By Manjari Singh:
Ten years have passed, but this rape survivor from Lucknow is still far from giving up. She is still waiting for that final verdict and is determined to prove she is more than just the ‘Ashiana Rape Victim‘.
What would Zahira’s (name changed) father not give up to wipe out the haunting memories from his life of that fateful night of 2 May back in 2005 when one of his daughters, then 13-year-old Zahira, a housemaid, came back home from work in her blood stained clothes accompanying a stranger. Just like any other evening, she was returning home along with her younger brother after a day’s work and what happened while the brother and sister duo were still on the way has become a lifelong curse for the entire family.
Around 6 pm, four youngsters armed with fearlessness and power dragged Zahira inside a moving car to rape her, beat her mercilessly and burn her with cigarettes. And that wasn’t all. They made her watch porn clips and also inserted a gun barrel inside her vagina and the torture continued at a deserted plot in the Nishatganj area of Lucknow where two more boys joined them. When they were done, they dumped her to die on the empty roads.
The incident rocked the city which was anyway considered not very safe for women.
After much investigation, police arrested all six men involved in the heinous crime, namely, Gaurav Shukla, Faizan, Asif Siddiqui, Saurabh Jain, Aman Bakshi and Bhartendu Mishra respectively. Two of the accused, Asif Siddiqui and Saurav Jain were declared juveniles by the court, but died after few months in separate road accidents. The rest of them were sentenced to imprisonment of 10 years.
Zahira is 23 now, and all the injuries and marks on her body that the rape caused her have been healed, but the wounds on her mind are as fresh as they were ten years ago. The reason she says is the fact that the main culprit, Gaurav Shukla, is still roaming free. The Santro car and the plot, where the girl was raped, both belonged to him.
“My Daughter came home alive but life after that remained restricted to the court and Police station,” says Zahira’s father.
Shukla, proven guilty by the court, however, has been trying to prove that he was a minor when he raped her. “Gaurav is the nephew of Arun Kumar Shukla, a history- sheeter himself, who contested the Loksabha elections from Unnao in 2009,” says Madhu Garg, State President, All India Democratic Women Association (AIDWA). “His elder brother is a politician too, because of which it is becoming tougher to convict him,“ she adds. The district court had declared him juvenile and now he is trying to challenge the court with all his might. The ultimate sufferer of this battle which seems like never ending at this moment is Zahira and her poor family.
Gaurav’s real date of birth is March 14, 1987, and that clearly means he was 18 when he raped the girl on May 2, 2005. But, the documents he presents, say he was born on October 2, 1989, that means he was 16 when he raped the girl. “We even checked the hospital records for his birth date and the document clearly stated March 14, 1987,” states Garg. Shukla got a fake certificate made from some Chaya Public School, a school made up of tin and shade, which is apparently meant for students belonging to the lower strata of society. “The fact is, he had gone to schools like St Francis (one of the very prominent schools of Lucknow) and others from where he was chucked out because of his poor conduct. Why would somebody who roams around in fancy cars and lives in a sprawling house would attend a school made up of tin,” asks Garg agreeing that this is a perfect example of how power and politics come into play. “But it’s been too long now, there are several other issues that are waiting to be addressed, we can’t be waiting for this one case to be resolved all our lives.”
And that was not all Gaurav Shukla’s family did to prove him juvenile. Soon after the rape, he got involved in some petty issue and lodged a fake FIR at Mahanagar police station. With the help of fake school certificates, he proved himself to be a minor and went to a remand home for some time. “He used the same documents to prove himself minor at the time of rape and at first he succeeded too, but after further investigation it was found to be fake,” says lawyer Jalaj Gupta, who has been representing Zahira’s case since 2009.
In fact, each one of them tried their level best to prove themselves as minors, barring two who are dead, and everybody else except Shukla got convicted in 2007 under the charges of kidnapping, abduction and rape. They are all out now on bail, it’s just Gaurav Shukla who has not been convicted even once.
Counting from March 2014, when the court finally declared him ‘adult’ during the crime, the hearing has been delayed more than 100 times and Zahira’s poor father makes it a point to attend every session commuting from one corner of the city to another, only to know that the hearing is further delayed. “It costs me 200 rupees every time I come to court and I do that at least twice a month,” says the father. “I reach the court at sharp 11 am, sit and wait for Gaurav to come with his lawyer. He signs some papers and leaves and there are times, when he is a no show,” he adds with a tinge of sadness.
“Gaurav’s family has all the money in the world and they hire costliest of lawyers who try their level best to drag the case and perhaps this is all Gaurav’s family wants. They want Zahira’s father to withdraw,” says Garg. “There was a time when he used to get driven in an official car, it was only after we created propaganda around it and the story came in the media, he started coming in his personal car,” she adds.
And the day the writer went to court, in a hope to get the glimpse of the rapist, he chose to skip. His brother who is a public prosecutor was there and so was his bodyguard, but Shukla was nowhere to be found. “His whole family is corrupt, his brother got a second wife without divorcing the first one, the poor woman is wandering here and there for justice. That’s a separate story, but it breaks my heart all the time to see what a common man is to power and money,” adds Garg.
All this breaks Zahira’s heart but doesn’t deter Zahira’s father from attending court and hoping to get justice one day. One look at Gaurav Shukla and he gets determined more than ever. “I am told that he is happily married and even has a child while my daughter has been labelled as ‘Ashiana rape victim’,” says the furious father. When asked why is it so important for him to see Gaurav behind the bars, he says, “I know he will soon be out on the bail after he is jailed but I want to see him going to the prison for once.” He further says that he is aware of the fact that there are hundreds of rape cases pending for the decision and feels for those girls and families who succumbed to power and money. “I was also offered money, but I chose to fight and seek justice but yes this battle is getting longer than I expected it to be,” he says.
In search of work, Zahira’s father came to Lucknow from Assam some 25 years ago. He worked as a rag picker in his early days and then slowly and gradually set up his own scrap business but these days it’s the court hearings that are keeping him busy due to which he has not been able to visit his native place. “And what would I tell them had happened to Zahira? All they want to know is why am I not marrying her off,” he says.
But he is least bothered about the tattered reputation. “I am thankful to the government which has provided me monetary aid to fight the case. I do feel like giving up at times but quitting at this moment will mean wasting all the previous efforts,” he says with affirmation.
Second amongst six siblings, Zahira seems to be just like another young girl, except that justice delayed has broken her inside out. “She used to be even more timid when I first met her in 2006, she would not stop sobbing and was not able to converse in Hindi,” says Rohit Kant, who had been Zahira’s lawyer till 2009. Living with her family was not the safest option for her as the family was continuously threatened by politically connected people. Living at various shelter homes across the city not only kept her safe but also boosted her confidence. She learnt many life skills like sewing and painting at shelter homes and also played badminton with other children of her age.
“We learnt that she was completely ignorant and can’t even write her name so we enrolled her for tuitions and she recently passed her eighth grade with decent grades,” says Garg.
These days, she is trying to complete her tenth-grade exams through National Open School. Slightly weak in English, she aspires to become a judge someday, just to help get rape victims speedy justice. And she has questions. “Why did I not get justice the way the Delhi gang-rape victim got? All the culprits were behind bars within a week. Why did it take the Lucknow police so much time to arrest my rapists and why is Gaurav Shukla still roaming free?.” Recalling the incident she says, “I was bitten all over, and I heard Gaurav Shukla telling somebody over the phone that he wants to kill me.”
“There was a helper at the plot who told her that Zahira was not the only girl they had brought to the plot, there had been many,” adds Garg.
After the rape and after much pleading, Zahira got her torn clothes back and then the boys flung her on the deserted road where she was left to die. She was thrown somewhere near Nishatganj around 10 pm and her house is located at another corner of the city which is Sadar and she didn’t even know the address. She was found by a police constable and taken to the Ashiana police station.
The father filed an FIR the same night but was clueless how to go about the case as there was a pressure from the accused family to withdraw the case. With the help of activists, he continued the fight, but the trauma is here to stay. This is exactly the reason why Zahira’s father doesn’t allow his younger daughter to work or study. “Zahira went out to work and look what happened to her. Now my other daughter will be homebound till the time she gets married. This big bad world is meant for only the rich and powerful, not the poor ragpickers,” he signs off.