In 1992, India was shocked by the revelation of one of the biggest and heinous crimes it had seen among its people. A case of forced sexual exploitation going en masse, a scandal that involved hundreds of girls raped and harassed daily, came to light when a daring Journalist got the nerves to go up against the highly powerful and influential people involved in the crime.
The story is of the Rajasthani heritage city of Ajmer, which is home to the famous Ajmer Sharif Dargah- a sufi shrine (dargah) of the revered sufi saint, Moinuddin Chishti. However, Khwaja Chishti in his wildest of dreams would not have imagined the gruesome acts of sexual abuse being carried out by the influential caretaker family of his sacred shrine.
The act was committed by a gang of criminals, which was initiated when Farooq Chishti, the member of the same influential family mentioned above, trapped a girl from Ajmer’s Sophia Girls School, raped her, and took ‘compromising’ images. Then these images were used to blackmail the girl, who, deeply depressed, would have no choice but to lure more of her friends into this. The cycle went on and more than a hundred girls fell victim to the crime.
The girls went to the farmhouses right in front of their parents’ eyes, who had no idea of this happening, and were picked and dropped to their home in a car. The girls were photographed while raping, which were used as a tool to blackmail them and keeping their mouths ‘shut’. These girls were not from very poor families, but influential and rich families, many of whom were daughters of serving IPS/IAS officers. The Sophia Girls School is one of the most highly respected institutions in Ajmer, and has branches all across India.
It was later even uncovered that many politicians and high-ranking officials were also involved in the acts, and it was becoming more of a localized brothel- the magnitude of which would shake the spine of any proud citizen of this country. It was happening right under their noses, involving innocent girls, sexually exploited and blackmailed.
It was in May 1992 when the editor of the local Hindi daily couldn’t bear to take any longer. With the so-called ‘public servants’ keeping their eyes shut and letting it happen, Deenbandhu Chaudhary published the news with evidence of a nude blotted image of a young girl taken by the rapists. According to Chaudhary, the local law enforcement authorities admitted that they were aware of the scandal almost a year before the story broke, but they allowed the local politicians to stall the investigations.
Chaudhary stated that finally, they decided to go ahead with the story because that seemed to be the only way to prod the local administration into action. Finally, the police lodged an FIR against eight of the accused. Further investigations led to 18 men in total being charged and tensions ran high in the town for several days.
The main accused, Farooq Chishti, was the president of Ajmer’s Youth Congress. Also the accused being Muslim (and very influential families of the city indeed), the whole country was deeply shocked when the revelations were made. This could be one of the first cases of ‘Love Jihad’ in the nation, however the term wasn’t coined back then- but was still enough to spark communal tensions. People took to the streets, demanding justice, and it was actually the administration whose nude image of corruption and shameless ignorance came to light.
A three-day ‘band’ was even observed. The public wanted justice to be granted as soon as possible, but the case was complex due to the involvement of influential men. “The accused were in a position of influence, both socially and financially, and that made it even more difficult to persuade the girls to come forward and depose,” says retired Rajasthan DGP Omendra Bhardwaj, who was then posted as the deputy inspector general of police, Ajmer.
Of the 18 accused, one committed suicide while another, Farooq Chishty, a former Youth Congress leader, was declared mentally unstable. In 1998, a sessions court in Ajmer sentenced eight men to life imprisonment but the Rajasthan High Court, in 2001, acquitted four of them. In 2003, the Supreme Court reduced the sentences of the other four convicts, Moijullah alias Puttan, Ishrat Ali, Anwar Chishty and Shamshuddin alias Meradona, to 10 years. Six of the men are still facing trial and with Suhail Chishty’s arrest, only one accused, Almas Maharaj, is absconding and is believed to be in the US. The CBI has issued a red corner notice against him, reported Indian Express.
It is a sad mentality still running among most Indians due to which, quite often, the brunt of such horrendous crimes are faced by the victims [girls] themselves. Many girls, fearing their images would be leaked, could not bear the prospect of the societal pressure and committed suicide.
The 2003 Supreme Court order in the case said, “Unfortunately many of the victims who appeared as witnesses turned hostile and one can appreciate the reason why they did not want to depose against the appellants as that would have exposed them as well, and would have adversely affected their future life.”
Deep Mukherjee, in his article for the Indian Express, mentions:
“There was a time when people would say, ‘Ajmer ki ladki hai to pata kar lenge ki kuchch iss tarah ki to nahin hai (Because she is a girl from Ajmer, we will find out what kind of a girl she is)’,” says Anant Bhatnagar, state general secretary, People’s Union for Civil Liberties and a resident of Ajmer.
Such was the social stigma, says author Anuradha Marwah, a former Ajmer resident who has written a book on the case, that even institutions where the girls studied were looked down upon. “My mother was the vice-principal of one such college. I remember she came home in tears one day, saying that a young girl, who was one of the victims, had committed suicide. The case was like a wound that wasn’t allowed to heal,” Marwah says.
Ajmer Mahila Samooh, who tried to take up the victim’s cause, withdrew after receiving threats. Small-time tabloids were quite a sensation in Ajmer at that time. As if the mass exploitation of hundreds of girls was not enough of a blow to the town’s conscience, many victims were even allegedly blackmailed further by these tabloids and local papers. They had access to the explicit images of the girls, and the owners and publishers sought money from the families of the girls to keep them hidden.
This story is about an incident that happened back in 1992. Why did we feel to publish this- is a question that would be asked by many. Right from the time of her birth or even before, a girl faces many hardships, several becoming targets of one sort of a crime or the other. Female infanticide, rapes, abductions, Eve teasings, molestation, acid attacks, marital rapes- have put a deep scar on the faces of men not only in India, but around the world.
“All men are not the same”- A message for the Youth
“All men are not the same,” is a statement given to not generalise the whole male population as rapists. Indeed- this is very true. Neither are all girls the same, many of them are criminals and boys are also raped. However, in the practical scenario, for a girl passing by a street late at night, she would not be first analyzing that the man or the group of men standing at the corner of the street would be safe for her or not. Even if that group of men has no mal-intentions, would the girl take the risk saying ‘All men are not the same’? How can a girl differentiate between a man ‘who-is-not-the-same’ and a rapist? Have we created an environment for a woman where she’d not be afraid of a man asking for a lift in the middle of a highway? Heck, more than 90% of rapes committed in India are done by people who are known to the victim.
The ground reality in more than 70% of India regarding the awareness about a woman’s rights is not at all exhilarating. I have seen Imams preaching on ‘how to handle your women’ and the way women are treated in non-metropolitan cities. Seldom, a girl is still not sent to the market without being accompanied by her brother. There are still neighborhoods of a particular community where some people don’t prefer going with their ladies accompanying them. There are still places where women are kept behind doors when a particular guest is welcomed in the house, and even denied the simple luxury of having access to a toilet. Only an Instagram or Facebook post just doesn’t give you the exact knowledge of the striking realities. It’s not the government’s fault, but a societal restructuring that has happened in the cities like Delhi or Mumbai are still very far away from reaching the other areas of the country. The people who do such stuff don’t give a damn about Instagram stories about ‘all men are not the same’ or trending hashtags on Twitter. That, is the reality.
Penned by Ayush Jain. Views personal