On January 23, a woman from Mumbai filed a complaint of gangrape at Naliya police station in Abdasa taluka of Gujarat’s Kutch district. Police lodged an FIR two days later, and booked 10 individuals for allegedly gangraping her for more than a year beginning August 2015. In her complaint, the woman said she had come to her mother’s home in Kothara village near Naliya, and asked her mother to find her a job. Her mother took her to Babba Lohana alias Babba Sheth in Naliya, the headquarters of Abdasa taluka. Babba referred the woman to one Shantilal Solanki, who employed her at an LPG distribution agency in Naliya.
According to the FIR, Solanki called the woman to his home on the pretext of giving her salary ahead of Diwali, spiked her cold drink and raped her. Solanki’s friend Bharat Chauhan alias Bharat Darji and Vipul Thakkar, who were present in Solanki’s home, also allegedly raped her and shot video clips of the assault. They later used these clips to blackmail her into silence as she was allegedly raped by five other men. The woman alleged that she had been made part of a sex racket in which around 65 people were involved, and some 35 college girls had been similarly trapped.
Based on names given by the complainant, Naliya police booked 10 men for gangrape, molestation, kidnapping and wrongful confinement — Babba Lohana of Naliya, Shantibhai Solanki, Bharat Darji, Vipul Thakkar, Chetan Thakkar, Atul Thakkar, Ashwin Thakkar of Nakhtrana, Govind of Gandhidham, Vasant of Adipur, and an unidentified physically challenged man. In her statement recorded before a magistrate, however, the woman reportedly said Atul Thakkar had had no role in the sexual assaults. Police subsequently identified Babba Lohana as Vinod Thakkar (67), a resident of Naliya, and Chetan Thakkar as Vinod’s 35-year-old son. Shantibhai Solanki was identified as Shantilal Solanki, convener of the OBC cell in the BJP’s Abdasa taluka unit and president of the tailors’ community in Kutch district. Bharat Darji was identified as Bharat Chauhan, a tailor in Naliya.
Ashwin Thakkar was identified as a property dealer of Nakhtrana town in Kutch district. Govind of Gandhidham was identified as Govind Parumalani, a secretary in the BJP’s Gandhidham unit; Vasant of Adipur as Vasant Bhanushali, a BJP councillor in Gandhidham municipality, and the unidentified physically challenged man as Ajit Ramwani, also a BJP coucillor in Gandhidham municipality.
The Political Turn
The Aam Admi Party (AAP) began protests against the ruling BJP, which were soon joined by the Congress. On February 6, a cornered BJP suspended its four accused leaders — Solanki, Parumalani, Bhanushali and Ramwani — from the party’s primary membership. Over the next few days, police arrested all four men.
Meanwhile, reports in the media, citing statements by the complainant, suggested the BJP had engaged women as “social ladies” at a workshop in Kutch in July 2016. The BJP denied this, and alleged that the purported “social lady” identity card produced by the Naliya complainant was forged. But the Congress refused to back down and, on February 18, Leader of Opposition in the Assembly Shankersinh Vaghela began a two-day “Beti Bachao Yatra” from Naliya. The yatra, however, faced resistance from members of a group called the Kutch Asmita Manch, which said the Congress was giving the region a “bad name”.
The main opposition party stalled proceedings in the Assembly’s Budget session for 2 days over the Naliya case. Finally, on Wednesday, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani announced in the House that the government was ready for a probe into the Naliya case by a sitting judge of the Gujarat High Court, following which the Congress allowed the Assembly to function.
Three days after the woman’s complaint, Kutch (West) SP Makrand Chauhan set up a Special Investigation Team led by a local Crime Branch police inspector. The SIT went on to arrest all accused except Vipul Thakkar — all the arrested men have claimed innocence, police say. Last week, the SIT moved a court in Naliya seeking permission to put the 8 men through brain mapping and lie detector tests, and brain electrical oscillation signature profiling. But the accused refused consent, and the court rejected the SIT’s application. Meanwhile, on the request of the Kutch (West) police, the Criminal Investigation Department (Crime) formed a team to supervise the probe. On Wednesday, the Naliya court sent Vinod Thakkar, his son Chetan, and Ashwin Thakkar to judicial custody.
The New Twist
On February 20, Kalpesh Momaya, the complainant’s former husband, moved an application before a Naliya court, accusing the woman of cheating and extortion. The court ordered the Kothara police to book the woman and three others for cheating, criminal breach of trust and extortion. The next day, Momaya moved another application before the same court, this time complaining that the woman had threatened to kill him. The court ordered a second FIR against the woman for criminal intimidation.
Momaya claims that he had married the woman on January 31, 2016, after she had fought with her first husband and come to Kothara the previous year. However, she allegedly deserted Momaya after just two days, and they divorced on February 12, 2016. The woman then allegedly returned to her first husband, with whom she now lives in Mumbai.
The woman was to travel to Kutch from Mumbai to provide details of Vipul Thakkar — who is still on the run — on Tuesday. The police were to then draw sketches of the accused, but the woman reportedly did not turn up.
The Delayed Complaint
The complainant has claimed that the delay in filing her complaint was due to threats from the accused. She has alleged that Shantilal Solanki had warned her not to tell anybody about the sexual assault, as politicians and police were with them, and they supplied girls to politicians. She has also claimed that Solanki had threatened to murder her brother if she filed a complaint.
According to Makrand Chauhan, the police officer, the woman had attempted to kill herself thrice in Mumbai but had failed. She eventually came to the police after her husband encouraged her, says the complaint.