Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Footpath Vendors and Rape - Where's the Connection?

The Dr. Rustom Soonawalla Rape Case

Rape is a horrible offence but this case of rape seems to be full of holes. Isn’t a man innocent until proven guilty? And proven guilty, not by the police, nor politicians with an agenda, especially not by newspapers whose main concern is their TRP, but by the justice system?

In this episode the alleged rape victim had TB and was cured by Dr. Soonawalla. She had come for a check up with her husband. Some newspapers say the husband claims that the doctor sent him out and raped his wife at his clinic in Khar at 7 pm. Others say the husband received a phone call on his mobile and went out to answer the call. In any case, the accuser's husband went out of the room while his wife was being examined. That is when, the accuser claims, the rape occured.

This is what strikes me as odd. There are a lot of hawkers outside the doc's clinic. The husband was either in the waiting room as was the receptionist or he was outside the clinic amongst the hawkers. Yet nobody heard a thing.

Also, the woman had TB - no one was more aware of that than the doctor. According to this article she was 99% cured.

TB, according to wikipedia, is a lethal infectious disease. Wiki's exact words,
Tuberculosis, MTB, or TB (short for tubercle bacillus) is a common, and in many cases lethal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria, usually Mycobacterium tuberculosis... Treatment is difficult ... Social contacts are also screened and treated if necessary.

Knowing that, would he, a doctor, have raped her? Raped someone who still had that 1% chance of having TB? To my mind he wouldn't have touched her except to treat her out of compassion as a doctor. Dr. Soonawalla was known to do a lot of social service.

As for the newspapers - this is what they initially said - that he ran away and has disappeared. One account from the Indian Express, (nine days later), states the police had no search or arrest warrant. Yet they went to his residence and told him that his clinic had been broken into and that he should accompany them to the clinic (or police station - not sure). On the way one constable, who was in Dr. Soonawalla's car, told him it was nothing to do with his clinic but that he was being arrested for rape. That is when the doctor called his lawyer who instructed him not to go to the police station. The police had no concrete forensic evidence as yet - no blood or semen samples from the site, for example. Makes one wonder on whose instructions they were acting. Besides, people have the perception that once inside a police station, they can be roughed up by the police - guilty or not guilty doesn't enter the picture. Following his lawyer's instructions, Dr. Soonawalla left the two constables on the roadside and drove off. His lawyer, Ponda, has said that he has promised to come forward and give his semen and blood samples - something no guilty person would be willing to do, provided the police don't arrest him at the hospital. 

The Hindustan Times states that a case was registered at around 9.30pm on Friday. A medical test to confirm rape was conducted on the alleged victim, the result of which is awaited. Forensic evidence was collected from the doctor's clinic by a team of experts.

I searched to see what the Times of India had to say and surprisingly, couldn't find anything till the 4th of June. Perhaps I'm mistaken. Later I discovered an article in the Mumbai Mirror (a Mobile e-paper of the Times of India) titled, "Police pick holes in rape charges against Khar doc on the run

And here's one from the Mumbai Mirror - Activists Rally behind Khar doc, police await medical report.

Apparently, Anjali Damania of the AAP has demanded that the doctor be arrested and the two policemen who let him get away be charged. Mayank Gandhi - another AAP member and also a builder, wrote in his blog about the complainant that when he first met her he could see she was telling the truth - that he could see it in her face. What kind of evidence is that? Here’s AAP's account of what happened on their fb, Maharashtra site: and there are comments from a huge number of the doctor's patients vouching for his integrity. 

One of the comments for the doctor states that - This is all completely fabricated. Dr Soonawala is a very emminent and respected doctor of the community. He has been working for the poor near his place of practice for years. There were a lot of hawkers where he practices and when he asked them repeatedly to move out from that place which was illegally occupied by them, they approached the local politicians and in order to teach the poor doctor, they have filed this wrong rape case on him.

This will have no bearing on the case as in no way can it be proved. But it makes one wonder. If it is true - if the local politician pitted the vendors against the doctor I hope the Aam Aadmi Party resists the temptation to do the same. Siding with the accusers without listening to the defence is doing just that.

I haven't yet seen Arvind Kejriwal censuring his party members for demanding punishment for Dr. Soonawalla without any hard evidence presented in court. I believe the entire Parsi community, ardent supporters of the AAP, moved away because of this one incident which is sad for the AAP. But I've heard rumours that the AAP censured them and stopped them from yelling RAPE outside the altruistic doctor's clinic. This is backed up by the fact that suddenly, overnight, Mayank and Anjali stopped these reprehensible and daily picketing activities outside Dr. Soonawalla's clinic. [A few years on - Anjali Damania and Mayank Gandhi are both out of the AAP.]

If India is to become a land that upholds justice so that crooked individuals aren't able to flourish, everyone, whether rich or poor, has to see that justice isn't in the hands of politicians but is part of the judicial system. Dr. Soonawalla's lawyer is right to demand he be tried through the justice system and not be arrested by the police without proper warrants.

The Bigger Picture: Hawkers were a convenience at one time. One didn't have to go far to buy whatever one wanted and cheaper. But now they are spreading to occupy every inch of every footpath. They, naturally, want to continue plying their wares - legally or illegally. They don't care if they make certain places inaccessible - perhaps even dirty.

People who pay rent to carry on a legitimate business expect that their place of work should remain accessible to their clients. They also hope that it remains reasonably clean. [I won't even begin to discuss the garbage piles or people setting up abode on our footpaths and where they go for their daily ablutions.]

In such a scenario, how would justice be done? Simply by ensuring hawkers have a proper place to ply their wares and people who pay rent are ensured access to their work place. Instead politicians play one set off against the other as long as they have the power to be the arbiters of justice and to decide who gets what. That is not justice. It is concentration of power in the wrong hands.

Life is being choked out of our cities - they have two-story-high garbage dumps, slum cities within their confines, footpaths that are used for anything but walking.

As Bhagu says about the attractions of our city in Never Mind Yaar - "…our beaches - the sound of the sea - if we can reach it, that is, through the obstacle course of vendors and beggars; our parks and playgrounds … …taken over by,” he shook his head ruefully, “… the same vendors and beggars;"

Our politicians have, yet again, failed to see the bigger picture. Not one of them addresses the real issue - that of attempting to plan our cities and take the reality on the ground into account - in this case, by giving illegal vendors proper areas to ply their wares which doesn't obstruct access to legitimate businesses.

The success of our cities is to ensure the success of both.



  1. You have wonderfully tried to bring the facts into light that it's not always one sided but sometimes fabricated. Lets see what test results have to say!

    1. The forensic tests concluded that the semen on the bedsheet did not match with that of Soonawala's, and the DNA tests, including that of hair and skin of the complainant and Soonawala didn't suggest an intercourse had taken place.

  2. You should see the comments on the AAP site - so many people speaking up for him.

  3. it is sad that the middle-class get caught by the law for no wrong doing when the rich and the powerful get away with a sackful of crimes.
    Whether or not he's proven guilty, he will have to bear the ignominy for the next decade, and the media will make it hell for him.
    It's good to see someone who reads between the lines of newspaper articles and doesn't take media news at face value.

    1. Hope he is able to live it down. If the hawker story is true, he will never feel comfortable or safe going back to work there. It is very sad.

  4. Great analysis. Our politicians will be interested only if there is money in it for them.

    1. Here's another post by AAP, Maharashtra.

      Again many Mumbaiwallahs have come forward to speak about Dr. Soonawalla's integrity in the comments section. Had so much respect for Arvind and the AAP. But am having second thoughts about the AAP.

  5. True. The main problem is actually with the 24/7 TV news channels. Now everything is being tried in media only. With that, how can you reach to the core of the problem? Because of media police is in pressure. Judiciary... already with 10/15 years backlog... FYI, I filed a case in Delhi High Court in 2000, but that is yet to be heard :(

    We need more lawyers (good lawyers) and more courts.

    1. TV news wouldn't be such a bad thing if they restrained their urge to sensationalise news or take sides - if you know the sponsor of a channel you know the slant they'll give the news.

      Hope your case comes up for hearing soon. You are right about the backlog. It is huge.

  6. I smell a conspiracy. It's quite possible that the Doctor's social work was coming in the way of vested interests.

    1. It has so completely disillusioned me about the AAP. The article by Mayank Gandhi - see the link in one of my comments - is the most divisive. Words like “poor, simple, oppressed slow witted young lady” as opposed to “a smirking, bribing, elitist middle class that thinks of itself as good and the poor as evil and the alleged victim as a cheap woman.” It has lost Arvind and the AAP a lot of goodwill.

  7. Indeed!
    The politicians have acted smartly knowing that in the present scenario a charge of 'rape' will get all the sympathy irrespective of the authenticity of the charge.
    As long as people continue to buy from hawkers they will be there and be emboldened by the fact that they are a valuable vote bank!
    Sad but true.

  8. You know, Clifford, I am full of hope. Ordinary Indians are waking up, beginning to understand how exactly our politicians subvert justice and more than anything else they are beginning to understand the power of uniting to speak with one voice. These are the first steps towards gutting out a deeply entrenched corrupt system. So many people spoke up for Dr. Soonawalla it is heartening. Tomorrow, 11th June, is the hearing.

  9. The case seems dramatic and definitely involve some bigger connections, However truth always triumphs... There are many such case that revolves in police stations in India but who cares??? Atleast not our own Political leaders..

    1. Luckily, in this case, Manish, the ordinary people cared. They all spoke up for the good doc. and turned up in huge numbers for the hearing. Also, as one of those newspapers said, the forensic experts took dna samples off the furniture and off both, Dr. Soonawalla and the accuser - which is hard evidence.

      Ultimately, the loss is ours. Most doctors will have to employ someone to be present at all times - guess where their salary will come from. Secondly, many of them will say, forget philanthropy.

  10. The hearing was yesterday, the 11th of July 2015.. This newspaper report states that "The forensic tests concluded that the semen on the bedsheet did not match with that of Soonawala's, and the DNA tests, including that of hair and skin of the complainant and Soonawala didn't suggest an intercourse had taken place." Yet the headlines scream, "COMPLAINANT'S VERSION KEPT". Sad for the good doctor. Here's the link