If I told you that given a choice between the people and a convicted rapist, the courts have chosen to protect the rapist, you’d say I am making it up. I wish this time that the truth weren’t so bizarre. Because it also directly impacts my personal safety. But I will come directly to the point.
On the 28th of February, 2002, a man called Suresh Richard was part of a bloodthirsty mob in the Naroda Patiya area of the city of Ahmedabad. He killed quite a few people that day, raped women and helped tear out the foetus of an unborn child from its pregnant mother and then raped and killed her. He was eventually convicted for these crimes in 2012 and put away in prison where he is now serving a 31 year jail sentence. But prisoners get two weeks or even a month out of jail in the year, to spend time with family, attend to urgent and pressing matters. Even convicts like Suresh are entitled to this parole time. Sort of the jail equivalent of summer holidays from school. But in his case, he has to apply for parole and the High Court of Gujarat has to review the case and decide whether it is safe enough to let him out. Once they decide that it is, they send a court order to the police station in the area, so that the police can keep an extra vigil, just in case.
The`just in case’ bit is important here, because Suresh is a man who wears his violence proudly, on his sleeve. He bragged about his crimes of 2002 to a journalist who he believed was a fellow mobster. And said to him, unaware that this was being recorded; “I raped Muslim women in 2002 till they were pulverized to pickle.”
The court may still think that even such a man has the right to visit his family and look after pressing matters once in a while. So in July 2015, they gave him parole. Suresh used that time to rape his wife. Or so his wife said to a court. He tied her hands behind her back, forced himself on her and stubbed out cigarette butts on her hand. She has filed for sexual abuse, violence and also for divorce. Taking a serious view of the matter of how he conducted himself on parole, the court turned his request down the next time he applied. This was in October 2015. But then in January 2016, Suresh applied for parole again. This time he told the court, his daughter had gone missing, he needed two weeks to look for her. It was granted.
During that time, I, a journalist who is writing about Suresh and people like him; decided to try and meet him and see if he would agree to talk to me. He lurched forward, hit me across the face till my eye began to bleed. Then pulled me and dragged me to the nearby wall, pinned me against it, removed an entire clump of hair from its follicle, kicked and beat me repeatedly. I didn’t think I would get out alive. But luckily, his son felt sorry for me and got together with two or three of the hundred bystanders and they peeled him off me. I ran. And filed my own case in court. Suresh’s parole was abruptly cancelled and he was marched back to prison. The head of the Special Operations Group in the police, P C Solanki held a press conference in which he said that the people of Ahmedabad and of Gujarat should not feel unsafe. Suresh’s parole is cancelled and he will not be granted it again. The system works and this was a minor glitch.
And from then on, requests by Suresh for parole were cancelled. Until the 29th of November. Last night. I was out to dinner when Suresh’s ex wife told me that he was out on parole again. He had dialled her brother’s number and asked to meet. That’s just fantastic. A man who raped his wife gets out on parole and sends her into a panic, because he can. How did the court grant him parole? I needed to know. But every court reporter and police person I called had no information on this. Not the Additional Commissioners of police who had once been in charge of my assault case. Nor the commissioner who had been in charge of that area. “No court order has been sent to the police station where Suresh lives, so we don’t know if he is out on parole.”
Finally, I got through to the police inspector in charge of the Sardarnagar police station, the area where Suresh lives. “Can you please just send a constable to his house and tell me if he is indeed out on parole?” I pleaded. I needed to make arrangements. For myself and also to inform his ex wife. The last time he was out on parole, the day I was assaulted; I had to live like a fugitive. In an undisclosed location, until the police confirmed to me that his parole was cancelled. At least I always have the option of fleeing Ahmedabad if I need to. What about his ex wife? Who protects her the next time he is out?
“Look, if I need to pack my bags and run again, I need to know okay, so just send someone to his house, will you?” I said to the cop.
He was a good cop. He sent someone. And called me a few minutes later. “Yes ma’am. He is out on parole. My constable is there with him just now and he is in his house. He is out for fourteen days.”
And now comes the even funnier part of my story. I continued. “When did he get out, how many of those fourteen days are gone and how many left?” I asked.
“That I don’t know ma’am because there is no paper work. The High court has not sent us its parole order. So we have no idea that he was out or who passed the order or when.”
So a man who first bragged about raping and killing women in 2002 gets out on parole. He uses that parole to rape his wife. Then he gets out on parole again and attacks a journalist. Then he is out again and this time the court doesn’t even send word to the cops. The cops only find out that Suresh is out on his bi-annual vacation, because the two women he victimized on previous holidays from jail told them so.
And with this, I come back to where I began. Who do our courts protect? That is the question. The people or the convict? You want answers? Go ask the judges. But first, you need to find out who the judge was. So far, there is no paperwork. Good luck, y’all. I am packing my bags. And so is his ex wife. No address of course.
Revati Laul is an independent journalist and film maker, currently based out of Gujarat; where she is working on a book on the perpetrators of the 2002 riots.