How Mother-Daughter Have Been Locked in a Battle Against Rape
Gayatri* cannot tell you her daughter’s story without crying. She thought the ordeal was over when she made it public – when she walked (almost) across the length and breadth of the country for 60 days, for a ‘Dignity March’ (or ‘Garima Yatra’) through January and February.
She spoke, during the march – emboldened by the presence of many other survivors and family – about her own daughter who was raped multiple times in the past few years.
During the march, Gayatri says, she and her husband were able to forget how things were at home. How things had been, since 2014, when Priya had allegedly first been raped and Gayatri had complained.
From a Dignity March Outside to Humiliation at Home
From accolades and camaraderie for two months, however, Gayatri* returned to a tragic reality. While she and her husband canvassed populous Indian states on foot, speaking to multiple people about their minor daughter, Priya was threatened and intimidated for weeks by people in their hamlet – far off the beaten road – in Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh.
When the parents returned on the evening of 22 February (the March concluded that morning), they claim they were told of the happenings by their three children.
Amu Vinzuda, district programme coordinator for Jan Sahas – an organisation that works for survivors of sexual violence – and one of the volunteers at the March, corroborated this, claiming that Gayatri’s face was bloody when he and his team had rushed to the spot.
He claims that the attackers had already called the local cops beforehand and told them that Gayatri’s family might conspire against them – which is why, when the agitated family dialled 100, the police responded reluctantly.
According to Superintendent of Police OP Singh, and as quoted by The Indian Express, he had directed the police to conduct a medical examination as soon as the family’s call had come to his attention. Singh also claimed that protection was provided to the minor and her family – a claim that Gayatri confirmed, saying that after two days of fearful living in a resource centre that Jan Sahas provided, the cops came to escort them home.
A Never-Ending Cycle of Assault
For 38-year-old Gayatri – who lives with her husband, two daughters and a son, and her mother-in-law – the village has always been the microcosm of the crime perpetrated against her daughter – a crime that was never solved, by people who never listened. Short-lived exit from – and inevitable return to – their village only reinforces Gayatri’s resignation:
Gayatri and Priya’s saga of pain and interminable waiting has stretched across multiple resigned visits to a solitary police station (and back) over the course of many years. But to no avail.
She first picked up the baton for her daughter’s fight when – in 2014 – Priya would come home, complaining of being harassed on the streets by some men. The man at the helm was a thakur named Hitesh, well-known to passersby.
Not even when the molestation escalated to daily harassment – and one day, allegedly, to rape.
“We went down to the thana to lodge an FIR, but they kept referring us to the local panchayat. An FIR was lodged with difficulty, but after some half-hearted investigation, they let the case go. When we kept pushing and insisting on an arrest, they suggested we just resolve this with the sarpanch.”
The sarpanch, Gayatri says, asked them “khamakha baat kyun bara rahe ho? Jo ho gaya so ho gaya (why are you unnecessarily escalating the matter? Whatever has happened, has happened).” She says he made the alleged rapist apologise to her daughter, after which the family felt like they were helpless to pursue any other action. Until it happened again.
“Hitesh and his friends had been silenced for the time being, but not for long. On 3 April 2017, Priya was walking out to the fields where her father and I work; she was bringing us food from home. Hitesh had been waiting along the path he knew she would take. When he saw her approach, he accosted her quickly and knocked the bowls of food out of her hands. Then, before she could call for help, he’d dragged her to an abyss under a bridge and raped her.”Gayatri
Gayatri says that when she went home and saw Priya, she was shocked at how she looked. “She was bleeding and shivering. She could hardly find the words to tell me what had happened.” Once she had, however, Gayatri lost no time in marching off to the police station – the same place that had turned her away so many times before. This time, though, she claims she felt a rage course through her that wouldn’t be subdued.
Jan Sahas got involved right after, and it was at their behest – an external party – that the cops followed up, for the first time, into Gayatri’s complaint. A copy of the FIR can be seen below:
However, it’s been two years since the family has been able to see the light at the end of the tunnel – the first hearing in their case took place on 13 March 2019 in Mauranipur district court of Uttar Pradesh. Opening statements were made, and Gayatri was able to say her piece.
But Gayatri’s voice over the phone doesn’t sound hopeful; instead, she’s terrified.
“We keep fearing that they will kill us. They’ve already beaten us up once. And now that the case has begun, who’s to say they won’t cause us more harm?” asks a paranoid Gayatri over the phone – incidentally, a phone borrowed from her son.
Gayatri’s conversation is riddled with muffled sobs and terrified pleas. Every statement is punctuated by 'please, kuch kijiye?’ For a woman and her daughter who’ve been battling for five years for just about anyone to hear their story, a court that will listen sounds too good to be true.