Sexual assault and its accusations are a matter of grave concern, and most women are deprived of justice in such heinous crimes because of the blatant misuse of the law by others.
The judicial system bears the burden of being just and efficient enough in its decisions and encouraging victims to speak up; however, it also is responsible for thoroughly investigating an accusation before pronouncing a verdict.
There are concerns over some women who abuse the legal system set up to protect women, for nefarious purposes. The country has seen a rising menace of false rape cases filed by several women with the motive of malicious extortion. Those charged with false accusations in such cases have been ostracised, continue to live in fear, or resort to suicide.
One such case was recently unearthed but didn't make it to the mainstream.
Ayushi Bhatia Honey Trapping Scam
On December 29, the Gurugram Police busted a 'honey trapping' racket and arrested 22-year-old Ayushi Bhatia. A student of Bachelor of Arts of Delhi's Atma Ram Sanatan Dharam College, Bhatia confessed to her crime of accusing men of bogus sexual assault charges and extorting money.
The Recurring Pattern
The Logical Indian spoke to journalist Deepika Narayan Bhardwaj, who brought the matter to light. Bhardwaj detailed how Bhatia ran the honey trapping racket.
The woman met people on dating apps, at parties, gyms, clubs, and social media platforms; then cross-checked their background, friend list, and the people they were following. She would then meet them up in person, have consensual sexual intercourse, and later convict them of assaulting her until they adhered to her terms and conditions. The woman has filed subsequent FIRs against seven men on record. TLI accessed a short audio clip of Bhatia.
In multiple of these cases, the individuals and their families have been harassed to no extent, and many have spent months in jail over false allegations. All the men she connected with are in the age bracket of 20-22, except for 24-year-old Mahesh.
A Sufferer's Ordeal
Mahesh had approached Bhardwaj in October on Twitter to seek her help. The man explained he had multiple suicidal thoughts triggered by false accusations of incest.
The 24-year-old met Ayushi Bhatia on a dating app, 'Happen', on August 21 and connected instantly. Four days later, Bhatia started blackmailing Mahesh of roping him in a false rape case. The latter went to the police station to file a complaint, but he was asked to approach the cybercrime cell of his jurisdiction and file a written complaint, as the crime was associated with an online dating application.
By the time Mahesh could think of some the other way, Bhatia started threatening him of filing a gang rape case against him and his friends, whom she had found on his friend's list if he did not marry her. To save himself and his friends, he eventually abided by her. Within ten days of marriage, Bhatia started fighting with him and held him back from leading a normal life.
A few days later, Mahesh ran away, following which, the woman tried to file a rape case against him, following which he was called to the police station.
He said the officers laughed at him for marrying Bhatia. The police revealed that the woman had filed at least five to six sexual assault cases with them, which shook Mahesh, as he was naive of Bhatia's pattern.
The cops gave him the numbers of all the FIRs filed in the previous cases.
Bhatia had charged people under section 375 (sexual intercourse with a woman without her consent, by coercion or fraud or at a time when she has been intoxicated or duped) and 376 (sexual assault) of IPC.
Forming Special Investigation Team
After verifying the claims made by Mahesh, Bhardwaj approached a senior police officer to help her access the FIR copies and unearth the scam. She filed a case with the Commissioner of Police (CP), on October 19.
Apart from the assault complaints against Bhatia, the layers of financial transactions by the victims were not clear. So, the journalist requested a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the matter.
The police said that they would be cancelling further complaints by Bhatia. "The police heard me, but surprisingly everybody in the CP knew about the case, but none had taken cognisance. That's when I realised that my complaint might remain a mere piece of paper," the journalist said.
She then approached Haryana State Women Commission chairperson, Preeti Bhardwaj Dalal. The chairperson wrote to the DGP of Haryana, requesting the formation of an SIT for a thorough investigation.
Families Falsely Accused
Apart from meeting the officials, Bhardwaj also approached the families that Ayushi Bhatia roped with false charges. One of the mothers, whose son was imprisoned for nine months, said she had lost all hopes of getting justice.
"The woman lauded my efforts but said she knew the result. She told me that they had gone out of their way to prove their son's innocence, but nobody entertained them. She told me I would not get anywhere, considering how clever Bhatia was with filing complaints and blackmailing people. She said that Bhatia would file more complaints and the outcome would be the same, and she was right," Bhardwaj said.
More False Rape Complaints Filed
Bhatia had filed another sexual assault case on October 25 at DLF Phase 3 police station and demanded money in compensation. The woman tried to file another case at Palam Vihar police station, but the SIT was constituted by then.
However, the recent complaint that led to her arrest was filed at the New Colony Police Station by a woman based out of Karnal, who alleged that her son was being charged in a fake sexual assault case. This was the 8th case.
Her son was looking for an apartment/room to rent in the Vijay Park area. He came across a board citing a vacant 'To-let' and contacted the number written on the board. He moved in on October 15, but the woman started calling the boy frequently after a few days. Upon objecting, Bhatia asked the boy to either marry or give her money, or else she would charge him with assault.
Acting upon the complaint, the police arrested Bhatia in December. She has been charged under sections 384 (extortion), 389 (attempts to put any person in fear of an accusation), 120B (criminal conspiracy), 506 (criminal intimidation) of the IPC and remanded to judicial custody.
She had applied for bail before the local court but was rejected. Bhatia's counsel sought bail stating she was a victim of cruelty and the complainants had exploited her on the pretext of marriage.
Accused's Mother, Uncle Involved
Bhatia's mother and a man identified as Narendra Yadav were also involved in the racket and are on the run. The police have formed teams to look out for the absconding.
The investigation into the case is underway. Multiple FIRs were lodged against her by the families and individuals for false allegations, extortion, criminal intimidation, blackmail, etc.
"I have heard of cases like these before; there are women who have filed false cases in multiple places, but this is exceptional - somebody filing so many rape cases in just one year is a record in itself," Deepika Bhardwaj said.
One of the men is still behind bars on Bhatia's complaint. The development in his case is awaited.