Documentary| We investigate the lives of 4 sexual assault survivors from the backward Bundelkhand region for a year.
AISHWARYA S IYER: 01 Jun 2022
Reporter, Cameraperson and Producer: Aishwarya S Iyer
Video Editor: Prashant Chauhan, Deepthi Ramdas
Illustrations: Erum Gour
Cameraperson: Athar Rather
Assisted on Transcriptions: Kiran Chaudhary
(Names of all four sexual assault survivors and their relatives have been changed to protect their identity. This documentary tracks the lives of four sexual assault survivors for over a year from UP’s Banda district which is in the backward region of Bundelkhand.)
“I am so scared, my mind is not working. They (people known to the rape accused) came home right now and kept telling me to sign on some document, take Rs 1 lakh and compromise. They said if I do not, then my son’s life would be in danger.”
These are the words of 50-year-old Sunita from January 2020, who had been protesting outside her dilapidated home saying she won’t consume food or water till her four gang rape accused get arrested. But, in less than 48 hours, she had put her thumb impression on a document and compromised. “See what has happened after all this, I am dying every minute. I would rather get suffocated to death, that would bring me peace,” she breaks down while speaking to this reporter even as the blue ink on her right thumb is still drying. Sunita had repeatedly told us she did not want to compromise, that she wanted a case to be registered, but she was shamed to silence instead.
Her life is a window into the continued violence that sexual assault survivors face after the attack on them.ADVERTISEMENT
The hardships that follow are a lot more exploitative, complex and murky than what meets the eye. Especially if the women belong to low-income groups from the backward region of Bundelkhand in UP’s Banda district. There is rampant harassment, which is further accelerated due to a near absence of literacy, legal knowledge or media coverage.
According to the latest National Crime Records data, UP (largest state in India with the largest population) tops the list of the number of crimes against women at 60,000 cases. It also tops the list for the number of crimes against girl children at about 7,500 cases. However, this data fails to capture what our documentary does, the nightmare that begins after the crime is committed. To investigate this suspect reality, we decided to stay with the stories of four such women from Uttar Pradesh’s Banda district.
All through the time we tracked their stories, certain emotions stood out overwhelmingly while communicating with them. Hence there is Sunita’s story is one of shame, Garvita’s story is one of ridicule, Kishori’s is one of near exhaustion and then there is Naina’s rare story of resilience.
Sunita’s Story of Shame: ‘Despite Compromising, I am Being Threatened’
The local Narini police station’s SHO RK Tiwari told this reporter in Banda that ‘they would have investigated the matter further, but since they got to know they are reaching a compromise among themselves’ they decided to not intervene. “In such a case, we do not intervene, as it becomes a personal matter,” Tiwari concluded.
However Sunita’s story never ended with the compromise she so reluctantly struck.
Despite doing an what is an outright favour to the rape accused, thereby ensuring the four remain out of jail, she continues to be punished for a brutal crime committed against her.
The Supreme Court has said that rape cases cannot be settled out of court as they are seen as a crime against the state. Despite that, the UP police looked the other way, noting her allegations of gang rape as one of a physical assault while giving the accused time to strick a compromise.
With the Rs 1 lakh, she bought food to ear and medicines as well. Her husband and son do not have jobs. Her husband who has left her to fight this battle herself, had told her that she brought shame to the family. “My father told her (Sunita), why didn’t she die instead? Now the family has to deal with this stain,” her son, Guddu, told this reporter.
Even one year later, grappling with being shamed by her own husband amongst others, Sunita still sits and gets up in pain and spends her nights sleepless and weeping.
“They are still threatening us. Now they say that they will somehow retrieve the money that they gave me to compromise. They threaten to frame my son under false charges. They also threaten to steal my buffaloes. So, I removed them from here to my parents home,” she explains in distress sitting at the same spot she had protested one year ago.
“I will never protest again. I have a young son and my home faces these fields,” she says, giving us a heartbreaking glimpse into her everyday reality. One that is filled with shame and fear, where her son’s life is predicated on her continued silence and harassment.
While Sunita’s case will never be seen as one of gang rape, our next survivor, Garvita was able to get her case registered. However, only after she paid a huge price.
Garvita’s Story of Ridicule: ‘Consumed Poison, and Only Then Complaint Was Registered’
“I consumed poison because I was tensed. Everywhere I went, they would say that my allegations of harassment are false. Which is why I consumed poison, as I was being humiliated everywhere.”
Describing the incident, 35-year-old Garvita said the accused, Mohd Saleem, had come to buy cigarettes from her store outside her home. She declined as he owed her money from before, this made him angry and he forcibly took the cigarettes and left. Garvita called the police who intervened and made Saleem pay his dues. The matter was settled and could have ended there. But the fact that she had called the cops on him, made Saleem angry. Hours later, he returned to Garvita’s home to allegedly take revenge.
He said, Garvita alleges, “You filed an FIR against me and the police came. Now I’ll show you why I have come here. Then, where we are sitting right now, he pushed me down, took my saree off, and tore my blouse… He said that till the time he does not rape me he will not be in peace.”
It was only after 35-year-old Garvita, woke up at the emergency ward of a hospital, that a complaint was registered against the accused. “Even then the police did not add the section of how he attempted to remove my saree, throw me down and rape me. They only included sections of trespassing and harassment. Should they not add those sections?” she asked this reporter while adding that she has no clue where the investigation stands.
The police has registered a case at the Naraini police station and said the investigation is ongoing.
Despite the complaint, she continued to be ridiculed in the village. She says, “He tried to rape me. I became a joke in the village. I got a case registered against him, but nothing is moving forward. I do not like living in this village anymore as ever since the case began, I have been constantly ridiculed in the village. People ask me if I was able to achieve anything. He is still living and roaming around as usual. He keeps staring and laughing at me. What has gotten worse for him?”
Locals also keep asking her about the status of the case, “They ask if we have compromised again and again,” she says.ADVERTISEMENT
It does not help that the Saleem’s brother, Mustafa, is reportedly close to the panchayat members. He goes around telling people, including this reporter, that Garvita is doing drama. Despite not seeing the incident himself, he defends his brother. “She did drama, otherwise the case would not have been registered against my brother. She pretended to consume poison after which she went to the hospital. She then went to the police station and then the police immediately picked up my brother,” Mustafa says in contempt of her.
Despite that when Saleem was released he would stalk Garvita, look at her and smile, take rounds around her home and shop and wait for her to come to her terrace to put her clothes out to dry.
One year later when we went to meet her, not much had changed.
Garvita or Mustafa did not know where they case stood. The accused Saleem was packed and sent off to another city, this time somewhere in Mumbai. While the villagers were still talking about her. When he returned to the village, he would still follow her, smile at her and pass remarks.
Unable to deal with the constant ridicule, Garvita has been driven out of her home and village. “Several times, I think that we must leave this village. Which is why for four to five months, ask anyone, the house was locked. I took my kids and went to my mother’s home because I do not like living here,” she says. Ever since The Quint met her, one year later, she has barely been home.
Kishori’s Story of Exhaustion: ‘The Lawyer of the Sexual Assault Accused Threatened to Kill My Mother’
Of our four survivors, Kishori is the youngest. 9 when we met her first and 10-years-old now, her life has upturned ever since the incident.
“The accused, a man called Bacha (who is 24-years-old), caught hold of me, put a piece of cloth in my mouth, took me to his aunt’s home and did filthy things to me. He took my clothes off as well…,” Kishori’s voice dips at this moment and we stop asking her queries.
Her mother, Mala, recalls how she found her daughter and asked her what happened repeatedly. Upon hearing the details she got furious and took her to the police station, the next day. A complaint was registered, but they allege they were met with police insensitivity right from the beginning.
Describing what happened, Mala said, “The police officer (female) pulled her hair and scolded her, told her that nothing of that sort had happened with her. The police officer said, ‘Useless person! You are lying. You are saying such filthy things!’ Then she asked her, ‘Is that your mother sitting there?’ When she said yes, the police officer pulled a curtain between us and Kishori started crying even more loudly inside.”
One year later, when we returned to meet the mother and daughter we were startled by a revelation the now ten-year-old made during the interview. When the girl had gone to give her statement in front of the judge, she recalls how she was threatened in open court, “While going inside, a man said that he will kill my mother. He threatened me and said that both me and my mother will languish in jail.”
This reporter asked, “Who was around you when you were threatened?”
“No one was around me. I was alone.”
As a consequence when she went to meet the judge, Khushi said, “I said exactly what the lawyer told me to say, that nothing happened to me. The judge asked again if nothing had happened. I said no, nothing had happened.”
I asked the mother how that was possible, irritated she said that she had to take care of her newborn son and could not go in. Within the span of the year, a mother who had stood tall next to her daughter now sounded beaten and exhausted.
“The sarpanch is telling me to compromise, that is all. They are saying that I have to move ahead and get my daughters married. So, will I be able to deal with the court hearings? They say if we pursue this matter, my daughter will not get married. There is pressure to compromise from everyone,” Mala says.
Kishori’s father spends the better part of the year away from home, selling clothes in Rajasthan, leaving Mala to deal with this pressure to compromise from the elders of the villagers alone.
“When I go to the court again and again, I get scared myself. I think about why I filed this case to begin with. I even scold my daughter and tell her not to go to anyone’s house. I tell her I am suffering because of her. I wonder if this case will lead to a compromise, or if the testimony will end. So that I do not have to go to court again,” Mala says, adding that while she has brought up the topic of compromise, it is Kishori’s father who is strictly against it.
When confronted with the allegations the police got defensive and denied all allegations. The investigating officer from Naraini police station, Chandrapal Singh, said he can call the girl and her mother right away. “I was on the case. I questioned her for two days and arrested the accused. The girl was scared. We gave her food, and ensured she ate in the court,” he said.
While this happens, the brother of the accused in the case has said that the case is false and is one related to land grabbing. When asked about how his lawyers threatened the child in court, he claimed to not know anything about it. “I will speak to the lawyer about this and get back to you. I did not know this,” Bacha’s elder brother, Ajit, said.
As the trial continued in court, Mala and Kishori’s story is one of exhaustion in the face of threats and pressure to compromise from the elders. Despite all of it whatever, with little hope of the case reaching a verdict, over a year later the accused in the case has been sentenced to 20 years in prison under the POCSO Act.
While telling me this on the phone Mala does not sound too happy. “I am still worried if Khushi will ever get married, I do not want her to step out anymore. I am worried,” she says.
Naina’s Story of Resilience: ‘The Police Closed the Case and Didn’t Even Tell Us’
“Yes, I will go to the police and will send them to jail. I will not leave them (the sexual assault accused) like this. I will do something,” 15-year-old Naina tells this reporter in the context of the police closing the investigation in her case.
“They did not even tell us why the case is closed. They did not even come to take my statement or my father’s statement. We will go to the courts again and get a case registered. It will happen,” Naina tells me. Naina says that she was abducted in May 2019 and was assaulted for several months. But it was only after she and her father made several rounds of the court and got a court order, that the police finally registered the case in January 2020. Among the accused is a policeman as well.
Explaining the incident, Naina said she was abducted from her home by four boys from the same village. They made her sit on a rickshaw and took her into a train that led them to Surat in Gujarat. “For two and a half months, they sexually harassed me. They would force me to do things with them, tear my clothes and try to rape me,” Naina said.
Eventually the rescue mission happened when a policeman and Naina’s father Dharampal showed up. “When I told the policeman everything, he said I should not tell the truth and say only what he was telling me to say. That if I tell the truth, my parents would be sent to jail, and I would be sent to Nari Niketan,” she said adding that the time they were in Gujarat, two rooms were booked. “In one room, dad stayed, in the other the police officer kept me. After I would sleep, he would feel me up. When I would ask him why he was doing this, he would say that I should not say anything as the consequences would be bad,” she said.
The mother of one of the rape accused, Sushila, said the allegations against the four boys were false. “The girl is cunning. If the girl had not been like this, these things would not have happened. The girl is the problem. Was she getting money, why could the father not stop her and scold her?” She also said that Naina’s father was doing black magic on her, “The father has made some concoction and given her something to eat and drink. That makes his daughter lie. He tells her what to say. The girl is the one who clings onto boys openly on the street herself, and then goes to register a case at the police station.”
The chatter about her having a loose character is something that has been circulating right from the start, and continues even today. But unaffected by all this, Naina and Dharampal’s focus is only on pursuing the case.
One year later when we returned to the ground, Naina informed us that the case was closed. “When you came to Banda last time, the case was being investigated, but now this case has been closed. I was not even told that the case has been closed. They did not speak to us or tell us what was in it at all. We found out only after my father got a lawyer, paid him, and got a copy of the charge sheet. The report says that my testimony is false, and their testimony is true. The police say whatever I had said was a lie,” she says.
The police has however said there is no wrongdoing in this case and that it was closed. But, Naina continues to call this reporter up every other week basically telling me that the case has not been opened yet.
On the call, Dharampal said, “Horrible things have happened with my daughter, I will keep trying to fight the case. I will keep trying to reopen the case, even if it takes a year or two. We will wait to be heard, which should eventually happen. I will also approach the HC in the case, if needed.”ADVERTISEMENT
SP Banda Outlines Measures to Track Sexual Assaults
When The Quint was on the ground in January 2020, the then SP Ganesh Shaha had met us and said we could sit for a formal interview the next day. However when we returned to interview him, we were told that he had been suspended. Upon asking more questions, we got to know he had been suspended after being named in a transfer racked.
The current SP, Abhinandan, outlined the different measures the police takes to track sexual assault survivors.
“On different levels, we monitor (sexual assault cases). Through mahila (women) help desks, then there is the anti-Romeo squad, then there are local beat constables. These are the mechanisms through which we try to… and that is our highest priority. If any offence is committed against women. We also maintain data of women related offences, and to beat constables we always give them that data. They go to that woman or girl’s house, they talk to the family persons and we ensure that the accused are not threatening them. That there is no compulsion to move out of the village or town.”
SP Banda Abhinandan to The Quint.
When informed that this was not happening on the ground. That Sunita’s complaint never became an FIR, that Garvita has been forced to leave her village, that Kishori was threatened in open court and Naina’s case was closed without telling her, he asked us for the details of the case.
We also told him we were worried about the threats the survivors may face after the documentary was published, which he acknowledged. He asked us to share details with him, which we did. “Please give the details, because I will not let anything of that sort happen. So please share the details and I’ll take appropriate measures,” he said.
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