‘Beta Padhao, Beti Bachao,’ says Karnataka High Court, on Belagavi stripping and assault case

During the arguments, the high court asked why the villagers remained mute spectators and whether they were "afraid of the police?”.

BySouth First Desk

Published Dec 18, 2023 | 6:41 PMUpdatedDec 18, 2023 | 6:41 PM

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While continuing to hear the suo-moto petition on the stripping and assault case in Belagavi district, the High Court of Karnataka on Monday, 18 December, called for fixing collective responsibility on the society.

“It is not ‘beti bachao, beti padhao’. It is ‘beta padhao’, to save the girl child. Unless you tell the boy child, you will not be achieving it. The girl will naturally be respectful to the other lady. It is for the boy to be told to respect and protect the lady,” the high court Division Bench, headed by Chief Justice Prasanna B Varale, said.

The high court, on 12 December, took suo motu cognisance of news reports of the incident of a 42-year-old woman in Hukkeri taluk allegedly tied to an electric pole, stripped and assaulted after her son eloped with a girl from the same village and ST community.

Collective responsibility

The high court in its hearing called for the need for fixing collective responsibility in such cases.

“Some collective responsibility measures have to be taken, which Lord William Bentinck took in history. It is not the action of offenders, but the inaction of those standing at the spot that is more dangerous. These people standing mute spectators will make the assailant a hero,” the high court said.

The high court orally observed that Lord William Bentinck imposed collective fines on villages that harboured criminals.

The high court noted that only one person in the village came to the rescue of the woman.

The village has a population of 8,000 and during the incident, there were “around 50 to 60 in addition to 13 assailants. And to the misfortune of the victim, only one person namely Jehangir showed the courage to assist the victim and made an attempt to save the victim from assailants.”

“In that process, he was subjected to physical assault. In this situation, out of 50 to 60 people only one person could gather the courage and rush to the rescue of the victim whereas others were just mute or silent spectators of the incident,” the high court noted.

Referring to a book on the Roman Empire, the high court said, “’Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire’, read it. Unless you build a good society you cannot build a nation. Unless we instill these values in the next generation nothing will happen. There will be other judges and advocates and other spectators but things will go on,” the high court said.

Related: Lovers elope from Belagavi; woman’s kin parade man’s mother naked

Why were the villagers mute?: HC

During the arguments, the high court asked why the villagers remained mute spectators and whether they were “afraid of the police?”.

The high court said that it may be because the police did not treat witnesses properly. “Sometimes witnesses are picked up and not treated friendly. It makes them apprehensive. Police stations, subject to exceptions, don’t differentiate between witness and accused,” the high court said.

Suggesting new laws for collective responsibility, the high court said, “So many bystanders. But nobody did anything. It is collective cowardice. That is to be addressed. Police are not of British Raj. Something needs to be done.”

The court further added: “Some factors should be collected and provided to the Law Commission and they may come out with the law. This is how law marches. The law should have pace with people’s lives. How will you ensure that such incidents are not repeated? This also needs to be addressed.”

Also read: Karnataka HC restricts visitors to Belagavi sexual assault survivor

Compensation to the victim

In its order on Monday, the high court noted that the District Legal Services Authority (DLSA) had awarded an interim compensation of ₹50,000 for the rehabilitation of the victim of which 50 percent was allowed to be withdrawn and another 50 percent kept in fixed deposit.

After consulting with the medical officer, the high court noted that the women needed treatment for six to eight months and modified the DLSA order and ordered the release of the entire compensation amount unconditionally.

The high court also noted that ₹5 lakh has been deposited in the woman’s account by the Chief Minister relief fund and the Karnataka Maharshi Valmiki Schedule Tribes Development Corporation had allotted 2 acres 3 guntas (40 guntas are one acre) of land to the victim at Chulki village, Belagavi.

“We appreciate these steps taken by the State of Karnataka as a solace to the victim,” the high court said.

The high court had also restricted people from visiting her.

“The visit of people to the hospital to see the victim, in the circumstances, is not unusual. This court normally would not like to restrict the freedom of movement of any citizen; however, considering the fact that the victim has suffered unbearable trauma and she has been undergoing medical treatment, in our considered opinion, the flow of visitors is likely to affect the health condition of the victim and disturb the ongoing medical treatment as well,” Chief Justice Prasanna B Varale said in his order, on Saturday, 15 December.

Also read: Siddaramaiah flays BJP chief for politicising Belagavi incident

Case transferred to CID

The high court also recorded that the Police Inspector Vijay Kumar Sinnur was suspended for lapses.

Noting that the investigation has been handed over to the CID, the high court said, “We have observed that the state government has handed over the investigation to CID. We are of the opinion that it will be necessary to give time to carry out further investigation.”

Recording that all except two offenders were arrested, the high court listed the matter for next hearing in the third week of January when the authorities were directed to file a further status report.

The Karnataka government on Sunday, 17 December, ordered that the case be investigated by the state police’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID).

The incident occurred in the early hours of 11 December in the Hosa Vantamuri village of the Belagavi district.

The 40-year-old woman in Belagavi was allegedly stripped and paraded naked and then tied to a lamp post in that condition by a group of 10-15 men from the village after her son eloped with a girl from the same community (Nayak).

The jurisdictional Kakati Police Station was informed about the incident around 4 am on 11 December, and a police sub-inspector and his team rushed to the spot, freed the woman, and clothed her.

She was then taken to a hospital where she was administered treatment.

By around 7 am, the police had arrested eight people in connection with the case after identifying them from CCTV footage and through local inquiries.

They also launched a manhunt for the remaining eight-odd people who were involved in the incident.

NHRC issues notice

Taking cognizance of the incident, the National Human Rights Commission issued notices to the state government and the DGP, asking for a detailed report on what it termed as a “stereotyped patriarchal approach”.

“It (the report) should include the status of the registration of FIR, progress in investigation, arrest, if any, compensation under the Victim Compensation Scheme, if paid, and the steps taken or to be taken to prevent such incidents in the state.

“Considering the gravity of the matter, the Commission has also asked its DIG, Investigation to constitute a team to conduct an on-spot fact-finding inquiry at the earliest and submit a report, within two weeks,” the rights panel said.

The Karnataka police, which formed a special inquiry team to further probe the incident, learnt that there was negligence on the part of the Kakati Police Station’s Inspector Vijay Kumar Sinnur.

He was placed under suspension indefinitely pending the inquiry.

Also Read: NHRC issues notice over Belagavi woman assault incident

Political slugfest

On Friday, 15 December, BJP national president JP Nadda constituted a five-member fact-finding committee comprising the party’s women MPs to visit the village in Karnataka where the incident happened and submit a report to him

The five-member fact-finding committee comprises BJP MPs Aparajita Sarangi, Sunita Duggal, Locket Chatterjee, Ranjeeta Koli, and party national secretary Asha Lakra.

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman slammed the Congress government in Karnataka for allowing atrocities against women and the downtrodden — particularly those belonging to Scheduled Castes (SCs) and the Scheduled Tribes (STs).

The BJP also staged statewide demonstrations in all districts in Karnataka condemning the incident.

Subsequently, Congress leaders told South First that the BJP was politicising the incident to divert the attention of the masses from the major security breach that occurred at the newly constructed Parliament building in New Delhi, where two intruders in the garb of visitors entered the building and unleashed gas canisters to register their protest.

Chief Minister Siddaramaiah on Friday, slammed BJP national president JP Nadda for attempting to derive political mileage from the horrific Belagavi assault incident, wherein a woman was paraded naked and thrashed after her son eloped with a girl from the same community. The chief minister termed it “shameful” to politically exploit the incident.

In a strongly worded statement, the Chief Minister said that the BJP’s rule in Karnataka witnessed multiple instances of violence against women, but Nadda has forgotten this to politically target the Congress government.

Also Read: Belagavi woman assault: Karnataka BJP to stage statewide protest 

(With PTI inputs)