A police officer’s bias against a rape victim
On December 2, 2021, 16-year-old Sadia Akhter (not her real name), a domestic worker, stole gold jewellery and cash from the apartment in Wari, where she worked, complying with her boyfriend's instructions. With the stolen items she fled to her boyfriend in Barishal. According to the FIR, her boyfriend Sumon Chandra Das, 30,who had promised to marry her, picked her up from the launch ghat in Barishal and took her to a hotel where he and his friends raped her several times. They left her there taking the gold ornaments and cash with them.
Her ordeal did not end there.
A few days after the (theft) case, Sub-Inspector Sohel Rana of the Wari police station and also the investigating officer of the theft case arrested Sadia from her village. The court sentenced her to 10 months in a correction centre, as she was a minor. Now, after being charge-sheeted by the police, she awaits her trial.
But no action had been taken against those who had raped her despite her complaint with the police at the time. Sadia has told The Daily Star that the police had assured her they would file a rape case. But even after 11 months neither was any case filed against the rapists nor were the medical records of the rape preserved.
"The investigation officer had me sign five to six blank papers assuring me of filing a rape case when I informed him of the rape, but did not lodge any case", Sadia, who is from Patuakhali, informed. She added that the investigation officer had visited the spot where the gang-rape took place and was convinced that it had taken place. But he still did not file the rape case as promised.
Meanwhile, on October 29 last year, the victim, upon getting bail while serving her term for theft, filed a rape case against Sumon Chandra Das, 30, and Imran Hossain Mallik, 23.
Sumon, of Kaliganj village in Kaunia upazila of Barishal, and Imran, of Darial village of Bakerganj upazila in the same district were arrested on January 19, 2022, on charges of being involved in the theft. But Sumon was released on bail after two months and Imran after 20-25 days even though Sadia did not get bail until October, according to police sources.
Incidentally, January 19, 2022 was also the day that Dhaka Metropolitan Court Judge Mohammad Nurul Huda recorded Sadia's statement regarding the gang rape.
Sadia could not file the rape case earlier as she was in the correction centre. After the rape case had been filed, Barishal police arrested the duo. They were sent to the court where the main accused has given a confessional statement about the rape. But without medical records and other evidence, it is possible that the accused may walk free again. "I want my rapists to be punished. I still hope that the government will give me justice, but I am not sure that I will get the justice as I have no effective evidence now," commented Sadia.
A CURIOUS OMISSION THAT MAY BE AT THE COST OF JUSTICE
Investigation officer Sohel Rana submitted the charge sheet to the court against Sadia, Suman and Imran accusing them in the theft case. A separate charge sheet was filed for Sadia as she was 16 years old at the time of theft.
However, in the charge sheet, sub-inspector Sohel Rana stated that Sadia was raped by Suman and Imran in Barishal.
Sohel Rana, the investigation officer of the theft case did not receive phone calls as this correspondent tried to reach him over phone for a week for his comments.
Later, Md Kabir Hossen Howlader, officer-in-charge of Wari Police Station, told The Daily Star that the girl and her two friends were arrested in a theft case "The girl alleged she was raped by her friends in a hotel," he said.
"We sought court directives drawing the attention to the rape. But we did not get any further order on the alleged incident of rape. That's why we submitted the charge sheet only in the theft case," the OC claimed.
However, experts say that rape is a cognisable offence and a police officer has the authority to make an arrest without a warrant and to start an investigation with or without the permission of a court.
Asked what the police's role should have been in the incident, eminent jurist Jyotirmoy Barua told The Daily Star that, "The incident of theft is true, and she deserves to be punished for that but in this case the investigation officer showed sheer negligence towards a victim of rape."
"As the accused were in police custody, the investigation officer should have taken measures for the victim's medical test when he came to learn about the rape. The medical report is highly valued in Section 32 of the Women and Child Repression Prevention Act. The police could have sought remand of the accused", he said.
"If the accused had confessed to raping the girl, the officer could have submitted separate charge sheets - one for theft and another for rape", Jyotirmoy Barua added.
Barua suggested department proceedings against the investigation officer over his playing down the rape incident even after knowing the fact.
When contacted about rape evidence, Fazlul Karim, additional deputy commissioner (South) of Barisal Metropolitan Police, told The Daily Star, "We have a written complaint of gang rape along with the victim's statements on gang rape that she has given to the Dhaka Metropolitan Police under section 164."
Asked about the medical report, the ADC said "The evidence in the rape case has become difficult to find now as the incident took place almost a year ago. Also, the medical report would not be of much use as it occurred a long time ago."
If the investigation officer Sohel Rana had informed the court earlier when he learnt that the victim had been gang raped then the Barishal police could have tried to collect the medical evidence immediately, Fazlul Karim added.