By Manjari Singh:
Usha Devi (name changed) had neither seen the ad campaign where Bollywood actor Vidya Balan urges villagers to build toilets in their houses nor did she ever felt the urgency to get one built in her house until her teenage daughter Tara (name changed) was gang raped when she went out one night to defecate. “I had always thought it would be nice to have a toilet at home for my daughter, but knowing the fact that the entire village defecates at the field, I never considered it very seriously,” she says as she chops leafy vegetables to be cooked for lunch while soaking up the sun sitting outside her mud and brick house at this village named Goverdhanpur at Kasmanda block, Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh.
Her daughter whose exact age she is not sure of (maybe 17, she says) was inside washing the utensils. “I don’t let her come out after that incident. She herself wants to stay indoors, but please come inside, she interacts well with people from newspapers,” she says recalling how Tara was raped by three men who lived not more than 100 metres away from her house.
On 8 September, last year, after finishing household chores in the evening, Tara along with her sister-in-law and cousin went to relieve herself at the nearby field when her neighbours Kundan, Babul and Sunil all in their early twenties dragged her under a mango tree and took turns to rape her. “The girls couldn’t even shout because he had put a pistol on my daughter-in-law’s head,” says Usha.
Her family ran to Tara, only to find her crying and half-conscious. Next day, the family tried to report the incident to Manpur police station but all in vain. “The SO refused to write the complaint and asked us to go away,” says Usha.
When the rapists and their families learnt that Tara’s family went to the police station to file a complaint, they started threatening them. “They said they will kill me and my sons if I reported the incident to police,” says Usha. “Kundan’s father came to me and said that he had raped many women in the past and still roaming free, his son would also roam free,” she adds.
The family that didn’t even have a proper lock on their door, made a boundary out of bricks around their house. “There was no male member in our house, all my sons were in Lucknow for work,” she sobs.
They stayed inside their house for four days without food and water and of course, without attending nature’s call. The news soon broke into local media, it was then the family came out and the arrest was made. But much to the family’s dismay, two rapists namely Sunil and Babul are out of jail and not making life any easier for Tara and her family. They are roaming around in the village and make sure to make catcalls when crossing Tara’s house. “They have started threatening us again. This time, maybe they will kill my daughter but where would my daughter defecate if not outside,” says her mother Usha.The story of Tara’s gangrape made quite a ripple on Twitter as well, even the C.M. Akhilesh Yadav tweeted assuring the arrest of the rapists but even that didn’t make anyone from the administration to survey the village, the then Sarpanch visited the family only once only to let them know the dire consequences if they didn’t take the complaint back.
“He was our distant relative and still didn’t bother to visit us, so the entire village voted him out and chose a Rajput Pradhan this time,” says Rukmani Devi, Tara’s grandmother. “That was the only time he visited our family, to tell us that he how he won’t take the responsibility of further damage done by the rapists’ family,” adds Rukmani.
Youngest of all siblings, Tara stopped going to primary school after she lost her father to cancer 10 years ago. Although she claims to be educated till class third but she can neither read or write her name. “Even my brothers didn’t continue with their education after my father died,” says Tara. Also, there was no other girl who could accompany Tara to school, that’s why she decided not to continue with her education.Tara, her friends and her cousins still go to the same field to defecate where she was kidnapped. When they need to pee, they go to the field next to their house. “There are some families who let their girls go alone but I make sure Tara always has company,” says Usha.
At nights, the female members of the family urinate in the corridor where they wash utensils. “We pee here when it rains or when it is too cold or hot,” says Usha adding how it gets difficult when they menstruate. They aren’t aware of government provided sanitary napkins and rely on the good old piece of cloth that they wash again and again to reuse. “It’s very embarrassing when my brothers are at home but we try our best to not go out when we are menstruating,” says Tara.
Rukmani Devi has been living in this village for almost 50 years but can’t recall a single incident of rape. “That was a different time I believe, we were only scared of poisonous snakes when we went out to defecate and not men,” recalling how her daughter-in-law died years ago due to snake bite. “Two of three boys who raped my granddaughter are married and their wives are still young. I don’t understand why they raped,” she says almost in the same breath.
All three of Tara brothers moved to Lucknow to work as daily wage labourers leaving their wives and children in the village itself. “There is nobody to take care of the three Bigha land that we have. We couldn’t sow wheat like most of the villagers, we have got a little bit of Bajra and that’s what we plan to eat this winter,” says Rukmani.
Since electricity is yet to reach this village and many other villages of Kasmanda block, this family like many others goes to the market to get the battery charged that lights a bulb and charge mobile phone occasionally. “There’s no electricity, how can we ever hope of getting money to get the toilet built,” says Tara grandmother.
Arun Lal, 45, is a farmer from the same village and also a father of a teenage daughter who obviously defecates in the field, is really worried about her daughter. “Being the father of a daughter, I always felt it is not very safe for her to defecate but what can we do?” he says.
Like Tara’s mother, Lal is also keen on getting a toilet made in his house but has no means to do so. He doesn’t know how squatting in the bush could affect his health but wants authorities to help him in building a toilet for his daughter. “I am scared after the rape incident that took place in the village,” he says.
Raghavendra Singh is the newly elected Pradhan of Phulpur gram sabha that comprises six villages including Govardhanpur. When told that Tara’s rapists still harass her family he very conveniently said that he has no idea how he can help her or her family.
“They will have to wait if they want a toilet. There are only 32 families from reserved category identified under BPL as per the survey done in 2002,” says Singh. “Tara’s family belongs to OBC and again as per 2002 survey, only 16 families are identified. They will have to wait till the next survey,” he says.
He further tells that only those Gram sabhas that are identified to be benefitted under Uttar Pradesh Lohia Gramin Awaas Yojana are in passable condition. “That scheme is yet to reach in this block,” he shrugs.
Although he doesn’t know the exact number of families who have got toilets constructed in their houses but he tells it could be roughly 100 out of 5200, the entire population of Phulpur Gramsabha that comprises a total of six villages. “And some of them have their own toilets constructed,” he adds.
But not everyone who got the toilets built uses them. “Reasons could be many, some say they find it hard to shun the habit of defecating under the sky while some believe it should be used by only female members of the family,” he says.
Tara’s mother eagerly wants her to marry off this year itself. She has already started looking for a suitable match but the boys and their families back out as soon as they come to know of Tara’s past. “Words travel faster than anything else in this world but then I don’t make any attempt to hide the fact either. It was not my daughter’s fault, besides I would prefer to give my daughter to a house with a toilet,” Usha concludes.
Note: Names have been changed to protect the identity of the rape survivor and her family.