On February 15, a woman from Arunachal Pradesh approached the National Commission for Women (NCW) levelling allegations against the Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, Pema Khandu, and two others including a school teacher for raping her in 2008. She alleged that she tried to file a complaint in 2011 but the magistrate refused to entertain it, due to political pressure. On February 24, after her application to the NCW was dismissed on February 20, she has declared that she will appeal to the Prime Minister and the President. The Arunachal Pradesh unit of the BJP, as well as the Chief Minister, have dismissed the allegations saying that they are politically motivated and are aimed to malign the image of the Chief Minister.
Though the late filing of the case and subsequent appeal to the NCW may appear ‘suspicious’, there may actually be some merit in allowing the case to be investigated. On one hand, if the case against the Chief Minister is not proved, then he would stand absolved. If on the other hand it is proved, then the case would be a testament to the impartial functioning of the criminal justice system.
There are sufficient reasons for why the case has been ignored within Arunachal Pradesh. Firstly, the alleged incident took place in 2008, when Pema Khandu’s father, Dorjee Khandu was the Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh. It is not unheard of that the children of powerful persons often go unpunished and that the investigations can be compromised. However, the complaint was filed in 2011. In 2011 Pema Khandu became an MLA for the first time winning his late father’s constituency unopposed. In 2016, the court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate in Yupia refused to entertain the complaint and disposed of the case as being devoid of merit. The complainant has alleged that this was done without hearing her deposition nor conducting an inquiry.
At this juncture, it cannot be said that the complaint was politically motivated, in 2011 Pema Khandu was an INC MLA, though at present he is a BJP Chief Minister. At present, the stakes both for the complainant as well as Khandu are higher. An investigation within Arunachal Pradesh conducted by the state police may not be uncompromised. Further, the family of the complainant may be under duress to force her to withdraw her complaint. She has even alleged that the Tawang Police, as well as the courts, refuse to pursue her complaint due to the influence of Khandu. Whether the PMO or the President will be responsive cannot be ascertained. However, the NGO which is helping her with her case, Arunachal Civil Society, has stated that they would approach a superior court to have the case heard outside Arunachal Pradesh.