A chronology

Published : Feb 19, 2000 00:00 IST


Sunday, September 5, 1999: Lalita Oraon, slips out of Amrit Luguns' flat in rue Camille St. Saens, clutching a knife, and heads for the nearby Tour Eiffel. She tries to talk to an Indian-looking passer-by, who takes her to the police. The police i n the 15th district fear that she is a minor and they call in the Brigade des mineurs.

Lalita is taken to the Hotel Dieu hospital which deals with medico-legal cases. Her wrist is X-rayed and a doctor examines her to verify if she has reached puberty. The doctors note that she is disturbed and nearly hysterical but there is no suspicion of pain as she walks and sits normally.

Through a Bengali interpreter the police learn that Lalita works at the house of Amrit Lugun.

Lalita's employer is summoned. He arrives with the girl's passport - an official white passport. He is not allowed to speak to the girl directly. She is in another room and the interpreter goes to and fro, translating for the police. Lugun tells the poli ce that he and his wife are unhappy with the girl's work and that she is being sent back to India on September 7, that the girl has overheard his wife talking over the telephone about her imminent departure and has run away since she does not want to lea ve Paris. The passport gives the girl's age as 19. She refuses to return with Lugun and the police say they cannot force her because she is a major. Lugun returns home without the girl.

The Brigade contacts the Prosecutor's office, which says: "Officially the girl is a major. Release her." But the Brigade feels a semi-hysterical girl speaking no French cannot be allowed to go just like that. Lalita spends the night at the police station .

September 6: The Committee Against Modern Slavery receives a call from the Brigade asking whether it will take in Lalita. The CCEM says yes. The police informs the embassy that the girl has been sent to the CCEM. The embassy calls the CCEM trying to get Lalita back. The committee says she has not been paid and should be paid according to minimum wage laws for eight months' work in Paris. The committee talks to the girl. She tells it she is an orphan, works 12 hours a day, and is slapped and threa tened by her employers who do not pay her. She is agitated and hysterical. The committee calls a doctor to give her a valium shot. Then it takes her to the convent of St. Joseph de Cluny. The embassy has been trying to get the girl back saying she has to be sent home. The CCEM refuses to hand her over. She is a major, they say, and does not want to go back to the embassy.

Foreign Ministry sources say that Indian Ambassador Kanwal Sibal is having lunch at the French Foreign Ministry and is informed of the situation. He talks to Francois Dopfer, who heads the Asia and Oceania division. The Ambassador says the girl can be ke pt in his residence for the night and be put on the plane the next day. The latter tells Sibal that the matter is extremely grave. At this time Lalita supposedly has no injuries, or at least none have been detected.

September 7: Lalita has spent a peaceful night at the convent, but becomes agitated again in the afternoon. She goes to bed at 9 p.m. A nun looks in on her at 11 p.m. She is agitated but refuses a sleeping pill.

September 8: The nuns call the CCEM. Lalita has vanished. CCEM director Philippe Boudin reaches the convent, then calls the police. Lalita is in hospital. She was found grievously hurt. She is taken first to Hotel Dieu. She has broken both her ank les, a few vertebrae and has dislocated her urethra. So she is rushed to Hospital Cochin where Professor Debre, a renowned specialist of the urinary tract, operates on her. Besides her other injuries, he finds a serious wound on her genitals. The gashes have been caused by a sharp instrument. It is as if someone has tried to cut out her vagina. There are signs of septicaemia. Twenty-five centimetres of sutures are needed.

September 9-10: Lalita is recovering from post-operative shock. The police are not allowed to question her until the afternoon of September 10.

September 11: Patricia Tourencheau of the daily Liberation files a story. Entitled "Slave Girl Lalita's Mad Dash for Freedom", she quotes Boudin and a doctor from Professor Debre's unit. The doctor says that the wound in her private parts d oes not appear to be caused by a sharp instrument. Nor is it a case of rape, the doctor says, because the hymen is intact. The Police wonder whether the runaway girl mutilated herself or if she hurt herself falling off a five-metre-high wall. The CCEM th inks it could be an old wound which has reopened. On Friday, Lalita speaks: To descend the wall she slid along it and in doing so ripped her genitals. She ran away from the convent because she was afraid of her interrogators.

September 12: Prof. Debre reads the report and decides he has to break the confidentiality oath and go public because he fears a cover-up. He calls journalists from the newspaper France-Soir. They are allowed into the hospital ward and phot ograph Lalita in her bed.

September 13: France-Soir's story causes a furore. The newspaper quotes the doctor as saying, "I find it very difficult to believe that the severe genital wounds have been caused by her attempt to escape. One can suppose an act of barbarism or torture which goes back several days." The doctor complains that the police no longer guard her. He is afraid someone will attempt to "recover" her. He goes on national television detailing the girl's injuries and says he has "never seen anything lik e this in his 20 years as a medical practitioner". Nagui, a popular presenter of entertainment programmes, urges viewers to call the Indian Embassy and protest. The embassy lines are jammed with calls. Hate mail pours in.

The embassy releases its first press communique denying the charges levelled against Amrit Lugun. "Any allegations and innuendoes of maltreatment by her employer are false and are strongly denied... As her performance was not up to the mark, her employer had decided to repatriate her on September 7. She had overheard her employer's wife talking to her family in India about her repatriation and presumably this led to her action to leave the house on that day," it said.

September 14: Allegations continue to appear through the press. Philippe Boudin of the CCEM tells journalists that Lalita said, pointing to her genitals: "My employer and a doctor friend of his drugged me and cut open my stomach to stop me from ge tting pregnant." As a result the Public Prosecutor names a two-member committee to examine Lalita.

This time the embassy pulls out all the stops. Its communique directly accuses Boudin of spreading falsehoods. "...To protect themselves from their own culpability in the matter, Mr Philippe Boudin,... is putting out gross and malicious fabrications whic h are truly shocking. His comments to the journalist from France-Soir to the effect that her employer and a doctor friend mutilated her is an utterly contemptible lie... We are also surprised that Professor Debre should make remarks about the orig ins of Ms. Oraon's sexual injuries, which are totally without foundation, unless the motivation behind these lies is to obfuscate the responsibility of the French authorities and that of the Committee against modern slavery for Ms Oraon's injuries to her ankles, backbone and sexual parts." The communique reiterates that when Lalita was taken to the police "she was in normal health and had no physical injury on her."

September 15: The French Foreign Ministry says the embassy's comments are unwelcome. Two doctors, one of them a forensic expert, examine Lalita.

September 17: New Delhi raps Ambassador Sibal on the knuckles. No more communiques. Keep your head down, is the order. There is an attempt from the French to seek the withdrawal of Lugun. But Sibal, who believes he is not guilty of sexually mutila ting the girl, urges New Delhi to keep him on since withdrawing the diplomat will be an admission of guilt.

September 20: The Public Prosecutor opens a criminal investigation against X for violence with a sharp weapon. (When there is a suspected criminal intent but no clear suspect, a case is registered as being against X) The decision is based on the e xperts' report, which describes Lalita's injuries as "injuries to the vulva... with clean incisions... made with a sharp instrument... of recent date." Ruling out an abortion attempt, the report concludes that it is difficult to explain the wounds as aut o-mutilation.

September 22: Satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo accuses Amrit Lugun of having mutilated Lalita. "After the rescue of yet another victim of modern slavery, mutilated on the sex by a member of the Indian Embassy, France has decided to exert dipl omatic pressure on India so that diplomatic immunity may be lifted from the 'employer'..." India denies it is sending a special envoy to Paris to deal with the Lalita case.

Lalita is placed under the care of a special judge for minors.

The situation today: Lalita is recovering. She can walk about and her wounds have healed. She is learning French and is reported to be happy. The judge has appointed an administrator to look after her. No one from the Indian Embassy has been able to see her. The embassy has been informed that Lalita has made no charges against Amrit Lugun. Lugun remains in his post in Paris and goes about his duties normally. The CCEM is trying to obtain resident papers for Lalita. This correspondent has just rev ealed that Lalita is not a minor. Nor is she an orphan.

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