March 1: Home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde was guilty of a public gaffe today, revealing the names of three Dalit children who were allegedly raped and murdered before being thrown into a well in Maharashtra a fortnight ago.
In a televised Rajya Sabha statement, Shinde gave an account of the incident in Bhandara district but in the process let slip the names of the victims, who were aged 11, nine and six.
Section 228A of the Indian Penal Code bans the public revelation of a rape victim’s name on pain of a jail term of up to two years.
Shinde’s bloomer went unnoticed for some time till the House’s leader of the Opposition, Arun Jaitley, pointed it out. He demanded the minister withdraw the statement immediately and make a new one.
“Names of rape victims are never made public. This may be an oversight. But I will request the home minister to consider this and withdraw the statement,” Jaitley said.
Deputy chairperson P.J. Kurien immediately asked for the names to be expunged from the records although Shinde’s statement had already been telecast.
The BJP appeared ready to spare Shinde but his own ministry compounded the minister’s embarrassment through another goof-up. Its media department sent out Shinde’s full statement to journalists a good two hours after Kurien had expunged the names.
A hasty note followed, informing the media of Kurien’s action, and a revised copy of the speech, without the names, was emailed in the evening.
A red-faced Shinde told reporters outside Parliament that he had asked the home secretary to inquire how the names got into the statement prepared for him.
Government spokespersons were at a loss to explain the faux pas. Junior parliamentary affairs minister Rajiv Shukla declined comment.
The process of gathering material for the home minister’s statements starts at the level of the undersecretary or below. The details of an incident, or sometimes a prepared speech, are sent to the home secretary. The home minister himself does a final vetting, sources said.
Forensic examination of the victims’ viscera and clothes has failed to detect any “external DNA”, said the special inspector-general of police (Nagpur range), Rajendra Singh, who is overseeing the investigations in Bhandara.
This appears to contradict the post-mortem report by doctors at the district general hospital in Bhandara, which said the girls were “sexually assaulted” before being killed.
Forensic experts at the Government Medical College in Nagpur, who were not involved in the investigation, suggested a possible explanation to The Telegraph: the “external DNA” may have been washed away by the water in the well.
The girls went missing on February 14 and their bodies were found two days later in a farm well 2km from their home.
The Bhandara police had sent the viscera samples and clothes to the Regional Forensic Science Laboratory in Nagpur, seeking to know the time of death and whether the victims died of poisoning. The post-mortem had already ruled out drowning. The forensic report doesn’t mention the time of death but rules out poisoning.
Police sources say the post-mortem was not filmed properly and the girls’ fingernail clippings and hair samples were not collected. The police have questioned more than 200 people without much success.
Sources suggested the girls may have been lured out of their school by someone they knew. The girls had left for school at 10.30am on February 14. The two younger ones did reach their zilla parishad-run primary school, about 100 metres from their home.
But the eldest, a Class V student at the Rani Laxmibai Vidyalaya, about 1km from her home, never came to class that day, headmistress Rekha Pawar says.
Neighbours claim to have seen her riding a bicycle near her home around noon. A grocer says he sold the sisters chocolates around 1pm. That seems the last time anyone saw them alive.