Friday, September 24, 2010

Landmark achievement of Snehalaya. Two life terms for 20 accused in the case of trafficking & sexual exploitation of a child

Ahmednagar 25 September 2010

This is the greatest legal achievement of Snehalaya.  After a 4 year legal battle, Snehalaya succeeds in getting conviction of 20 high profile individuals who were exposed in a brutal case of gang rape, trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. In a landmark judgement all the 20 accused were sentenced to  double life term  imprisonment and additional fine to cover rehabilitation of the victim.

The landmark Conviction

District and sessions court judge Makarand D. Keskar on Monday, 20th September 2010 convicted 20 people to two life terms in the high – profile case of trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of a child, which had rocked the state in 2006.  The judge also fined all the convicts Rs. 10,000/- each for every section they were charged with, failing which they will have to undergo additional jail term of three months to five years.  Snehalaya has received a massive appreciation by judicial circles, media, NGO’s, police department and the well wishers.  Snehalaya is optimistic that this historical judgment will create a threat of law among the child traffickers, abusers, customers, pimps, brothel and hotel owners and among all thinking of child abuse.

Ahmednagar child line, has also accompanied Snehalaya in the strong follow up of the case.

A total of 25 people comprising police and Government officers, local political leaders, lawyers,  merchants and hotel owners, Industrialists have been booked in the case. However, the main accused, Sheela Bargal, died a couple of months after the case was registered in February 2006 due to HIV.  Three suspects who were the bigwigs in state level flesh trade and human trafficking are still absconding.

The verdict against another accused, Satish Bansi Pakhare, has been postponed to December 2010 since he is in hospital following a serious accident.

The 20 convicts have been identified as 1). Hardeek Lakamichand Jaggad (25), 2). Aakash Subhash Rathi (23), 3). Tukaram Gena Misal (40),          4). Balkishan Premraj Goel (36), 5). Ramesh allies Ramakant Rajaram Barkase (41), 6). Ajay Sudhakar Kate (32), 7). Harjeetsingh Jodhsingh Rajpal (40),           8). Aaba allies Dnyandev Bhagchand Gondkar (46), 9). Ramrao Mohanitaj Dengale (54), 10). Abdul Haq Fakir Mohammad Kureshi (37), 11). Chetan Popatlal Bhalgat (34), 12).  Rajendra Shivajirao Thorat (32), 13). Ravindra Shivajirao Thorat (32), 14). Ramakant Ramrao Dengale (22), 15). Pappu alias Aatmaram Ramrao Dengale (24), 16). Ashok Babasaheb Kasar (35), 17). Ruchin Sharad Mehata (22), 18). Vasant Mangu Pavra (40), 19). Vilas Babasaheb Karale (32), 20) Raghunath Ramnath Zolekar (38).

 A large crowd of about eight hundred people gathered in the court premises on Monday morning to hear the verdict. This included the volunteers of Snehalaya, team members of Child Line, lawyers from all over the district, the relatives and friends of accused, their supporters, corporators, political leaders, etc.  After the judge pronounced the accused guilty, the police immediately whisked them away and photographers were not allowed to take their pictures.  All the 25 people have been charged with gang rape of a minor girl after luring and kidnapping her with the promise of giving money, blackmailing and threats.  The 14 years girl was raped in various lodges in Ahmednagar, Shirdi, Nimgaon Jali and Dhule etc.

A Victory for Snehalaya's efforts

This case was exposed by Snehalaya in Ahmednagar, following a tip off.  Snehalaya convinced the victim to file a police complaint at the Tophakhana police station of Ahmednagar.  Hence the C.R. No. 50 was registered on 24th February 2010.  Since several local politicians and influential traders policeman etc.  were involved in the abuse, the case was handed over to the state Criminal Investigation Department (CID), which had filed a charge sheet.

Special Public prosecutor Vijay Sawant has played a major role in the conviction.  Convicts were punished under section 376(2)(g) gang rape, 120(b), 376(rape), 120(b) and section 5(a)(1)(d) of the Prevention of Immoral Trafficking Act (Pita) and 366 (kidnapping).

The convicts have been asked to pay a fine of Rs.10,000 each for every section under which he was booked.  Fifty percent of the fine amount will be used for rehabilitating the victim, the hearing lasted for more than four years and 38 witnesses were examined.  The volunteers of Snehalaya’s Mukti Vahini Team, (a group of youth volunteers) were involved in actual rescuing a minor from the flesh trade and family reintegration of the victim.  The team Snehalaya has courageously played the uncommon major role in the case by standing as punch & witnesses in this case in spite of serious attempts of bribing and the life threats by organized and politically sheltered criminal gangs from local and various other places.  The judge and the lawyer Mr. Sawant have solely credited “Team Snehalaya” for this land mark conviction in the historical case of child trafficking and her commercial sexual exploitation. 

A long legal battle

From F.I.R. to conviction, this has been a long legal battle, and the story, no less thrilling  than a movie. Snehalaya's  Child Line team and Snehalaya’s Mukti Vahini worked together on this issue with patience and courage. 
At 8.30a.m. On 23rd February 2006, a rickshaw driver from Maliwada area of Ahmednagar came to Snehalaya’s office with a missing complaint of his 14 years old daughter.  She was studying in 9th standard in one of the reputed schools in the city.  She was good enough in studies but extraordinary in sports activities and oratory skills.   A driver had one son and one another elder daughter.  Unfortunately, this rickshaw driver lost his wife 4 years ago due to suspicious death.  

While this discussion was going on, a widow came to office by 9 a.m. She had a complaint that a woman and gang of goons are harassing her family.  They are forcing her 16 years old younger daughter to go with them everyday for the so called 'job of marketing'. Information from  rickshaw driver and a widow was found to have same links when analyzed by Anil Gawade, Ambadas Chawan, Hanif Shaikh, Ajay Wabale, team members of Snehalaya.  Both the parents hade given a complaint in writing along with the photographs of their daughters. Both the girls hade not returned to home since last 72 hours. The matter of these two girls was found linked with each other because both the complaints were giving the same references of the vehicles and involved persons.  Both the parents hade taken the names of Sheela Bargal, Ramu Salve, Ramesh Barkase, as the suspected traffickers.   Snehalaya  team was working in red light areas, against the trafficking and use of the children for the flesh trade.  Because of this background, the team realized that the criminals are the suppliers of the children to the private customers at all locations in the state.  

Snehalaya and Child Line team informed the matter to Mr. Milind Kulkarni, then Honorary Director of Child Line and other close associates of Snehalaya.  A complaint of missing was first registered to Police station and then our team members have started a massive search for these girls.  The team located the car on north part of Ahmednagar on the Pipe Line Road.  The car was chased and informed to whole team and police.  But the police couldn’t reach at the spot in time.  The car driver tried to run away with the girls and traffickers, the Mukti Vahini and Child Line team caught them by 1 p.m... 

Then along with their parents, the victim girls and the traffickers were brought to childline office. Then the team started discussions simultaneously but separately with each one.  Both the girls told that Sheela Bargal and others were forcing them for sexual intercourse every day with many people at various locations.  The minor girls told us that they couldn’t tell about the exploitation and torture to their families because they were afraid of breaking their education. Secondly the girl were threatened that they would be  exposed with their obscene photographs and video clips.  

Then with a documentation and written compliant, the team reached to Mr. Sunil Ramanand, then District Police Chief and presented the victim girls, their parents, the key trafficker Sheela Bargal. Mr. Ramanand inquired about the matter in detail with the victims and ordered Mr. Ramakant Jawale, then Deputy Chief of Police to register the complaints under the clauses of rape, immoral trafficking prevention act, etc... Two separate cases (C.R. No. 50 & 51) were registered in Tophkhana police station in Ahmednagar.  Mukti Vahini team presented the mobiles of traffickers.  Police recovered more then 300 numbers of the customers for children.  This was a tip of ice burg.  Our team insisted to take a cognizance of every mobile call and investigation of each one if he had a sex with these minors.  When police called these numbers, found that most of the people were the high profile and influential.

High profile politics and pressure

  Then this information was leaked and the pressure politics started.  MLA’s, MP’s and Ministers started calling police officials. They also started threatening the victims, their families and Snehalaya volunteers along with the organized criminal gangs .  Their main argument was the minor girls are the prostitutes.  Snehalaya gave full protection to victims and their families.  Our team has boosted the morale of the families and convinced that if the rapists were not booked, then they will spoil the lives of many children along with these victims.  The team Snehalaya helped police to catch 22 accused.  Our team was working 24 X 7 for 28 days with police in this mission. 

 The stories on how we caught each accused is a similar to many  thrilling and horror novel.   Many times accused have raised pistols and some times hundreds of their supporters have opposed the arrest violently.  Every day,  team members and the Snehalaya family were receiving life threatening calls. The relatives of accused have offered lacks of rupees to withdraw from the case and tried to hostile our team members.  But our team has fought the battle bravely, registered their witnesses strongly.  The criminal gangs and politicians tried a lot to malign the image of Snehalaya.  But the conviction has answered every allegation.  This is the judgment in the C.R. No. 50.  Still the Judicial process is awaited in the C.R. No. 51.  In C.R. No. 51 there are 10 accused. It means in this matter of 2 minor girls, the case was registered against 35 persons while the records of mobile of the traffickers and procurers indicates the list of more than 300 satisfied customers.  

A victim’s father turns hostile

There were several interesting episodes to the main story.  The accused managed one daily news paper and published the names, addresses and all the details of the victim girls, maligning and wrongly accusing their families on the front page. Snehalaya gave a compliant to the police, court and the press council of India against the news paper.  FIR was registered against the editor.   People of Ahmednagar have boycotted the news paper and at present the publication is closed.

Snehalaya has successfully rehabilitated the victims and the families.   The accused and the traffickers were offering a house for accommodations free of cost with ration to the families.  But it was the attempt to hostile the victims before recording their witness.  Snehalaya family offered security, affection, home, opportunities of jobs and education not only to victims but to all their family members.  Though  Snehalaya empowered the whole families, the father one of the victim hostiled in greed of money.  First he tried to get a possession of a victim girl to hostile her in favor of accused. He has demanded the possession of the girl to Child Welfare Committee.  After denial by CWC, he appealed in District Court.  There at CWC, Snehalaya has successfully opposed the claim of possession.  Then father conspired with 3 lawyers of accused, 4 accused in C.R. No. 50. Together they took the help of one criminal gang in Mumbai and kidnapped a victim from Saint Catherin’s Home, Mumbai.  They brought a victim to Ahmednagar, contacted every accused and collected the huge amount of money to hostile the victim in the court. The girl was forced to registered her witness as if the volunteers of Snehalaya and Child Line have raped her and forced her to take the names of reputed, wealthy people from the society.  But the girl was honestly gave her  the statement in the J.M.F.C. Court and confirmed that her father is forcing her to hostile for the sake of money.  Snehalaya again played a major role to rescue the victim from the traffickers.  Then a case was registered of kidnapping in Oshiwara Police Station of Mumbai and the girl was taken in to safe custody. 

When the local police did not support..

When police started playing the mischief, Snehalaya organized a long march on 8th March 2006, of civil society members of Ahmednagar to Collector Office. The march was headed by eminent social leaders like Anna Hajare, all Doctors, Professors, Chartered Accountants, Lawyers, Freedom Fighters, Journalists, Feminist Organizations, Youth and Students Organizations, like minded people from local political circles, etc.  This crowd of 2500 people gave a strong message to all anti social elements.  The investigation was transferred to CID from local police due to created pressure.  There were 38 witnesses examined in the case and mainly they include dare devil volunteers of Snehalaya and Child Line. 

This conviction has threatened all the traffickers, procurers and customers of children for sexual exploitation at large extent.  Ahmednagar District is totally free today from the use of children in flesh tread. The civil society members, media, local NGOs were sensitized on the issue of commercial sexual exploitation of children and trafficking.

Lessons for Non Profits Organizations

1.   Sustainable constructive work is possible only if we are ready to fight.  Firm stand for constructive change creates opposition and the NGO must be ready to fight t for the change.
2.   Progressive, strong laws itself cannot create any threat to anti social elements. Government, police and court cannot do it themselves.   Conviction is possible only when the civil society members take responsbility and plays active role of complainant, witness, panch, etc.   Only then we can obtain justice and create a social change.
3.   A small group of zealous youths can even bring the bigger social change with their honest approach, unity of action with passion.  
4.    We can not bring the social change on the basis of big funding, salaried staff, projects, media publicity and contacts with top bureaucrats – MLAs, MPs, Ministers.  We have to involve the common men, small donors, moral supporters in our work. These supporters may come on street or join hands against any bigwigs.  NGO should try to widen the social base to face any sort of threats or the pressures. We have more than 2500 people in support of Snehalaya.  Snehalaya could win this  war against the organized criminal groups only because of its wider social base.
5.   Networking with other NGOs helps us.  Snehalaya’s linkages with the movement of Anna Hajare, Nyayadhar (Organization of women lawyers), Organizations in water shade – education – right based movements – media networks, etc. have always helped us.  This has to be reciprocal. Most of the NGOs are in love with themselves.  Let us appreciate the work of others even if you are not directly concern with it.  
6.   NGO should not think of short term fame but must keep a long term goal of social change in action.  The short term publicity harms the long term aim and object of the mission.  The spirit of combating in NGO is useful in creating the credibility in the society.  It attracts the common man towards the work.

Our Gratitude

Snehalaya is running the anti trafficking program successfully in Ahmednagar districts since 1996.  The Mukti Vahini group of Snehalaya was  working on its own, without any remuneration.  But since the year 2004, Mr. Sunil Devnani, our supporter and member of Caring Friends has given us a personal donation for running the anti trafficking mission successfully.  Because of his support, we have organized the legal support, travel and support for the rehabilitation of the victims.  Captain Ashok Tamhane has donated his Quallis jeep for anti trafficking mission five years ago.  Capt. Tamhane is also a member of Caring Friends.  Mr, Nimesh Sumati and Ramesh Kacholiya alias 'Uncle' have helped us in settling the victims and their families.  Snehalaya has registered this social change with the help of these patrons. 

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