Anand Gupta, an NRI and Dhruv Banerji, a lawyer from Delhi are helping a 7-year-old victim of gang rape fight her case and be heard.
One month ago, Junior Anand Gupta, an NRI based in Gurgaon tracked down the family of a 7-year-old girl who was abducted and gang raped by 4 men in East Delhi’s Yamuna Khadar. Anand had previously taken up the fight for justice for Nirbhaya and her family, and was instrumental in organising the protests that followed.
Anand’s effort’s culminated in the Juvenile Justice Bill being finally passed through Parliament. The Bill allows juveniles between the ages of 16 to 18 to be tried as adults for heinous offences. This is the same law that allowed for the 17-year-old accused in the infamous ‘Mercedes-hit-and-run’ case to be tried as an adult.
While these events transpired, Anand had already started work on a Bill that would make Sexual Assault Kits easily accessible to victims. Sexual Assault Kits allow evidence to be collected from victims of sexual violence. This evidence can then be used during the trial of the accused. Anand found that most victims did not report such crimes out of fear, and a delay of even a few days would result in the permanent loss of crucial events.
These kits will allow victims to first have themselves examined, without requiring them to report the crime or name the accused person before the examination.
Anand then contacted LawRato.com, an online legal advice platform, that had also provided assistance to Nirbhaya’s family when the convicts had appealed their death sentences before the Supreme Court of India.
Anand was put in touch with Dhruv Banerji, a young and ambitious lawyer based out of Delhi who then started working with Anand on drafting the proposed Bill.
In the meantime however, another pressing issue was required to be addressed. The family of the 7-year-old victim of gang rape was from an impoverished background and now, in their fight for justice, the family found themselves lost in the maze of bureaucracy.
The victim, dubbed ‘Aadya’ was tracked down by Anand, a journey that he has meticulously documented on his Facebook page, which is followed by thousands.
While Anand was helping Aadya received medical care, he was informed that one of the accused was claiming to be a juvenile of 17 years and would be posting for bail before the Juvenile Justice Board, the very next day.
This would be devastating for Aadya and her family because the accused lived in close proximity to them. The settlement, though within the NCR was still quiet inaccessible with no proper roads or electricity. Anand therefore made his way to the Juvenile Justice Board with his lawyer, Dhruv Banerji and the family of Aadya. The duo had little-to-no information about the ongoing investigation however, Dhruv managed to persuade the Board to deny bail for the time-being, even though bail is a statutory right for a juvenile, irrespective of the nature of the crime.
Despite this minor victory however, Dhruv voiced his concerns as a lawyer to Anand. The protocols prescribed by the Supreme Court, and also through the Standing Orders issued by the Commissioner of Police, were being blatantly flouted by the investigating officers, despite the serious nature of the crime.
For example, the statement of a minor who is a victim of sexual assault is required to be video recorded, as this statement forms a fundamental piece of evidence in the prosecution of the accused. The trial is likely to continue for years and it will become difficult, if not impossible, to recall the exact demeanour of the child and the manner in which questions were asked.
Further, several other requirements, such as assigning a forensics expert to overlook the case, providing the victim with legal aid and counselling and most importantly, keeping the victim up to date about the status of the investigation were completely missing.
Even when the concerned police officers were informed about these lapses, they surprisingly stated that such rules were not in existence. This defiance and callousness continued even when they were provided copies of these protocols.
Dhruv and Anand are still pursuing the matter before the Juvenile Justice Board where the accused has been declared a juvenile of 17 years and 2 months. The focus, according to Dhruv, will be on convincing the Court that the accussed should be tried as an adult. Though there is some suspicion over the actual age of the juvenile, calling for medial tests would be counter productive as there is a minimum age variance of 2 years even with the most accurate of tests. The medical tests could therefore show a 17-year-old to be a 15-year-old who can therefore not be tried as an adult. Even the basis for determining the age of the juvenile is not based on any birth certificate or other such documents. The age has been calculated based on the date entered into the school registers, which is what has been prescribed in the existing rules under the Juvenile Justice Act.
As Rohan Mahajan of LawRato explains:
“Though the amendments brought out to the Juvenile Justice Act, which allow for a person between the age of 16 to 18 to be tried as an adult, will go a long way in ensuring that the youth who commit heinous crimes do not get away scot free, the case made against the accused may ultimately break down if proper evidence is not collected. There is no point in keeping such accused in jail for a few years only to have them acquitted at trial.”
Dhruv has also decided to take Anand’s help to take this case up before the Delhi High Court to ensure that the investigating agencies are following their own rules. In fact, the Delhi High Court has been actively monitoring the processing of samples by Forensics Labs given that, at present, more than half the samples collected have become unusable.
The acquittal rate in Delhi is an appalling 60% to 80%, even in such serious offences and the Courts have put the blame squarely on “shoddy investigationd.”
Though the aftermath of Nirbhaya lead to the Juvenile Justice Bill to finally materialise and made way for the Delhi High Court to monitor the status of Forensic Science Lab, there is still a uphill battle to be fought. We hope that these efforts pave the way for transparency and sophistication where investigation into such serious offences is concerned.
To get in touch with Advocate Dhruv Banerji, click here.