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

Published on: January 25, 2016
a heart patient and does not do any work; he is rumoured to be an alcoholic as well. They had three animals (cows and buffaloes) and lived in a single-roomed house that did not have a toilet. The entire economic burden of the family was on her. She joined as ASHA worker under National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) and somehow managed to earn a minimal amount. As the ASHA, she also worked in the Muslim neighbourhood of her village and visited their homes.                            
Timeline of events:
i. For the last eight years, Somwati worked in her village as an ASHA, including among a Muslim neighbourhood. Her phone number was available among families with pregnant women.
September- October 2015
ii. The SHO and press coverage indicates that there were call records over 2-3 months of phone conversations between Somwati and a young man from a Jhojha Muslim household called Shahid. According to the community, the family of Shahid is a powerful one; according to Rehana the Jhojha Muslims are very powerful farmers in that area. The SHO and Police have assumed that the phone records indicate an extra-marital relationship between the two, and have not investigated possibility of threats or blackmail.
iii. According to community women the team spoke to, Somwati had gone to the house of Shahid three months ago to provide post-partum care information for his sister-in-law who had just delivered a baby in the hospital. At the end of that visit, Shahid pulled her aside under the stairs and asked her to have a relationship with him. Since that visit, Shahid started chasing her and pressurizing her to have a relationship with him. She refused saying she had children almost his age. However he continued to follow her on roads, stalking and calling her up on her mobile. He even asked her to leave her family and marry him and made threats that ‘either she would become his or one of them would die’. Somwati kept resisting him. They mentioned that few days before her death Shahid raped her. The rape was video recorded. Shahid blackmailed her to keep quiet otherwise he would make the video public.

January 7-8, 2016
According to the former Pradhan and villagers, a video of sexual acts involving Somwati was circulating in the village through Whatsapp for some days before her death. Most of the people had seen it. According to those who have seen it, the video indicates use of force and resistance and presence of more than one man (they mentioned a foot placed on her chest and she was trying to dislodge it. They noticed her salwar was torn, and her bag and slippers were scattered, etc). The community members said the person Shahid was visible in the video clips, as well as some others. [The group of ASHA workers mentioned three clips, the former Pradhan and SHO mentioned two video clips.]

January 11, 2016
Although the rape video was circulating in the village by Whatsapp for some time before her death, it was not clear whether anyone tried to help Somwati or enable the family to register a police complaint. Only the former Pradhan, Anil mentioned having seen it and was intending to speak with the family, but apparently he got delayed due to his embarrassment in broaching the subject with Suraj Tyagi, who was his childhood friendi. By the time he decided to go and speak with them, he could not find them at home.
vi. According to Somwati’s husband Suraj, he and his wife had a discussion on the night of January 11, 2016, in which she told him about the gang-rape and expressed her great distress at the video that was circulating. According to him, he told her not to worry or take any extreme steps; that they would deal with it somehow; and she said that she would complain to the police against Shahid about the rape and the video. Further, he reported to the team that she was not suffering from any mental depression that would lead to her committing suicide1 and in fact she was ready to fight for justice.

January 12, 2016 
According to Somwati’s husband Suraj, on