The investigation into the F.I.R against UNFPA officials Diego Palacios and Ena Singh on charges of sexual harassment seems to have come to a standstill. The Bihar Police has desperately attempted to question UNFPA State head in Bihar last Friday, but citing immunity UNFPA have not co-operated with the investigation. The earlier attempt by the Police to enter the UN premises in Bihar was also met with the same fate.
“We wanted to question Head of UNFPA in Bihar who did not cooperate and said that we should approach him via Ministry of External Affairs”, said Mr Nomani, the Deputy Superintendent of Police in Patna. He also said that a formal statement from the victim has been obtained. The Bihar Police will now be formally writing to Ministry of External Affairs to seek further directions before moving to Delhi. The National Commission of Women has also registered a complaint in the matter and is writing to UNFPA.
The complainant Prashanti Tiwari (of Bandhan Tod fame) has again written to Sushma Swaraj citing the media reporting quoting UN Secretary-General Spokesperson that there is no immunity in criminal cases, a statement which was later retracted by UN Spokesperson Stephen Dujarric. The contradictory statements, in the opinion of experts, suggest the unpreparedness of UN system to deal with and respond to such sensitive situations transparently. Earlier UNFPA India has already invoked immunity in the case to MEA. Tiwari has again pleaded with Swaraj that Right to Equality before Law is her fundamental right under Article 14 of the constitution, which prevails over any other act, or provision.
Meanwhile, the issue of immunity of UN officials and right to trial by Prashanti Tiwari is slowly turning into a political issue. Bihar Legislators are also now joining in support of the plea of the complainant Prashanti and the matter is expected to rock the Bihar Assembly in coming days.
“This is an issue of great concern as the victim, an activist of Bihar cannot exercise her constitutional rights in a state where Nitish Kumar claims to be the champion of women empowerment. We will be raising the issue in the Assembly asking Nitish to sever all ties with UN in Bihar till the immunity of the accused is waived off,” said Sarbjeet the legislator from Lalu’s RJD. Similarly AICC member and Legislator, Shakeel Ahamed Khan said that he will support the move from RJD as it is an issue of the supremacy of constitution of India, which the ruling BJP has always attempted to sideline.
Given the prevailing chaos, #StandWithPrashanti campaign is gaining momentum through social media and public protest, including the one outside UN office in Bihar. In another public embarrassment, UNFPA India had to withdraw their clarification posted through their website following a strong public rebuttal by Ms Tiwari wherein she produced the photograph of her meeting with Diego Palacios, contradicting the official statement that the accused met her only once in a public event.
Prashanti, while speaking to Newsclick, said that though police are now actively looking into her complaint, the accused are still not affected, whereas she has to go to Police Station and spend hours there. “This is harassment of another nature where the complainant is made to look like an accused, while the powerful UNFPA officials are enjoying their daily life abusing the immunity provision,” said Prashanti. Unconfirmed reports also suggest that the main accused, Diego Palacios has already escaped from India and the fate of fair investigation and trial is left hanging.