By Oxfam India:
It was the day after the festival of Holi; I was enjoying the last of the sweets that my mother had prepared for the celebration. Devi, my neighbour and oldest friend came by asking if I would be interested in accompanying her to a wedding. I readily agreed. As we stepped out, we were joined by some other youngsters from the village. We were walking through the neighbouring forest of Bhattbhoj when suddenly I found myself alone with two boys I had never met before. The younger of the two forced himself on me while his partner filmed me on his mobile phone. It was through their conversations that I figured out their names- Mohit and Mahesh.
The boys then dropped me off at the edge of my village, Jaganpuri with the threat of fearful consequences if I dared tell anyone about the incident. Back home, I remember scrubbing my face repeatedly to remove any tell tale tears, and then washing the dishes. That night, and for many nights after that, I could not sleep. Many times, I tried to talk to my parents, but never found the courage. Once I almost told my cousin. But all this while I was unaware of the fact that the video clip had already been uploaded on the internet and found its way to mobile phones. One of those who received it was Shivam Singh, and he showed the clip to my parents. Shivam and I had gotten engaged about six months ago. The wedding was called off. My parents were furious. They kept shouting at me. When the family confronted Devi, she denied having played any part in the incident.
My father, Gopinath, is a daily wage earner. He said “The only respectable solution is to have Mohit marry my daughter. Who else would want her?” He thus asked Mohit’s family to come to Jangpuri and resolve the matter before a committee of village elders. The wait stretched for 20 days. My family then approached the Jan Awaz Kendra, a block level compliant redressal centre, set up by the Mahila Kalyan Sanstan (MKS) in Jangpuri, under the Saajha Manch collective, to record and address cases of violence against women and to also offer temporary shelter to survivors. Volunteers at the centre and case workers from MKS approached the Dineshpur police station on August 26, 2013 to lodge an FIR. Guddo Devi, the coordinator of the Jan Awaz Kendra said, “The accused are from influential families and tried to build political pressure on the police. But we were unrelenting. Not only did we get the FIR lodged, we also demanded and got the case transferred to Gadarpur where the chances of influencing the investigation were slimmer”.
My evidence was recorded before the police and a magistrate. The clip was sealed, and a chargesheet including charges of rape and criminal intimidation, in addition to relevant sections of the IT act that prohibit transmission of obscene material were listed against the accused, and submitted in court. They are now jailed in Haldwani.
I still have nightmares about the incident. Everyone in my village thinks I am to blame. They taunt me that I look so happy in the clip. Like my parents, I am convinced that only marriage will put an end to my trauma. I once loved weaving baskets, but gave it up after the incident. I also gave up the sharing of jokes and village gossip with friends after Devi’s betrayal. In an attempt to rebuild my confidence, MKS took me to New Delhi on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti, to be part of a programme for women survivors. Hira Jangpangi, the director of MKS said, “Legal redress is only part of the solution. It is the fight against perceptions—one’s own and of society’s that is tougher. We are counselling her to learn some skills which will make her financially independent. In Delhi, Sarita spoke to the media bravely and narrated her ordeal”.
This was my first step in the journey to get back to the life I once knew. I had dropped out of school after class 5 because I was embarrassed about being the tallest in my class. Though the enormity of my ordeal was far bigger than my age of 15 and a half years, in tackling it I have discovered reservoirs of courage and hope that I never knew I possessed. I am now convinced that traditions do not have all the answers and that legal help is a viable option.