She fought a decade-long, lone battle against the men who gang-raped her during the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots. In May 2023, the district court convicted the accused men Mahesh Vir and Sikandar, and granted them 20 years of imprisonment as punishment. Despite this victory, her respite has been short-lived.
The gangrape survivor said that while the verdict gave her immense joy, things have only gone from bad to worse for her ever since. The Quint met with her at her residence in Uttar Pradesh, and two months after the verdict, and spoke to her about her life since her ‘victory’.
“I felt happy when the verdict was announced. But before that no one knew about my identity. Only my husband and family members knew. But since then, everyone has gotten to know that it’s me who is the rape survivor in the case,” she told The Quint. "So the verdict changed nothing. Things only became worse because my identity was leaked," she added.
'Have Been Running For a Decade...Still Haven't Found Peace'
As per the Indian law, in cases of sexual assault and rape, the victim’s identity cannot be revealed by the media while reporting on the case. However, she said that “many local journalists didn’t follow this rule after the verdict.” “They reported my name along with my photo as the rape survivor. Before this, not many people even around us knew that I am the rape survivor in question. My identity was hidden for the last ten years. But now, everyone knows,” she said.
She believes that this was a deliberate act.
“I think this has been done deliberately to malign me and make my life difficult,” she added.
Since her identity and her details have been leaked, she said, she has often heard many ill-thought out comments about her.
“People say all sorts of things about me. They think I am wrong. Many people, especially those who are uneducated, make bad comments about me,” she said.
“I don’t know what I should do now. I have been running relentlessly for the last 10 years. But I have still not found any peace.”
'Will Never Return To My Village'
The woman moved out of her village in Muzaffarnagar during the riots, and has never been back since. Now, even with a verdict in her favor, she is still certain that she will not return.
“I have never thought of returning to our village. How could we? Our home was burnt, all our things, our cattle, nothing was spared. They raped me. Who can go back to such a place? Even now, when I hear the name of the place, I get shivers,” she said.
The court proceedings which lasted for nearly ten years, have left a deep imprint on her psyche.
“It’s been ten years, but I have not been able to forget it. They did not leave any stone unturned. In fact they accused me of all sorts of things in court. They questioned my character, asked me irrelevant details of my home, asked me how big the field (where I was raped) was, how long the sugarcanes in the field were. I responded to the questions saying that I wasn’t there to measure the length of the sugarcanes or the field, I was more concerned about my well-being,” she said.
Initially, multiple women had accused the same men of raping them, but gradually all the complainants withdrew their complaint—except for her.
“I don’t know why the other women complainants took back their complaints. Maybe they were threatened the same way I was threatened. Some people related to the accused had even come to my home once, after the case was filed. They tried to convince me through my neighbors that they will give me money if I agree to withdraw my complaint,” she said.
Despite attempts at intimidation, she refused to compromise.
“Let’s say I did agree to settle. But I had already lost my image, my dignity, everything. I didn’t want anyone else to suffer at their hands like I did.”
However, her resolve wasn’t always this strong. In fact, initially, she didn’t want to report the crime to the police at all.
“The men, while raping me, kept saying “if you tell your husband, he will leave you...if you tell the police, we will kill you.”
“So I never wanted to report. I told my husband that too. But after I told my husband what had happened, he said that this is not my fault. He said that he is with me and that I should not be scared He got medicines for me too,” she recalled.
'I Have Been Studying From My Children, Want To Move Out Of Here'
Her living conditions today are far from ideal. Her husband, who does some tailoring work from their home, has minimal income and not enough to help their three children thrive.
“My children want to study, but I am unable to teach them well, due to income issues. I tried studying too when a teacher would come to teach my children. Now I am being taught by my children. I have learnt how to chat in English. I can also read Hindi well. I am old now, but I am trying. I want the children to do well,” she said.
Given the leaking of her photographs and name, she said she now wants to move out of Uttar Pradesh.
“I want to shift out of here. I want to move to Delhi-NCR. My only aim in life is to now see my children thrive. My future is ruined, but I want them to do well. I don’t want the horrible things people here say about me to get to them. Someday they will learn about this, but I feel they would be mature by then,” she said.