Declared Innocent By Court Once Again, Rohtak Boys Ask Media To Declare Them Innocent

by Deepika Narayan Bhardwaj - Oct 3, 2018 01:34 PM +05:30 IST
Declared Innocent By Court Once Again, Rohtak Boys Ask Media To Declare Them InnocentRohtak sisters, Pooja and Aarti addressing a press conference in New Delhi. (Mohd Zakir/Hindustan Times via Getty Images) 
Snapshot
  • Why the media should now come forward and ‘declare’ the innocent Rohtak boys not guilty.

Remember the viral videos from November 2014 where boys were being beaten up with belts inside a moving bus by two girls who then became famous as #RohtakBravehearts? You were told that these boys had molested the girls inside a bus full of passengers and no one did anything. Well, you were lied to, and the case has recently received a second verdict, giving clean chit to the boys.

Kuldeep, Deepak and Mohit have been declared innocent once again by a court in Rohtak. The three boys, whose faces were splashed across national media for several days as molesters, Haryana’s shame, sexual predators and perverts in 2014 have been discharged for the second time, after a revision application was filed in the sessions court by Haryana, challenging the decision of a lower court. These boys were accused of eve-teasing, molestation and assault by Aarti and Pooja, sisters from Haryana who were hailed as 'Rohtak bravehearts' by media back then.

First decision in the case came in March 2017, where the judge categorically stated that no crime was made out against any of the accused as the girls had lied about eve-teasing and molestation. They had not disclosed in their statements that the altercation began over seats and their complaint did not attract charges of molestation under section 354A of India Penal Code (IPC).

The court also observed that the polygraph tests conducted on the girls and the boys resulted in absolutely no deceptive statements by the boys, while the answers given by the complainants Aarti and Pooja were found to be deceptive. The judge also discharged the boys of charges of section 323 of IPC, observing that the statement of the girls that the boys beat them up and threw them out of the bus was a lie, as visible even in the videos, and instead it was the boys, who were beaten up by the girls and had to get down from the bus and run to save their lives.

The court relied upon statements by independent witnesses, especially the girl, who recorded the video, all of whom stated that it was the girls who beat up the boys with belts and started the fight over seat of an old lady, which the boys asked to vacate. Considering the contradictory statements of the two sisters, witness accounts and polygraph test reports, the court found no grounds to frame charges against the accused and discharged all of them on 3 March 2017, two-and-a-half years after the FIR was filed.

This decision has now been upheld by the sessions court that announced its verdict in the case on 11 September 2018, stating that it finds no reason to interfere with the judgement of the lower court and finds no illegality or irregularity in it as claimed by the revisionist complainant, that is, state of Haryana. Lives of these boys, shunned by the media, however, are on a standstill since then.

Media Should Declare Us Innocent Now

“Our lives were turned upside down because of false cases filed against us. Media declared us guilty without any trial. Everyone looked at us as if we were some dreaded criminals. When the incident happened, media reported it non-stop for several days, refusing to hear our side. Some channels did report the truth later but it was already too late. We had cleared medical tests for selection in the army and had to write our exams. But after the media outrage, the army banned us from writing the exam," said an emotional Kuldeep over phone.

"All three of us have faced extremely tough times in the last four years. We have been jobless, trying to make ends meet by working on our farms. If media had not blown this so much out of proportion, we would have been employed for four years now. Only we know the torture last four years have been. Media rushed to declare us guilty even when we were innocent but now when we have been declared innocent by law, no one wants to discuss our plight and hardships we faced,” he said. Kuldeep was arrested immediately after the case became a national headline, spending four days in jail.

Deepak, another accused in the case, who was also arrested along with Kuldeep, said that he had to halt his studies as his parents refused to allow him to go and write his exams. “I was pursuing bachelor's of arts. My parents were devastated after this episode and stopped me from pursuing my education. I couldn’t write my exams and had to hide it from my parents if I ever went to appear for them. It took me five years to complete a degree I could have completed in three years. I appeared and cleared initial rounds of army exam again but every time they say, clear the criminal cases and then come back. I don’t know what else we can do to clear our names. For several other exams, you cannot even appear if you have a criminal complaint against you so I haven’t even been able to apply. This case has shattered my dreams and hopes. These girls spoiled our lives, why can’t the media show this now,” he asks.

I couldn’t talk to Mohit, third accused in the case, for his side of the story, but was informed that he has also been jobless since then.

Promise By The Chief Minister Of Haryana

Raj Singh, sarpanch of village Assan, from where the boys come, recalls his meeting with Chief Minister of Haryana along with several representatives from the panchayats when the fiasco happened. “We all went to him to seek his intervention in the case. We told him that innocent boys were being victimised because of media outrage and only one side of the story is being told. He promised that he will provide job to anyone who is proven innocent. We have been trying to meet him again after the court cleared these boys but haven’t been successful. I sincerely request the Chief Minister to meet these boys and their families and grant them justice,” he said.

Fighting litigations in India can be an extremely expensive affair especially for poor families. I spoke to Kuldeep’s father, Balbir Singh, an ex-armyman, who is physically handicapped. “This case has fatigued me more than my physical condition. Life becomes hell for parents whose children’s lives are destroyed like this. My wife has become so weak after the case that she can hardly do anything on her own now,” he laments, and shares his thoughts on how they have come under huge financial debt because of the money they had to spend fighting the case.

“I just wanted to save my child and I did everything I could because I knew he is innocent. Visiting the crime branch for questioning, polygraph tests, court dates, meeting ministers asking for justice, everything comes at a cost. I don’t have count of money I had to spend on this futile case. I had to ask for help from people to support me in my ordeal. I am a very poor man and all that I wanted was my son to get a job and look after the family. This incident killed everything for us,” he said. His only request is for the Chief Minister of Haryana. “He should fulfill the promise he made to us. My son should get a job now as he has been declared innocent by the court. That’s my only expectation,” he said.

Sandeep Rathi, advocate, who has represented the boys since the beginning, calls the court’s decision a victory of truth. “I always knew that these boys were being unfairly targeted. What actually happened in the bus was so clearly visible in those videos. But media gave such a spin to the story that instead of seeing the boys who were being beaten up so brutally as victims, they were seen as monsters. I wish they told the truth. These boys should be compensated for the damage caused to their lives,” he said.

No mainstream news channel has covered the case of 'Rohtak boys' after the second verdict in the case. On being asked whether they will file any case against the girls, Kuldeep replied in the negative. He said: “we have faced enough now. We don’t want to do anything especially against those girls. I have five sisters and I respect women a lot. I don’t want to cause any trouble to anyone or defame those girls. Our request is only to the media to declare us innocent in the public eye and the government to help us rebuild our lives.”

History

After a video showing the girls beating the boys went viral on social media, the Haryana government announced an award for the girls on Republic Day along with a cash prize of Rs 31,000 each and several celebrities hailed them as a symbol of women empowerment. Acting on the media outrage, the Haryana government suspended the driver and conductor of the bus as well.

As broadcast vans of several media houses lined up outside the house of these sisters in a small village for interviews, eyewitness accounts of people, who were sitting in the bus started appearing on social media with a version entirely different from what the girls were stating in their interviews. While the girls claimed they were molested, harassed and abused, co-passengers stated that it was a fight over seats and that it was the girls who first started abusing the boys and then beating them up while asking someone to record it all. An old lady for whom the fight actually started also came forward to support the boys, saying that they were being victimised for taking a stand for an old woman.

The tale of bravery collapsed fast as several more videos of the same girls beating up guys in public parks and other places started appearing. It emerged that the girls would regularly beat up guys, shoot their videos and then threaten them of making it public or for a molestation case, lest they pay up.

I myself went to investigate the case on the ground and documented testimonies of many people who claimed that they were falsely implicated by the girls before and settled the matter after giving money. Many presented evidence of money that they had lent to the girls' father, only to be threatened of rape or molestation cases when asked to return the money. I also interviewed a young boy, an engineering student, who was falsely implicated in a kidnapping case by the same family. His father had to pay Rs 1 lakh to the girls' family to rescue him from a case that could destroy his studies and career.

When the case came to light and became a national story, I was on some TV channel debates. I clearly remember Aarti and Pooja making statements that disgusted everyone who heard them. Charges of inappropriate touching, lewd gestures and molestation of even the woman who recorded the video were levelled by the girls against the boys. That same woman is the one whose testimony has been relied upon the most in this case. She categorically says there was no molestation but a fight over seat.

In this debate on Times Now which ran a major campaign around the case, allegations which find absolutely no mention in the FIR can be heard from the girls' side. Albeit things, which never happened. The girls claimed that their phone was snatched by the passenger so that they could not make any distress call, but in reality, they gave their phone to the woman to shoot the video but she couldn’t as it was locked by a password, so she shot from her own phone. Several more claims made in this interview which infuriated the entire country were absolutely not what happened.

While it was clearly visible in the video that it was the girls beating up and trying to overpower Kuldeep, representatives from women's organisations on these panels asked for strict punishment to even those who were present in the bus and saw something like this happen silently. No one questioned the girls' version. No one wanted to know the boys' version. A call to listen to the other side was shunned as misogyny and rape apologia as always.

Even though my investigative videos also got widely shared, the channels which ran a dedicated campaign for several days on this case declaring the boys guilty, never discussed it again. No one interviewed people who were threatened, harassed and beaten up by these girls on national media. No one interviewed those I showed in my report, scared to ask to return their own money for fear of molestation or a rape case filed against them. The case hasn’t been discussed again till date because in today’s times pain of a man is a cliche, justice and concern gender specific.

Deepika Narayan Bhardwaj is an independent journalist and a documentary filmmaker based in Gurgaon

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