Whats App Voyeurs Fail to Save a Health Worker’s Life

Published on: January 25, 2016

Source: Indian Express

Fact-finding Report investigates the alleged rape and WhatsApp Voyeurism preceding the tragic death of Somvati, a health worker in Muzaffarnagar district


The video-clip of gendered violence against Somvati was circulating for days before she was found dead on January 12, 2016 and it is not clear that anyone from her family or community tried to help Somvati, an ASHA worker under the National Rural Health Mission(NHRM) register a police complaint. One of the main accused of the alleged brute gang rape is allegedly a young man from a Jhojha Muslim household called Shahid; his family is powerful, locally. The report concludes that the police was fairly prompt in arresting the accused though the FIR does it reflect the entire circumstances behind the assault. Attempts have been made to show it as a consensual extra-marital affair on the one hand. On the other, Hindutvawadi  leaders like BJP member of parliament, Sangeet Som and Sadhvi Prachi have tried to turn this into a Hindu-Muslim issue.

These are the chilling and challenging observations and findings of a fact-finding report prepared by a group of organisations working on women’s rights, health and human rights in general.

The Gist of the Report of the independent fact-finding into the incident of gang-rape and death of an ASHA worker Somwati Tyagi, in Muzaffarnagar District Uttar Pradesh, India
About the area:
Muzaffarnagar in western UP borders on Haryana and has recently seen violent communal incidents such as the riots of 2013. These incidents and the consequent polarisation of Hindus and Muslims are seen as politically expedient, especially before elections. Apart from being communally ‘sensitive’ the local communities are extremely patriarchal in their attitudes towards girls and women, and gender-based violence is extremely common. The region is notorious for Khap Panchayats that dictate what punishments must be meted out to women and men who exercise their rights to choice of partners, and they are often in the news for community-endorsed killings of such couples. In addition, the area has a very strong influence of the Deoband ulemas who also issue fatwas that try to control the mobility and sexuality of Muslim women and girls to the greatest extent possible. In short, Muzaffarnagar is a flashpoint for communal polarization, caste violence and use of ‘honour/dishonour’ as a patriarchal notion to control women. Recently that area has other incidents of abduction and rape, and MMS of gang-rape incidents being used for blackmail.
 
Background: The video clip of a news-report about the recent gang-rape and death of an ASHA worker in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh (UP), was shared on the Medico Friend CircleE- group on January 14, 2016. The incident was seen as reflecting the inadequate arrangements for supporting frontline women health volunteers and their vulnerability to sexual assault and abuse. A fact-finding was suggested by several members of health e-groups and on January 16, 2016, a small team from Delhi went for a site visit to try and ascertain the facts of the case.

Citizen's response: A preliminary fact-finding team was composed of a representative (Ms. Ruchi) from SAMA the women’s health organization in Delhi, a lawyer (Ms. Gangotri) and social worker (Ms. Pritisha) from Human Rights law Network, and women’s health activists Ms. Jayashree Velankar representing NAMHHR (National Alliance for Maternal Health and Human Rights) and Ms. Jashodhara Dasgupta (SAHAYOG /Healthwatch Forum UP). Both are also allied with other health groups such as Medico Friend Circle (MFC) and Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (JSA). In Muzaffarnagar the team was joined by Ms. Rehana Adib (Director, ASTITVA/ Healthwatch Forum UP) and her team members.

In addition to field observations and information provided by people met, the team also consulted the following sources of information: the Youtube news video clip, local print news clippings ; FIR of the case. [Information still lacking – Copy of post-mortem report]About the ASHA (health worker) and her family-
Name of the victim: Somwati; wife of Suraj Tyagi, age: 35 years
Place: Chapra Village, Muzaffarnagar.

​Somwati was an ASHA worker for the last eight years in her village. She had three children, an older son who is about 16, a daughter who is about 12 and a younger son who is 8 years. Her husband is