"With this confidence in the strength of India’s civic society and the media, this media conference is being organised to bring to the attention of the nation the alarming facts relating to the Sowjanya case, and to invite the citizens of the country to rise and bring justice to a blameless child whose life was snuffed out in a savage manner, no less horrific than Delhi girl Nirbhaya’s case. Sowjanyas case is symbolic of the struggles of South Indian women and needs the same attention and action that the Nirbhaya case received. We intend to bring this case to the formal attention of the Child Rights Commission and the National Human Rights Commission "- Babu Gogineni- Executive Director of International Humanist and Ethical Union, London
Mangalore: On the first anniversary of the assault on Nirbhaya, the Delhi gang rape victim who succumbed to her horrific injuries on 28 Dec 2012, a delegation consisting of Babu Gogineni, of the London-based International Humanist and Ethical Union with Specialist Consultative NGO status with the United Nations Human Rights Council and 120 member organisations in over 40 countries, and Prof. Narendra Nayak, of the Federation of Humanist organisations with 70 Humanist and Rationalist member organisations in the country, visited the family of Kumari Sowjanya, a 17-year old child abducted and savagely violated and murdered in October 2012 in Dharmasthala, the well-known religious centre near Mangalore.
"India and Rape Statistics - With 24000 cases of rape officially reported in India in 2011, and with the suspicion that nearly 10 times that numbers go unreported, India is a country of grave concern for the safety of the girl-child and of women. This fact has been repeatedly pointed out in Human Rights fora and at the United Nations for India represents a significant proportion of the world’s population. In this context, we welcome the fact that in the past 12 months there has been massive public support to bringing to justice the perpetrators of crimes against women, and the number of reported crimes has gone up".
"From January 2013 to October 2013, 2844 rape cases have been reported whereas for all of 2012 in Delhi, only 706 cases had been reported. Sadly, the ground realities continue to be unaltered for most of the victims as of these 706 rape cases in Delhi, only one has resulted in a conviction. Justice Verma’s 3-member Commission identified the ‘failure of governance’ as responsible for the sorry state of affairs. As pointed out later, we find that this is also the case in Sowjanya’s matter".
" Despite this, there is a change in the mood of the nation today: because of robust public pressure, the previous impunity that rape accused and others accused of similar offences seemed to enjoy has somewhat diluted. In the last 12 months while the ground realities continue to intimidate and unjustly shame victims rather than the criminals, the perpetrators of the savage attack on Nirbhaya have been brought to book, Asaram Bapu and Narayan Sai are being investigated on charges of rape and intimidation and high-profile editor Tarun Tejpal is facing the music on sexual assault charges. Justice Ganguly is being hauled up ".
"India has shown that the high and mighty, irrespective of their position and power, are neither beyond crime nor are they beyond the reach of the law if the right diligence is shown by the citizens and media organizations. With this confidence in the strength of India’s civic society and the media, this media conference is being organised to bring to the attention of the nation the alarming facts relating to the Sowjanya case, and to invite the citizens of the country to rise and bring justice to a blameless child whose life was snuffed out in a savage manner, no less horrific than Nirbhaya’s case ".
"There is a clear miscarriage of justice and the outrage this has caused brought together hundreds of thousands of people of Dakshina Kannada who have risen as one to try to bring to justice the perpetrators of this heinous crime. A Justice for Kumari Sowjanya social media campaign has 50,000 activists signed up. Everywhere in Dakshina Karnataka there are huge banners and tens of thousands of posters with the innocent face of Sowjanya questioning citizens of the country what they can do to bring justice to her – a vulnerable child of 17, raped and murdered. The campaign is supported by civil society and religious organisations save one ".
"The child was abducted, raped and murdered and the body was dumped near the banks of a stream flowing into the Netravathi river. The stream was over-flowing with water but the body found on the supposed scene of crime was dry, her clothes were dry as was her hand bag. Next to the body was a chit with a mobile phone number. There is photographic evidence of all this ".
"The police investigation into the case has been shoddy and unprofessional and does not inspire confidence. Evidence has been suppressed – the chit has been suppressed in the evidence; the post mortem report states that her vagina was found to be stuffed with mud and sand to destroy evidence. The police collected Sowjanya’s underclothes to cover her up – or was it an attempt to cover up partly the evidence? "
"Attempts were made to affect the credibility of the complainants. Kusumavathi, the mother of the murdered child was branded as mentally ill and by deception admitted to a hospital so that she would not be available to the media and neutral investigators. This was done by Balakrishna Pujari, Manager of Dharmasthala Agricultural. Did he have the medical qualifications to do that to a lady who he had not earlier ever met? Kusumavathi was rescued from the ayurvedic hospital – how is an ayurvedic hospital qualified to treat mental illness even if such illness existed? What is Mr. Pujari’s interest? Or whose interests was he protecting?"
"Public confidence is extremely low about the credibility of the investigation as indicated by the fresh CID probe initiated earlier this year. Vitthal Gowda, Sowjanya’s uncle, reported that he saw the police tutoring the accused at the alleged scene of crime. But the scene of crime identified by the police is not a credible scene of crime with no signs of struggle there. So where was the crime actually performed on a physically able victim who would surely have resisted as evidenced by wounds on her body? Who would have provided shelter for the crime to be perpetrated?"
"The family does not believe that the accused Santosh Rao under judicial custody at present was physically incapable of carrying out the crime singly and allege that the names they gave to the police were not properly investigated. Why is it that Sowjanya’s family has been provided with police security? Who is the danger from and what action has been taken to investigate this danger? People in the area live in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation as RTI documents have revealed over 400 deaths of people in the region, a fact unexplained by state wide statistics. Many fear the wrath of the land mafia and the impunity of the powerful persons of the region and are afraid of opening up their minds ".
"It has been explained that people come to Dharmasthala to commit suicide so they would directly go to heaven. What is the place of worship doing to prevent such suicides? If it is true that 60% of these deaths are those of young women, what is prompting young women to come here and die? What is the administration doing to prevent such suicides? How many psychiatrists have been deployed to address this crisis? If suicides are the reason for the deaths, how are we to explain why since the Sowjanya case became the focus of a public campaign, the so-called suicide rates have fallen?"
"It was alleged to us that in the feudal set up of the area where there is no freedom to contest elections without approval of the big wigs; women who are desired are abducted and raped and even those who dare to question are taught a lesson by their women folk being raped. Those who have asked for open investigation and those who have demanded justice as well as NGOs leaders and even the victim’s families, have been slapped with huge defamation cases, aimed at intimidating them into silence".
"Sowjanya was a child as defined by the law. The CWC Committee Chairperson, Asha Nayak has stated that she has not been given documents relating to the crime as per procedure. The CWC is a quasi-judicial body but has still not been given the charge sheet. We salute the immense courage shown by the family which in the face of pressure and intimidation have still managed to holdout. We are encouraged by the groundswell of support that the campaign has received, the media attention a few channels gave, but in view of the lack of convincing steps being taken by the local authorities we believe that an investigation by a neutral body with judicial supervision would be a better guarantor of justice for Sowjanya ".
"Sowjanyas case is symbolic of the struggles of South Indian women and needs the same attention and action that the Nirbhaya case received. We intend to bring this case to the formal attention of the Child Rights Commission and the National Human Rights Commission. The next steps would be to raise the questions at the meeting of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council at its next session in the first quarter of 2014 " said Babu Gogineni.
Babu also said already consoled by the support they received in their continued life of grief, the family of Sowjanya has agreed and is preparing to go to Delhi with their story. He also urged the state government to hand over the entire 464 unnatural deaths taken place in Ujire (Dharmasthala) over the past ten years to CBI probe. Prof Narendra Nayak said that there are many religious centres in the Dakshina Kannnada, but none of the places have witnessed such kind of brutal incident.