Andaman ‘sex assault’ case: ‘Locked inside for three months. There’s a constant fear for my life’

Her first brush with the police in Port Blair was when she was 15 and her maternal uncle had set fire to her school books. He had done this earlier but this time it was her school lab manual which had been destroyed and so she decided to march off to the nearest police station. The police worked out a compromise and so enraged was her grandmother and maternal uncle — she was living with them then — they sent her back to the tiny house where her father and stepmother lived in Port Blair.

That house is barely 5 km away from where she sits as she recalls her childhood to The Indian Express and talks of the forces she has fought against to file her rape complaint against Jitendra Narain, the powerful former Chief Secretary of Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Labour Commissioner R L Rishi.

An only child born into a Dalit family from Varanasi, she lost her mother when she was barely two years old. Her father, a painter, remarried within months and her childhood, she says, was marked by deprivation. There were no new clothes to wear, the playground was out of bounds, she never knew a parent’s love or affection.

It was when she was 17 years, and in Class XI, that her stepmother forced her to quit school and work as a salesgirl in a departmental store. She earned Rs 7,000 a month and her stepmother gave her Rs 10 as daily allowance and kept the rest to run the house.

She switched many jobs and it was when she was freelancing as a tour guide after the Covid lockdowns that she met a hotel owner, Sandeep Singh or Rinku, and her ongoing encounters, first, with two powerful bureaucrats of Port Blair and, now, the police and courtrooms began.

Now 21 and married, she says she has been stripped of her identity and is being referred to as the “victim” or the “complainant.” The Indian Express spoke to her over two days, her first interaction with the press since the police finally lodged an FIR on October 1 after refusing to do so for 45 days.

There are three policewomen in plainclothes assigned to her security; they work in three shifts and one sits at a distance, listening in to her speak.

“My life has been disturbed since I was born and it still is. I have been locked inside my room for almost three months. There is a constant fear for life,” she says.

Her husband, a 28-year-old, has a field operations job that requires him to frequently island hop and he describes the trauma the couple have faced since he prevailed upon her to report the alleged sexual assault by Narain at his official residence.

He recalls he first spotted her when she was with a group of tourists in Havelock Islands and admits to having “followed” her for weeks. There was a chance meeting again at a wedding and they began dating.

Unknown to him, she had already been allegedly ensnared by Labour Commissioner Rishi who accompanied her to Narain’s house where both men, according to her complaint, raped and sexually assaulted her.

She remembers that night there were 49 missed calls from her friend on her phone which had been, on instructions, kept on silent at the entrance of the Chief Secretary’s house.

Despite the first assault, why did she agree to go to the Chief Secretary’s house a second time? She replies promptly, and it is evident she has, by now, narrated the same sequence of events repeatedly to the police and magistrate.

“The Chief Secretary told me he was in control of the whole of the Andamans and that a Government job for me was confirmed. So I went.”

As it turned out, the couple decided to get married two days after her second visit to Narain’s house. The new bride was despondent and withdrawn and the reason was that the Labour Commissioner wasn’t taking her calls and the promised Government job was nowhere in sight.

Finally, it was in July, she says, that the Labour Commissioner told her the Chief Secretary had been transferred to New Delhi and there was nothing he could do to help her.

It is her husband who recalls a horrific sequence of events of a night thereafter when she tried to hang herself from the ceiling fan in their bedroom.

Providentially, electricity was restored that very moment resulting in a tight jerk on her neck and a wail from the bedroom. Her husband kicked the locked door hard; the latch broke and she was saved.

It was only after this suicide bid that, she bit by bit, told her husband the whole truth.

But the nightmare continues, she says. One night, a police party took her for a medical examination to the hospital and when she was away, another posse of policemen landed up at their house to record oral evidence.

Another night, when her husband was away to Campbell Bay, the policewoman on the night shift suddenly had to go home, leaving her all alone. She has had to go visit police stations and crime scene locations wearing a veil or full face-cover and on Sunday did the same when she was taken by the police to Rinku’s house.

Then there is the gruelling interrogation. Questions asked by members of the probe team are endless, some very difficult to answer. For instance, she has been asked: Which undergarments did you wear on the two occasions you went to the Chief Secretary’s house? Or: Where was the bottle of Intimate Wash solution which the Chief Secretary told you to use?

The questioning will continue and by all accounts of members of the probe team and her own, her narration has been unflinching, unchanged – and brave.

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