By Kanika Sharma:
I was born and brought up in a small place called Chhindwara in Madhya Pradesh. I have always been one of those who believed that life in small places meant one being closer to nature and to one another, that life was simpler and there was more love and compassion in people’s heart. I had always believed that Chhindwara was that kind of a place which wouldn’t hesitate to stand up in solidarity against injustice. But my town failed me. And more importantly, it failed a child who needed its protection, warmth and nurture the most.
Rupa (name changed) will be turning 15 this year. She is mute and was born with a disability. She comes from an adivasi family of daily wage labourers who have neither land nor a house of their own. On the evening of 13th April, 2014, her father, after earning his wage from a day’s hard work gave Rupa Rs. 10 to buy her favourite biscuits from the near-by market. Rupa, however, didn’t come back home that evening. Four men abducted and gang-raped her.
On the night of 14th April, she was left at a crowded place from where she walked a long distance to reach home – in pain and in confusion. She couldn’t understand what had happened to her and why. She was, after all, just a child, that too with multiple disabilities. After she reached home in a distraught state, her mother, seeing her changed clothes and physical condition, realised what had happened to the child. Through her voiceless expressions, Rupa told her mother that she was taken to a house by a man on a motorbike and there, they “did wrong to her”.
The FIR was lodged the very next day by her mother. But what followed after that reveals how the so-called supporting institutions and the society at large function. Yes, the police did register the FIR, and yes, the medical examination of the child did happen. But was she treated the way she should have been? No. Were the protocols, both medically and legally, followed in a case like this? No. Was there some show of sensitivity, of understanding, of support? No. Has there been any progress in the case in the last one and half months? No.
For more than two weeks after the incident, the police could not arrange for experts qualified to understand her expressions and emotions, thereby delaying recording her statements. In the meanwhile, everyone, from the woman officer who was the initial investigating officer to the SP, considered themselves “experts” and questioned the girl one after the other. Naturally, she was neither in the state to face their harrowing questions, nor could the police station be a comforting place for any child. Legally, she should not have been called to the police station at all. The police, if at all they wanted to ask something, ought to have gone to the child’s house and that too in civil dress so that an enabling and supportive environment is ensured. These are the basic protocols that must be followed in cases involving minor victims. Instead of this, the victim and her family were subjected to mistreatment. The police passed insulting comments about the girl’s disabilities, called her “mad” and told the mother to send the child to a mental asylum. Due to a complete lack of will and inaction by the police, this case has not moved ahead an inch.
Similarly, one can sense a blatant breach of medical protocols in this case. For example, the SP told one of the reporters that in the medical report, it has been stated that there is ‘old tear in the hymen’ of the victim. Now, after having confirmed with the health experts working on such cases, we now know that no examiner/doctor can write such a thing in the report. Tear in the hymen, old or new, is not the scientific determinative of sexual assault as hymenal tears can occur due to any vigorous activity such as swimming, cycling, or even falling while playing and therefore they must not even be mentioned in the medical examination report of a rape. More importantly, we strongly suspect that the banned two-finger test has been performed on the girl. Although, the confirmation of this will come to us through the medical report for which we have filed an RTI, this breach of protocols is clear violations of human rights of the girl. And all this has gone completely unnoticed.
When the police, doctors and administration fail, one always expects that the fourth pillar of democracy and the civil society, both of which are important in forming the public opinion about issues as well, would come forward. But in this case, even their role has been disappointing. While the media did initially cover this issue, it treated the issue like mere news, without giving it the significance it demanded. Neither were there follow-up reports which would have helped in building some pressure, nor any articles, debates, opinion pieces which are important for forming public opinion. The civil society, consisting of NGOs, unions and so on, also didn’t act the way the issue demanded. People working for “women empowerment” did organise seminars and meetings at that very time, but didn’t find this issue to be significant enough to take up. No help has reached the survivor from their side as well.
It has been more than one and a half months now. Rupa, who used to love roaming around, now stays mostly at home, under the constant vigil of her 10-year-old brother. Her mother, after many days of unemployment due to rounds to the police station, has now finally started going to a construction site because she has to feed her children somehow. The accused are roaming free. The police is busy denying the allegations of their inaction and calling the family of the girl “uncooperative”. There has been no compensation or rehabilitation efforts for the survivor. The doctors continue to remain uninformed, thereby violating many more such protocols. The media have found something more newsworthy and the NGOs working for empowering women are meeting the SP to make the city more women-friendly. And in all this, my town continues to move on, unaffected and ignorant.
Note: The photo used is only for representational purposes and in no way represents the survivor or the case.
About the author: Kanika Sharma has raised her voice and is trying to fight this case to ensure that Rupa (name changed) gets the justice she deserves.
If you are a survivor, parent or guardian who wants to seek help for child sexual abuse, or know someone who might, you can dial 1098 for CHILDLINE (a 24-hour national helpline) or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.