Indian women are speaking out against violence, enraged by the gangrape of a 23-year-old inside a moving bus in Delhi. But past records show that women – especially in the hinterlands – who dare to speak up usually fight a lone battle against the system.
Hindustan Times profiles a few courageous rape victims in Rajasthan, who are still awaiting justice.
Bhanwari Devi (Bhateri, Jaipur district)
Bhanwari Devi was gangraped in 1992 by a group of upper-caste men in Bhateri village, 50 km from Jaipur, while trying to stop a child marriage.
At the time, she was a grassroots worker with the Women’s Development Project, run by the Rajasthan government.
The gangrape case got widespread media attention; and the Supreme Court for the first time defined sexual harassment at the workplace, in a landmark judgment popularly known as the ‘Vishaka Judgment’.
And yet twenty years on, Bhanwari still awaits justice.
When she spoke out against the perpetrators, she was accused of fabricating the entire incident. Her alleged rapists offered her money to withdraw the case, and she was shunned by her family and community. The rapists were let off by a lower court in 1995. The state government appeal against the acquittal in the high court in 1996 still drags on.
The feisty Bhanwari, now 55, who dared to come forward and speak out is now resigned and bitter. "I did not get justice. Why do you want to highlight my case again? It does not serve any purpose," she said.
Seema (Bhilwara district)
Seema (name changed) from Bhilwara was abducted by her neighbour six years ago when she was just 13 years old. The neighbour, Anil Chipa, was a married man with three children. He took her to Chittor, Ajmer and Kota, where he had planned to sell her to a pimp. However, when that plan failed, he took her to Madhya Pradesh.
When they got off at Ruthiai station in Madhya Pradesh at night, Seema saw three Railway Protection Force (RPF) policemen and she shouted for help. The policemen took Seema and Anil to the RPF quarters, where they raped her the whole night and left her bleeding.
The next morning, Anil took her back to Kota, where Seema again appealed to some police personnel to help her. The police contacted her family in Bhilwara and she returned.
Seema's parents, who are masonry workers, ran around trying to get an FIR lodged but Anil had bribed the police and they refused to help.
Tara Ahluwalia, a women's rights activist, then took up Seema's case and complained to the superintendent of police. "The SP suspended the entire Subhash Nagar thana including the station house officer Abhay Singh for failing to lodge an FIR," said Ahluwalia.
Police did arrest the two RPF constables and Anil, and the case went on for four years. In 2010, all of them were acquitted after bribing the assistant public prosecutor, said Ahluwalia.
"I don't want to talk about it. I am married now and live in fear of them as they are influential people and can harm us," said Seema.
"The police personnel tried to pay us off and wanted us to settle the case out of court. But my parents and I wanted them to be punished, and we persevered. But for what? They were let off because they were influential. I did not get justice."
Parveen (Sikar district)
Eleven-year-old Parveen (name changed) was forced into a jeep by some men and gangraped in Sikar.
It was Eid, and her mother’s friend Munni had taken Parveen and her three siblings for a movie. They were returning when Parveen was snatched by the men.
Four months down the line, and after four major surgeries, she is still unable to sit.
"She had been brutally injured. The lining between the vagina and rectum was completely torn. We had to do a colostomy in the abdomen, so she could pass feacal matter while the vaginal tear was repaired and the sphincter muscle was reconstructed," said Dr LD Agarwal, professor of paediatric surgery at JK Lone Hospital in Jaipur.
Frail and quiet, Parveen lies listless on the hospital bed. Her elder sister Chandni said Parveen used to be a chirpy young kid, but had gone completely quiet after the incident. "Sometimes she suddenly cries or wakes up from sleep when she remembers the incident."
The rapists were caught and are in jail, but still threaten the family.
"The rapists should be hanged. If the precedent is set, no one will dare to exploit girls. Till when will girls have to bear this injustice?" said Chandni.
The family hails from Bihar. There are six sisters, three of them married. Their mother ekes out a living as a worker in a plastic factory. She earns about Rs. 5,000 per month.
Savita (Barmer district)
Hamira Ram has been making rounds of police stations and courts, pleading with the authorities to find his 16-year-old daughter Savita (name changed).
Savita was first abducted in July by a distant relative, who took her to Goa where he repeatedly raped her for over two weeks.
"He was a relative of my wife's sister. He lured my daughter to elope with him, even though he is married. She ran away with Rs. 50,000 and some gold. The police were initially uncooperative till I approached the superintendent of police (SP). The police traced them to Goa, and returned only with the man. I again went to the SP, and then they rescued my daughter and brought her back from Goa."
Savita told police she was kept in confinement and raped, but the man was not arrested. On December 3, Savita was again abducted and there is no news of her since.
"Police did not register a case of rape but of abduction. They have not produced the challan in court and demand a bribe from me," says Hamira Ram, who works as a labourer and earns about Rs. 7,000 per month. He lives with his wife and five children.
He says he feels angry but can't do much. "My daughter's life is ruined. I spent more than Rs. 2 lakh to try and get her back. But no one helps the poor."
Kalpana (Bansur, Alwar district)
Four years ago, then 15-year-old Kalpana (name changed) from Bansur in Alwar district was kidnapped on her way to school by a man from Jharkhand and his two friends.
"She left that morning and did not return. She was missing for 15 days,” said her mother. “Then she somehow managed to call us and provided us her location.” The police went and rescued her from the three men who had kept her in confinement and raped her.
"When my daughter came back she was ill and very scared. The men had raped her repeatedly and beaten her. She had to be admitted to a hospital," she said.
The family filed a case of rape and kidnapping, but the pace of investigation has been slow. In the meantime, Kalpana got married. "We wanted punishment for the rapists, but the police did not act.”
Police finally arrested two of the accused four months ago. "My husband earns around Rs. 6,000 per month, so we have borrowed money to fight the case. But the police and lawyers only make us run around and harass us."