Elections

From Prajwal Revanna To Sandeshkhali Row, Sexual Harassment Cases Back In Focus This Election Season

Amid political debates over sexual harassment cases, the ordeal of the women involved become diluted. Outlook takes a look at some of the biggest cases in recent past.

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ABVP activists being detained by security personnel during protest against Mamata Banerjee government over Sandeshkhali case. Photo: Getty Images
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When a 47-year-old woman from Hassan, Karnataka, filed her complaint against Prajwal Revanna, BJP-JD(S) alliance’s candidate and grandson of former prime minister HD Deve Gowda, alleging sexual harassment, sent shockwaves across the nation. Meanwhile, from Kaiserganj in Uttar Pradesh, BJP’s ticket to Karan Bhushan Singh, son of sexual harassment accused MP Brij Bhushan Singh, has stirred anger among sections of the society. 

In political campaigns, the ruling party and the Opposition have been engaged in a war of words over who takes accountability for fielding such leaders. Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently said that there will be ‘zero tolerance’ for such crimes against women, whereas Rahul Gandhi accused the BJP of giving tickets to ‘rapists’. Amid this political war, however, the ordeal of the women involved has become diluted.

Outlook takes a look at these and other sexual harassment cases that made headlines over the last few years where political influence has impacted investigation:

Prajwal Revanna case

The 33-year-old Prajwal Revanna, the Janata Dal (Secular) MLA from Holenarasipura, was National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA) candidate from the Hassan Lok Sabha constituency but when explicit videos and reports surfaced of alleged sexual abuse last month, he was suspended. An FIR was registered following a 47-year-old woman’s complaint accusing him and his father HD Revanna of sexually harassing her and her daughter between 2019 and 2022. Subsequently, the state government constituted the SIT to probe the alleged sex scandal involving the MP.

Revanna reportedly left the country on April 27, a day after the polling in Karnataka’s Hassan constituency, and skipped the SIT summons to appear before it. A second FIR was filed against him, this time by the CID in Bengaluru based on a complaint by a JD(S) party worker who alleged she was raped by Prajwal at gunpoint. As per her complaint, he also made a video of her and blackmailed the woman saying he would make it viral if she did not fulfill his lust whenever he demanded.

HD Revanna and his close aide Sathish Babbana were also booked for allegedly abducting a woman last month. HD Revanna was picked up from Deve Gowda’s residence and taken into custody on May 4 by the SIT. Babanna had already been arrested. Meanwhile, a Blue Corner notice was issued by Interpol to trace Prajwal and bring him back to India.

Sandeshkhali case

In West Bengal’s Sandeshkhali, a local Trinamool Congress leader, Sheikh Shahjahan, became the focal point of state politics when a scam about a ration scheme made headlines. In January, multiple women took to streets as they broke their silence on years of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of Sheikh and his aides Shiba Prasad Hajra and Uttam Sardar. Residents of the village also accused them of land grabbing. On January 5, a team of Enforcement Directorate (ED) officials reached Sandeshkhali to raid his residence but were attacked by a mob of his supporters. Sheikh was on the run. Soon after, heinous acts of alleged violence perpetrated against women came to light as Sheikh and his associates have been accused of confining women unlawfully and subjecting them to rape, molestation and physical abuse. 

The case turned into a full blown political war between the BJP and TMC. The saffron party accused TMC of protecting Sheikh and compared Sandeshkhali with Nandigram row, while TMC alleged that BJP was orchestrating a plot to discredit the state during the ongoing Lok Sabha polls. Sheikh was arrested by the West Bengal police on February 29 and subsequently suspended from the party. 

Calcutta High Court also took cognizance of the allegations and directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to investigate the allegations of crimes against women and forcible land grabbing and submit a comprehensive report. Sheikh was subsequently be handed over to the central agency.

Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh row

Amid the announcement of welfare schemes for women, the BJP giving a ticket to Karan Bhushan Singh has triggered a political storm as the party continues to maintain silence on his father, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, against whom India’s top wrestlers staged months-long protest. The 67-year-old former Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief has been at the helm of sexual harassment allegations levelled against him by women wrestlers. 

On January 18, Olympic medallists including Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik spearheaded an agitation to name and shame Singh and his aide Vinod Tomar as sexual predators. Six women wrestlers filed a complaint against him in April last year. Subsequently, he was criminally charged for sexual harassment, molestation and stalking but never arrested. The Delhi Police had filed a 1,000-page chargesheet against the two on June 15. The Delhi court took up the trial on July 18. Two days later, it granted them bail. 

The Thakur leader from eastern Uttar Pradesh is an influential figure in the region and continues to enjoy considerable support. The BJP never suspended him from the party.

Ankita Bhandari case

In September 2022, Ankita Bhandari was murdered by Pulkit Arya, Ankit Gupta and Saurabh Bhaskar in Rishikesh, Uttrakhand. She was an employee in a resort owned by Arya; allegedly the later was forcing her to provide “extra services” to some VIP guests. Bhandari had confided in a friend regarding the ‘harassment’.

On September 18, after an altercation Arya pushed her into a canal and his two friends helped him cover the crime. Ankita’s father tried to lodge a missing person report but reportedly was turned away from three different police stations. Initial reports suggested that the accused misguided the police and pretended that Ankita was alive. Her body was found on September 24 from the canal. The people of the city came out in large numbers to protest against police and administration apathy. The protestors alleged that police did not take any action for days.

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Arya’s father, Vinod Arya, is connected to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and was a minister without any portfolio in Pushkar Singh Dhami’s government. The three accused eventually confessed to murder and are in jail as undertrials.

Hathras gangrape case

In September 2020, while the whole country was under COVID-19 induced lockdown, news of a rape case from Hathras, Uttar Pradesh shook the country. A 19-year-old dalit woman was gang-raped by four men of the upper caste community; she was found in the fields by her mother lying in a pool of her own blood. Victim’s mother also alleged that her tongue was cut off.

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The woman was hospitalised in Aligarh and was shifted to New Delhi when her condition worsened where she succumbed to her injuries fifteen days after the incident. The family alleged that police did not carry out proper investigation in initial stages as the accused were from Thakur community; they also alleged that the accused has attacked the family members earlier. The four accused were arrested eventually.

The family’s horror continued, the woman’s body was taken to her village in the night and her last rites were performed inside an impenetrable police cordon. The family alleged that they were not allowed to see the victim’s face a last time. The family also alleged that as solidarity poured in from across the country, police had virtually put them in house arrest.

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Kathua gangrape case

On January 10, 2018, an eight-year-old Muslim girl was kidnapped, raped in captivity and later bludgeoned to death in Rasana village of Kathua district in Jammu and Kashmir. The brutality of the case shook the nation. She had been missing for a week before her body was found After a painstaking investigation, eight people, including seven Hindu men and a juvenile, were named as accused. 

The investigation followed a painstaking trajectory as the mastermind of the crime, Sanji Ram, was the caretaker of the 'devasthanam' (temple) where the crime took place. Meanwhile, two other main accused were Deepak Khajuria, a Special Police Officer, and Parvesh Kumar, a civilian. There were also reports of obstruction in the investigation due to the alleged support the accused received from local officials of the BJP, sparking widespread outrage in India and worldwide. 

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A year-long-in-camera trial followed in which they were ultimately spared death penalty. The other three accused -- Sub Inspector Anand Dutta, Head Constable Tilak Raj and special police officer Surender Verma -- were convicted for destruction of evidence to cover up the crime and handed down five years in jail and Rs 50,000 fine each. The trial court had acquitted the seventh accused Vishal Jangotra, son of Sanji Ram, giving him the 'benefit of doubt'.

In November 2022, the Supreme Court held that Sangra was not a juvenile at the time of the incident. He was shifted from Kathua jail to a sub-district prison at Pathankot. Sangra is still under trial in the case as the quest for justice for the child continues.

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