Rape of 7-year-old in Bengaluru: Lack of medical report and top lawyer's defense gets accused off the hook
On the 1st of August, 2012, a class 2 student in a school located in Whitefield, told her mother that she had stomach pain and a burning sensation in her genitals. When her mother queried further, the terrified child finally revealed that a man had assaulted her, and threatened her not to reveal the assault to anyone. The mother took the child to meet the principal of the school. With not much help coming forth, she then took the child to Manipal Hospital in the city, where a doctor confirmed her fears – the child had injuries that were indicative of rape.
For seven years, the child and her mother ran pillar to post, made innumerable trips to the court, and encountered a hostile defence, all in the hope that they would get justice in the end. But on September 9, Bengaluru Rural Sessions court acquitted the accused Madhusudhan – a plumber employed by the school – who was represented by top criminal lawyer CH Hanumantaraya. The same lawyer has in the past represented several politicians, including mining baron Gali Janardhana Reddy and Kampli MLA Ganesh.
While every individual has the right to defence and it could be argued that the lawyer was doing his job, the mother has a question to ask. “How does a man who does not earn a lot of money, afford such an expensive celebrity lawyer like Hanumantharaya?” asks the distraught mother who has found the entire legal process for justice taxing. “I think the school paid him to defend the man, as they did not want their reputation to be destroyed,” she alleges. There are cases in which lawyers represent clients pro bono, however both the lawyer and the school did not respond to repeated queries.
It has been a tough and malicious fight for the mother as, initially, the defence suggested that the child – the seven-year-old – was sexually active. When this line was objected to, the defence maintained that she had a vivid imagination.
The prosecution, the child’s mother, and activists who helped her during the trial expressed concerns that from the absence of a medical report to the hostility in court, the scales were heavily tilted against the child.
Blaming it on the child’s “imagination”
In this case registered just months before the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act came into place, the judgment relies significantly on the defence’s stand that the little girl “was given to vivid imaginations and weaving fanciful stories.”
The judge has also relied on the testimony of the principal, that the girl was “imaginative”. This is the same principal who, according to the child and the mother, neglected their complaint. According to the principal, the child had complained in 2011 that a classmate had pulled her undergarments, and therefore, another complaint made the next year, showed her “imaginative skills” she said.
The attendance register
The defence’s argument was that other than the child being imaginative, the school attendance register showed that Madhusudhan was not present in school on July 25, 26, 28 and 29 of 2012.
But the Thirumalashettyhalli police told TNM that during the investigation, the security guard of the school informed them that Madhusudhan would loiter around the school even when he was not in attendance. “How can the school register be the evidence? The school called the child a liar and is the entity that benefits a lot with an acquittal,” a source who worked with the prosecution tells TNM.
No medical report of rape
Another glaring discrepancy was that the Thirumalashettyhalli Police, who had filed the chargesheet, did not submit the forensic report in the court. Though the initial comment by a doctor at Manipal mentioned injuries, the second medical inspection – samples of which were sent to the Forensic lab – was never sent to the court.
Speaking to The News Minute, BT Venkatesh, Assistant Public Prosecutor in the case, said that the Forensic Science Lab in Bengaluru had not submitted the medical report to the police.
According to a source, “The police had to file a chargesheet and the FSL report was delayed. The FSL in Bengaluru is overburdened with cases. It is abysmally understaffed, and it’s a miracle if a report comes eight months after samples are submitted to the lab. The police and prosecution wrote multiple times to the FSL to submit the report but it was not.”
In addition to the lack of a forensic report, two school teachers, along with two other witnesses who used to work at the school, who were crucial to the case, turned hostile and refused to testify.
According to the police, the girl’s class teacher had told them during the investigation that she had seen Madhusudhan take the girl inside a washroom and when she came outside, she was crying. When the teacher asked what happened, the girl allegedly refused to answer. The class teacher and three others turned hostile.
Assistant Public Prosecutor BT Venkatesh says that the police should have included the teacher and the principal as accused in the case, and not just as witnesses. “What was the teacher doing watching a man take the girl inside the washroom? Why was the principal not mentioned in the chargesheet?” he asks.
The child said ‘I don’t remember’
The judgment also mentions multiple times that the girl had said “I don’t remember” to several questions posed by defence counsel Hanumantharaya. The child, who was made to appear in court multiple times and for many years, had said that she did not remember about the principal lining up teaching staff for an identification parade. She had replied, “I do not remember” to certain other specific questions raised by the defence.
“How can a little girl remember something that happened years ago vividly and in detail? The trial went on for years and the questions posed were so meandering that it was not possible for her to understand properly,” her mother says.
“The case was whether Madhusudhan raped the girl. There was no FSL report. And the Supreme Court guidelines had stated that a strong testimony from the victim can be relied upon. Since the case went on for years, the girl could not remember many details. This is why speedy trials are important,” BT Venkatesh says.
The mother says, she will continue to fight. “From suggesting that my child was sexually active to calling her a liar, we have been subjected to a lot. This is why a lot of parents give up. But I will not give up, I will appeal against this judgment,” she told TNM amidst sobs.
When TNM reached out to the Principal, she said, "He has been acquitted. I am an employee of the school as well. This is a legal matter and I cannot speak about it."