“Waiting for Years”: Post Nirbhaya, 3 Rape Survivors’ Raw Accounts
“I’m stuck in time, while my rapist continues to roam free. How is this justice?” A survivor speaks about her ordeal
“There was clapping and cheering in the courtroom,” most people said on the afternoon of May 5, 2017. The afternoon that the SC upheld the death penalty of the four men convicted of the ‘Nirbhaya’ gangrape and murder.
It was an unusual Friday afternoon, that 5th of May. Mostly because, for the first time in a long, long time, a rape case had reached a speedy verdict – speedier than most other rape trials in India.
“It is easily one of the quickest verdicts we’ve seen!” agreed Aishwarya Bhati, advocate-on-record at the Supreme Court, in her conversation with The Quint. SC advocate Vrinda Grover too expressed hope that all rape cases would be dealt with like Nirbhaya’s.
If only they were; if only they read less like stories of the daily grind, compressed into little paragraphs of black and white squiggles, and more like tales to inspire movements. If only they incited minds to outrage, a police force to action and a court to decision every single time.
Nirbhaya’s victory may have sparked a tiny glimmer of hope, but how do most other rape cases fare – those that lie shrouded in secrecy, and therefore, far from the vigils of either candlelight or courtroom?
Smita was raped by her former boss. They’d struck up a friendship while she worked at a call centre, and even after she quit, had kept in touch – enough for her to call it a relationship. Her beau clearly didn’t think much of it because during their relationship, he attempted to force himself on her multiple times. She was raped for the first time in December 2015, following which Smita called off the relationship – but was too scared to do anything else. She was raped for the second time two months later by the same man – who wanted revenge for the break-up.
The story of Smita’s rape is a horrific one.
When I refused to meet him after the first rape, he wanted to get even. He’d taken compromising photographs of me at the time and threatened to leak them on social media.Smita
Smita was called into a hotel room, which her rapist had made sure was booked under her name. She was then force fed alcohol, while he also smeared cigarette ash all over her body. “Now everyone’s going to think you smoke, drink and have sex. Who will believe a girl like that?” he said. Smita’s story is one of bestiality – where she speaks of being “mauled, like an animal mauls his prey”.
After he was done with her, she was sent home with more threats. When the 25-year-old finally broke down and told her parents, the latter tried to file an FIR at Jatepur police station, Uttar Pradesh.
“I was told, ‘it’s probably just a lovers’ spat. You’re wasting our time’.” The FIR was finally filed after some pressure from an NGO called Jan Sahas, that Smita had called out of desperation. The most intriguing aspect?
A chargesheet has still not been filed.
Once you file an FIR, police have to carry out a thorough investigation and based on their findings, file a chargesheet. If the accused is in police custody, the chargesheet must be filed within 90 days – else the accused is entitled to bail. But police often drag their feet and the chargesheet takes ages to reach the court.Aishwarya Bhati, SC advocate
Bhati is shocked at how rape cases are still not being treated in a scientific manner.
Only in the last 5 years has the two-finger test been discontinued. How humiliating can that be? In the case of rape, the accused actually leaves his evidence in the body of the survivor. Why then do we still harbour doubts? Nirbhaya’s case had her dying declarations – three, in fact – and her friend who was a witness. It still took years, and that’s one of the fastest rape convictions in recent memory.
Smita’s next recourse is to file a petition in court to make sure her case at least sees the inside of a courtroom.
Main toh yehi ki yehi ruki reh gayi… aur woh khule aam ghum raha hai (I am stuck in time, while my rapist continues to roam free). How is this justice?Smita
When does Smita’s wait end?
Laxmi’s story is slightly different from either Smita’s or Chhoti Nirbhaya’s – she came out in the public with her tale. She actually appeared on an episode on Aamir Khan’s Satyameva Jayate in 2013 to narrate her story. It’s been 6 years since the local pundit of her village barged into her home on a day her husband wasn’t there and raped her. Laxmi turned up at the police station with a bloody head (he’d hit her on the head with a cane) and a bloodied body.
I sat in the police station, holding my head, from the afternoon till 9 at night. The cops kept on luxuriously eating their meals while I sat and bled, waiting for someone to help me.
Her FIR was finally filed late at night.
Laxmi says her husband is her biggest strength. The latter has, in fact, weathered the battle with her both in spirit and body as he was beaten almost to the point of death by the pundit’s henchmen.
He threatened to end my life if we didn’t withdraw the complaint. When I refused, they broke my leg. I was bedridden for a year.Laxmi’s husband
The Dewas-based NGO Jan Sahas stepped in to provide a sewing machine, which enabled Laxmi and her husband to make a living out of their home. Their biggest worry, however? Laxmi’s rapist still lives in the same village, just inches from the site of her rape. “I am still scared, everyday,” she admits. Laxmi has now stopped making her face or identity public as her kids are growing older. “We don’t want anyone to harm them because of our fight.”
Where does her case stand? The sessions court allowed the accused to go free on the basis of “lack of medical evidence”. It stated that the police report had shown that the survivor was “habituated to sex”.
Laxmi has since appealed to the Madhya Pradesh High Court challenging the sessions court decision, and the high court has accepted her plea. Statements are currently being recorded, but with the number of delays between dates, judgement looks a good couple of years away.
They made her undergo the two-finger test. Can anything be more harrowing?Kranti Khode, Programme Coordinator, Jan Sahas
It’s already been 6 years since she was raped.
I first met Chhoti Nirbhaya when I went to follow up on her story, a year after her rape. I’ve told her story before, but I’ve never yet managed to dam up the horror I feel each time the weight of her tiny body plops on my lap, eager to play at jigsaw puzzles with me, and I notice her scar – this deep, unshapely gash on her cheek, where her rapist had slashed her. The Quint had conferred the moniker of ‘Chhoti Nirbhaya’ on the four-year-old in December 2015 – because even when she’d been left for dead in the abyss where she was raped, she crawled out – limp and bloodied – and made her way home to tell her story.
Chhoti Nirbhaya was raped by a man she knew – someone who lived in the jhuggis along the railway lines where she still lives and whom she called ‘Rahul bhaiiya’. He lured her to a secluded spot behind the lines, with the promise of chowmein, and then ravaged her, slashed her face with a blade, stuffed her private parts with dirt and fled with her clothes. Chhoti Nirbhaya spent 28 days in hospital, but the day after she was released, she recorded her statement in Rohini district court. She also identified her rapist out of a line-up, and – according to her mother – still talks about the incident when it strikes her.
The last time I met Chhoti Nirbhaya and her older sister, we played hide-and-seek around the tracks. Both of them still pointed out the spot where they’re not supposed to go. Neither is anywhere close to forgetting.
Where is her case now? The arrested is in judicial custody and the case has gone to trial. Chhoti Nirbhaya’s grandfather and other members of her family have given their statements in court – and police and her doctor are yet to. According to her grandfather, their lawyer has assured them judgement will come within six months to a year.
It will be over two years since her rape, then.
And she gets to spend all of that time, living and playing inches away from the clump where she was raped.
Still think Nirbhaya’s verdict wasn’t speedier than most?
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