A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, was hearing petitions by the two women who were paraded naked and raped. The bench observed it was surprised to find both the centre and the state groping for facts about crimes which are “public knowledge, reported widely in the national media”.
The court set up hearings on Tuesday, and said it was shocked to know that the Manipur police took 14 whole days to register even a ‘Zero FIR’ (an FIR that can be filed in any police station) on the sexual assault and gang-rape of two women in Thoubal district on May 4,
While the video of the horrific visuals of the sexual violence went viral on July 19, the case was transferred to the relevant police station on June 21 a day after the Supreme Court took suo motu cognisance of the video.
Rape victims allege ‘collaboration’ between govt and mob, object to transferring cases to CBI
The arrests, seven in number, were made only after the apex court took judicial note. “What were the police doing from May 4 to May 18? The incident came to light involving three women paraded naked in the presence of a mob. At least, two of them were raped. What were the police doing for 14 days?” Chief Justice Chandrachud asked Attorney General R. Venkataramani and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the centre and the Manipur state government.
Alleging “collaboration” between the state police and the mob, the two women, represented by senior advocate Kapil Sibal, have objecting to the government decision to transfer the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which works under Home Minister Amit Shah.
Mr Sibal said the police, instead of taking the women away from the mob, took them towards the crowd and abandoned them to their fate.
The court proposed appointing its own special investigation team.
‘Systemic acts of violence’
The chief justice said the May 4 incident was not an isolated one. “This is apparent from the home secretary’s affidavit. As much as we want to give justice to the two women, we also want to put in place a mechanism by which justice is available to all other women. We have to put in a mechanism to ensure complaints are filed, FIRs are lodged… The process of justice should go to the victims’ doorsteps,” he observed.
The solicitor general claimed the government was “serious” and had “nothing to hide”, saying that the government was open to the Supreme Court monitoring the investigation. “There are reasons why the case investigation was transferred to the CBI, so that it is a neutral investigation… After the video went viral, people were arrested in 24 hours,” he claimed.
The law officer explained the 14-day delay in registering the Zero FIR, saying “May 18 was the day when the incident was brought to our notice”. But the court asked whether the Thoubal incident was a “standalone” instance of perpetration of violence on women in Manipur during the clashes. “Let us say for example if there are 1,000 of them, will the CBI be able to cope? How many such FIRs are there really? Here we are dealing with systemic acts of violence committed in the course of communal and sectarian strife,” the court told the government.
The bench said it had to first see a “breakdown” of the 6,000 FIRs the government was said to have registered.