s Jhargram district. He hardly gets an opportunity to return home in order to spend time with his family.
During the COVID-19 triggered lockdown Mangra was forced to return home. According to the statement given by Sangeeta’s family, it was only after Mangra returned during the lockdown that they realised she was pregnant.
The matter was first raked up with the family of the accused and later at the Panchayat level.
Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Dr M Tamil Banan told Asiaville that the incident first took place almost 7-8 months ago.
“During the lockdown, the parents returned home and they saw the girl’s condition. That’s when she narrated the story the accused used to come to the house and rape me. And two other accused used to stand outside as guards.”
20-year-old Banmik Nayak, resident of the same village, had allegedly raped her on multiple occasions. Later Nayak left for some other state in search of a job. He had returned home during the nationwide lockdown.
When asked whether she was sexually assaulted on multiple occasions, SSP Banan said, “It seems to be the case. As the girl (Sangeeta) said that the accused had come a few times.”
Shockingly, Sangeeta’s ordeals increased after this revelation. Instead of lodging an FIR, her family tried to marry her off to her rapist.
“The parents approached the particular village Mukhiya. They tried to persuade the boy (Nayak) to marry her,” the Jamshedpur SSP told this correspondent. “Then she refused (to marry).”
After a local stringer broke the story in the local newspaper, the police got to know about the incident and legal proceedings began.
“The girl was shifted to the hospital for better medical care. As she was not in a position to give the statement, hence we recorded her father’s statement. The case was registered and the accused has been arrested,” SSP Banan said.
On May 25, the Jharkhand police registered an FIR under sections of IPC 376 (rape), 6/17 POCSO Act (sexual assault against a minor) and Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act [SC/ST Act].
Three accused Bankim Nayak, 20, Nitish Nayak, 21, and Debu Nayak, 20, were nabbed by the police.
Tukda is a Nayak dominated village and all three accused belonged to the Nayak community. The entire village has only two Sabar tribe families and both belong to economically weak families.
A local source, on condition of anonymity, told Asiaville, “The survivor’s family is extremely poor and lives in a small house next to the river. On the day of the incident (first), her father – a migrant worker - was in West Bengal. Mother had gone to the forest to collect wood and leaves. While the two elder brothers live in other cities, the third brother was attending the school. Bankim Nayak, in an inebriated state, forced himself into the house and raped the minor girl, while two other accused guarded the house.”
The local reporter Rakesh Kumar Singh, said, “They don’t have access to health or education that they would even realise that their daughter was pregnant. It would have been around five or six months of her pregnancy that the family noticed it. That’s when she narrated what all she has gone through.”
The situation was so bad that Sangeeta’s family didn’t even know the exact month of her pregnancy. According to SSP Banan, it was during the medical screening that the doctors confirmed she was in the ninth month of her pregnancy.
On May 24, in a horrendous attempt, a Panchayat meeting was held where both parties were present. Singh said the girl’s father again tried to get her married to Nayak but the meeting failed. However, the police are yet to verify the claims regarding the Panchayat meeting about the marriage proposal.
“On Sunday, when I met her (Sangeeta), she was still alone at home and was carrying water from the river. Can you imagine health risks?” Singh. “Had the matter not come out, in a day or two, her life would have been risked.”
Singh’s fear was right. On May 25, when the administration rushed to her village, Sangeeta was already in labour. First, she was taken to the nearest Common Health Centre (CHC) and then was admitted to Jamshedpur's Tata Main Hospital.
On Monday night, 12-year-old Sangeeta gave birth to a daughter. She is still under medical observation at the hospital.
Surprisingly, the news of the rape of a minor tribal girl, her pregnancy, and the subsequent delivery of a child at such a tender age is yet to make national headlines. None of the women’s welfare groups, not even the National Commission for Women, has taken any action in the case.
Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren ordered a swift enquiry into the matter and a three-member police team headed by Deputy SP Raj Kumar Mehta is investigating the matter. The police are planning to file the chargesheet within 60 days so that the case goes for a swift trial.
In the hinterlands of the Jharkhand, where the digital revolution is yet to leave its mark, justice takes time. In Sangeeta’s case, it took eight months. The attempt to marry her to her own rapist shows us the ugly side of humanity, and how the self-created justice system survives and thrives in these lands. Women often end up paying the ultimate price.
Shockingly, the Jharkhand Women and Child Welfare Minister Joba Majhi is yet to visit Sangeeta and her family. Majhi said that due to the COVID-19 lockdown and the volatile situation in her constituency – triggered by reverse migration – she has not been able to meet the survivor.
“The investigation is being carried out as per the instruction of the Chief Minister Hemant Soren. The culprits will not be spared,” Majhi told Asiaville. “Our department will keep an eye on the developments.”
However, the Women and Child Development Ministry is yet to question the police to check whether the local police station had any prior knowledge about Sangeeta’s case or investigate if there was any delay in registering the FIR.
This correspondent quizzed the Minister and six-time tribal legislator whether there are plans for any financial aid and policies in place for her health and education. “I am assuring you that the Women and Child development Ministry will formulate a policy to ensure her health and education and the welfare of the newborn child are taken care of,” Majhi said.