For a mother, only the harshest punishment is appropriate for her daughter's tormenters. But 16-year-old Sarla (name changed) betrays no such anger, only a quiet hurt.
The young Dalit teenager was raped on September 9 by seven youths from the dominating caste in her village, Dabra, in
Hisar. Nine days later, her father killed himself after a video clip of the incident surfaced. Her 18-year-old brother, unable to bear the humiliation, is living with his grandmother.
But Sarla does not want to lead a life tethered by compromise. "It was not my fault. I will never forgive, or forget it," she said. She is appearing for her Class 11 semester exams and wants to be educated, become self-reliant.
This teenager personifies the defiance that comes after "one has nothing left to lose", says the 30-year-old Dalit woman who was gang-raped and filmed inside her house on September 21 in Pillukhera village of Jind. The accused held her children at gunpoint, forcing them to watch.
"People stare and say 'that is the woman from the MMS'. I live on for my children." Her husband wants a normal life: "I can't sit and mourn as I have a family to look after."
The numbers are staggering: on an average, two rapes are committed per day in Haryana. According to statistics available with the State Crime Records Bureau, till September 29 this year, Haryana had recorded 507 rapes; in the same period in 2011, the number was 567. In 2011, there were 723 cases in total, three less than 2010.
Despite this, attitudes are dismissive. Director general of police RS Dalal had initially sought to play down the incidents, blaming media hype and claiming a decline in rape figures. Facing backlash, he announced a state-wide drive to protect women and keep tabs on 'loafer' youth. Many cases are dismissed for not being "genuine". "Many times, the girl agrees to go with her male friend, but others join in," said another officer, refusing to be named.
Experts say the cases reflect the deteriorating social set-up in Haryana more than the breakdown of law and order. The state has one of the country's most shockingly skewed sex ratios - 830 women per 1,000 men.
Reicha Talwar, director of the Women's Studies Research Center, Kurukshetra, sees it as a failure of society. "The technology boom has exposed us to information, but education and social systems have failed to develop minds accordingly. The youth gets hooked to the glamourous depiction of crime, drugs and alcohol," she said.
Khap panchayats, however, seem to think that lowering the age limit for marriage will magically solve the problem. "If women have their husbands at the age of 16 to fulfil their sexual desires, how would rapes take place?" says Sube Singh Samain, spokesman of the khap mahapanchayat.
In a deeply patriarchal society, the victim often bears the added burden of 'shame'. The mother of a 15-year-old rape victim from Rohtak said: "They stare at our daughter, even though she was the one who suffered. After all, who will marry a rape victim?"
(with inputs from Monica Sharma and Sat Singh in Rohtak)
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