Ajmer 92—an upcoming film set to release on July 21—brings to the forefront a deeply unsettling case that continues to cast a shadow over Ajmer, the city known for housing the revered Dargah of Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti. This case, which unfolded in 1992, exposed a network of powerful individuals with political connections involved in the blackmail and sexual abuse of countless girls. Despite the passage of time, the repercussions of this heinous crime still reverberate within the community.
Unveiling the Crime in Ajmer 92
In April 1992, local journalist Santosh Gupta uncovered a distressing cycle of abuse that had been ongoing for years, finally culminating in that fateful year. The perpetrators targeted school and college girls, luring them to remote locations where they fell victim to repeated sexual assaults committed by one or more assailants.
The modus operandi of the criminals involved using one girl to entice her friends, thus perpetuating an extensive cycle of abuse. Exploiting the explicit photographs taken during these heinous acts, the abusers blackmailed their victims into submission and silence.
The Role of Santosh Gupta
Santosh Gupta, a courageous journalist, broke the story for the local daily Navajyoti News. Despite the potential risks, he managed to obtain blurred-out pictures of the survivors and shed light on their ordeal. By bringing the issue to public attention, Gupta played a vital role in initiating the quest for justice.
The accused individuals held positions of influence and affluence, which further complicated the process of persuading the victims to come forward and testify. According to retired Rajasthan DGP Omendra Bhardwaj, social and financial power made it exceedingly challenging to elicit cooperation from the girls involved in the case.
After an extensive investigation, 18 men faced charges, some of whom belonged to families associated with the influential Khadims linked to the Sufi Dargah. Among these individuals, Farooq and Nafis Chishty were particularly prominent figures. As Youth Congress leaders and local “celebrities,” they flaunted their power and wealth in the small town, exploiting their status to trap unsuspecting victims. Notably, Farooq, who was later declared mentally unstable by the courts, initiated the cycle of abuse by entrapping a girl from Sophia Senior Secondary School in Ajmer and capturing explicit photographs.
In 1998, a sessions court in Ajmer sentenced eight men to life imprisonment. However, the Rajasthan High Court acquitted four of them in 2001. Subsequently, the Supreme Court reduced the sentences of the remaining four convicts—Moijullah alias Puttan, Ishrat Ali, Anwar Chishty, and Shamshuddin alias Meradona—to 10 years in 2003. Presently, six men are still facing trial, and Almas Maharaj, one of the accused, remains at large, believed to be residing in the United States. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has issued a red corner notice against him.
Continuing Ordeal for Survivors
The revelation of this case thrust Ajmer into a state of upheaval, with protests leading to a two-day citywide shutdown. The potential for communal tension emerged due to the religious identities of the accused and the victims.
However, as the trials commenced, the majority of victims became uncooperative. Despite estimates suggesting between 50 and 100 victims, only a few came forward to provide testimony, and even fewer remained steadfast in their statements.
A Supreme Court order in 2003 acknowledged the unfortunate reality that many victims who appeared as witnesses turned hostile. Fear of exposure and the potential repercussions on their future lives likely influenced their decision not to testify against the appellants.
The victims have faced profound social stigma, which has permeated even the institutions they attended. Anuradha Marwah, an author and former Ajmer resident who extensively covered the case, recalled the emotional toll on the community. She recounted her mother, the vice-principal of one of the colleges connected to the case, coming home in tears after learning that one of the victims had taken her own life. The case, still raw and unhealed, left an indelible mark on the town.
Critique of the Authorities’ Approach
Santosh Gupta attributes the ordeal faced by the victims, both past and present, to the flawed approach of the authorities handling the case. From the outset, the focus seemed to be on preventing a potential “law and order situation” resulting from the scandal, rather than ensuring justice for the survivors.
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The upcoming film Ajmer 92 shines a spotlight on the traumatic case that continues to haunt the city. By shedding light on the systemic sexual abuse and blackmail perpetrated by influential individuals, the movie serves as a reminder of the need for justice and support for the survivors. As the residents of Ajmer grapple with the scars of the past, it is essential to foster an environment where victims can come forward without fear, and their voices can be heard. Only then can healing and progress take place in this historic city.