A Quiet Death of Trust: 10-Yr-Old Raped by Stepdad, Gets Abortion
Where does a 10-year-old girl, raped by her stepfather and abandoned by her mother, go to seek solace?
A semi-lit labyrinth of corridors leads to the chambers where the members of the Child Welfare Council (CWC) in Rohtak, sit. The place looks almost sterile – like a hospital corridor, what with its ceaseless series of rooms – and you’d never guess that the room right at the end of that maze is the place that ushers in victimised and abused children, doles out necessary instructions to the police, and admonishes a stray guardian or ten.
This is the council that’s dealing with the case of the 10-year-old rape survivor – the survivor who was raped repeatedly by her stepfather, impregnated, and currently lives without a family.
“She looked broken when she was brought to us after her stint in the hospital,” says Uma Nehra, a CWC member who sits at the table with half a dozen colleagues. “She walked in on her short legs, looking completely lost, wondering where she would go. We’ve currently housed her in our Child Care Institute, waiting till the police have investigated her family.”
The story of Rohtak’s child survivor is a sorry one – one that subverts most easily-held narratives of rape in the urban milieu. It is a story of gendered power structures, unlikely friends, and a whole world in between.
It is the Story of the Neighbours Who Cared
10-year-old Maya* is the second of four children (the eldest child is 12). Before the incident, she lived in a rented room on the first floor of a nondescript Rohtak house with her three siblings, a mother and a stepfather. The first people to notice that anything was wrong with her were her neighbours.
She’d complain of stomach ache, and her older sister would keep nudging her mother, but the latter would brush it off. It was eventually the neighbours who saw her walking hunched over and notified the cops.Neelam, CWC member
The cops eventually got a medical test done after notifying the CWC, and discovered the little one to be anywhere between 18 weeks and 22 weeks pregnant.
A medical board was constituted which decided an MTP (Medical Termination of Pregnancy) was far safer than a delivery, and the former was performed.
It Is the Story of Dysfunction
Maya never really knew what was wrong with her.
When we met her in the hospital, she said her father (she called her stepfather ‘father’) would touch her a lot. She said he’d tried the same with her sister, but the latter would pick up a chappal and ward him off anytime he got too close. She didn’t have much sense of what had really happened to her.Uma
Things got complicated when her mother put in a request at the thana.
She said she wanted her husband freed. ‘If you lock him up, who’s going to take care of me and the other children? He earns Rs 10,000 a month; we depend on him’.Inspector Garima, investigating officer (IO) in Maya’s case
It didn’t end there. The 10-year-old was urged by her mother to speak to the cops and the doctors, requesting her stepfather’s release.
“She asked us to let him out,” recounts Raj Singh Sangwan, Chairman of the CWC. “When we asked her if she knew what had happened, she had no clue. ‘What if he tries to hurt you again?’ we asked her. ‘I shall telephone you immediately,’ she beseeched.”
The CWC has currently determined that it isn’t safe for her to go back to her family, and has kept her in the Child Care Institute (CCI) – an act that the mother protested yet again.
We said she could stay with her daughter if she wished, but she chose not to.Neelam
The cops are currently investigating a new angle in the case – that of the first husband. Maya’s mother had apparently married her ‘dead’ husband’s younger brother and moved to Rohtak as migrant labourers after the tragedy. However, the cops now suspect Maya’s biological father might be alive after all, and that she had eloped with his brother, Suresh.
While we carry out the social investigation and determine that someone other than her current guardians – perhaps her biological father, or his family is still alive and can take care of Maya – we cannot return her to her home.IO Garima
According to both the Rohtak police and the CWC board, Maya’s mother “is currently expressing far more interest in freeing her husband than she is in living with her daughter”.
She kept saying, ‘How will I survive if you don’t let him go?’ She insisted she would make sure he didn’t try anything like that again.Neelam
However, the question that arises at this point is that while the CWC’s care for the child is an understandable priority, why isn’t anything being done to provide for the mother financially? To The Quint’s question, Dr Raj Singh Sangwan indicates that a sum of Rs 2,000 per month will be provided to the mother until Maya turns 18. But with the possibility of the stepfather in jail and three other children to feed, the relief may not have amounted to much for a woman who still lives in the cloistered holds of a semi-urban patriarchal set-up.
Because, while every onlooker vilifies the woman for standing by the husband and not the child, it is important to consider that for Maya’s mother, the ideas of gendered roles, her place in society and izzat are far different from yours and mine, many kilometres away.
Where Does a Child Survivor Go?
In the fight for Maya’s family and to find who the real ‘villains’ are, where does an abused 10-year-old, who seems to have nowhere to go, turn?
The Quint, during its visit to Rohtak, went to where the family was said to be living, but found the door to the house locked. A curious group of onlookers present insisted the mother had moved away with the rest of her children, while the stepfather remains in police custody.
The police seem to have little clue about where she may have gone, except to vaguely speculate that she “may have gone back to her village” and “we are investigating all options”.
Who now takes care of a child who isn’t even aware that a crime has been committed against her?
Aishwarya Bhati, Advocate-on-record, Supreme Court, feels the state at least can be helpful towards her in such a case.
Legally, the child will not have to pursue the case herself. In a criminal case, if the victim does not know the nuances of the crime or is too young or cannot afford it, the state fights the case for her. She will only need to give evidence. However, her psychological scars will be far bigger. Rape is not just a physical offence – it scars a survivor for life.
Maya’s case will be filed under the POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) Act, which provides relief and rehabilitation to the child in question –
However, while under law, she is entitled to all her needs, these laws aren’t robust enough. The biggest worry is that the family is hostile. How long will she continue at the CWC?Aishwarya Bhati
Maya’s battle will be a gruelling one – but it will be far harder without the family she thought was her safe space.
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