The death of a 16-year-old student of Class 12 of Kalbanjara village in Sangrur, who set herself ablaze to escape humiliation allegedly being meted out by four boys of the village, has brought the focus back on the defencelessness of young girls -- especially in smaller towns and villages of Punjab - as also the unchecked criminal behaviour of men towards them.
Punjab has thrown up several cases where sheer helplessness coupled with a sense of shame has led girls to kill themselves rather than face their tormenters. In some, the families bore the consequences of trying to secure their honour. And in others, murders silenced the victims' voice.
Sangrur: Family's iconic struggle for justice
The brutal rape and murder of Class 12 student Kirenjit Kaur of Mehal Kalan village, Sangrur, after she resisted advances by some youths in her village in July 1997 became an iconic struggle of a girl's family for justice in Punjab. Daughter of a handicapped teacher Darshan Singh, Kirenjit was abducted by some youths of her village when she was returning from school. She was repeatedly raped before she was killed. Her body was packed in a bag and dug in a pit in the fields. When her body was exhumed on August 11, Kirenjit had the hair of her abductors in her hands.
The family of the accused had political connections and serious investigations into the case began only after hundreds of people came in support of the victim's family and formed the Kiranjit Katal Virodhi Committee to fight for justice. As pressure began to mount, Parkash Singh Badal, the then chief minister, asked the police to act. The accused were arrested and a Barnala court awarded life imprisonment to four of them in 2001. The rapists are now out of jail after completing the life sentence. On August 12 every year on her death anniversary, hundreds still gather to remember the young child and her family's tireless struggle.
Patiala: Rape victim kills self following police inaction
In November 2012, an 18-year-old girl of Badshahpur village in Patiala, who was allegedly raped by two men, committed suicide when police failed to take action against the accused.The girl was drugged and raped by the two men on Diwali night in the pump room in a field. She cried for help but no one heard her. The victim's family complained to the sarpanch who went to the police station to get the case registered. Following her complaint, she was called to the police station time and again and asked embarrassing questions. The FIR in the case was registered almost a week after the incident during which time the cops tried to broker a deal between the victim's family and the accused.
Unable to carry on with the fight, the victim killed herself by consuming poison. She wrote a suicide note naming those who had raped her saying they had "destroyed" her life. It was only after her death that the police arrested the accused. Two policemen were later dismissed for inaction.
Amritsar: He died trying to save daughter's honour
In December 2012, policeman Ravinderpal Singh was shot dead by four men while he was trying to save his daughter from them. The molesters led by Shiromani Akali Dal leader Ranjit Singh Rana, drunk with power, first shot at Ravinder's legs. They left the spot only to come back laced with more bullets and weapons, and this time they shot him in the chest from point blank range. Despite the fact that the incident took place near a police station help reached the dying father late and he was declared dead by the time the family reached the hospital.
Ravinderpal had objected to Rana and his friends harassing his daughter. Rana had been teasing Ravinderpal's daughter for long and she had resisted his advances. She had complained about them to her father. Under fire, the SAD expelled Rana from the party and dismissed the SHO. In August last year, Rana and his accomplices Dharamjit Singh, Sandeep Rampal, Gurbir Singh and Vikram Ohri were awarded rigorous imprisonment for life.
Faridkot: Stalked and harassed schoolgirl sets herself ablaze
In an almost similar incident like what happened in Sangrur on Monday, in 2013, a Class 10 Dalit girl who was being stalked and harassed by five boys in her neighbourhood set herself ablaze in Ambedkar Nagar in Faridkot on March 5. Daughter of a rickshaw-puller, she suffered 90% burns and died at the Faridkot medical college a fortnight later.
Her family told the police that their daughter was scared to even go out of the house. The boys stalked her, following her to school and threatening and abusing her. When the parents objected to their behaviour, they thrashed the father. Unable to tolerate the humiliation, she sprinkled kerosene on her clothes and immolated herself. The Faridkot chief judicial magistrate recorded the dying declaration of the victim and Manpreet Singh, Nirmal Singh, Ajay Kumar, Pamma and Getta were arrested. In April this year, the court of additional district and sessions judge, Faridkot, awarded five-year rigorous imprisonment to the accused.
Moga: Molested, harassed teenager, mother thrown out of bus
In yet another horrifying incident, a bus conductor, along with his helpers, molested and murdered a 13-year-old girl travelling in the bus with her mother in April this year. After Arshdeip resisted the advances, she was thrown off the bus along with her mother. Arshdip died on the spot while her mother was critically injured. The matter hit national headlines bringing shame to the ruling family of Badals in the state as the bus was owned by a company being run by deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal. Though a bid was made to brush the incident under the carpet, a sustained protest by a joint committee of the opposition party leaders forced the government to take strong action.
The police filed a chargesheet in July against the main accused -- conductor Sukhwinder Singh, driver Ranjit Singh, and Gurdip Singh and Amarjit Singh, both helpers of the Orbit bus company. They were charged with molesting the victim and murdering her.
Ludhiana: 'Molestation victim' commits suicide
In November 2013, a 19-year-old girl who was being stalked and teased by a youth at Basti Jodhewal committed suicide by hanging herself from a ceiling fan. The police registered a case against the youth, identified as Bablu. The victim's father told the police that Bablu was harassing his daughter and stalked her to school. The girl's parents said they pulled her out of the school and she went into depression. When the family had gone to market, she hanged herself from a ceiling fan. The boy's family, however, told the police that the girl and the boy were in a relationship and the girl killed herself as her parents objected to the relationship.
Ludhiana: A 'rape' that wasn't
The alleged rape and murder of a 17-year-old victim from Dhandari Kalan, Ludhiana, who was burnt to death in December last year by six people, turned out to be a case of suicide. The victim and her family had registered a complaint that she was kidnapped and raped at an unidentified place. The victim's family later alleged that they were under pressure to withdraw the complaint and the accused had even threatened to kill the girl. According to the family, on December 4, the accused, along with three others, barged into the victim's house and poured kerosene on her and set her afire. She was rushed to hospital but after some days she died.
Investigations revealed that the victim was allegedly involved with another boy and her relationship was being opposed by the parents. The victim had left home to live with her alleged boyfriend and on her return her parents cooked up the story of her abduction by some boys towards which the victim's family was inimical.
What experts say
Rainuka Dagar, director (research), Gender Studies Unit at the Institute for Development and Communication, says while there is an increased awareness about the recourses available to women who have faced molestation in larger cities, it is yet to percolate down to smaller towns and villages. "After the Nirbhaya incident, the public outcry is now visible. But the change is uneven. In smaller towns these incidents are associated with public shame and the backlash associated with it is what drives the victims to take such a step. There is clearly need for awareness leading to a larger acceptance that such incidents are a norm, not an exception, and whatever has happened to the victim happens to others as well and life need not end at that. The role played by the immediate family and the community is important in such cases to tackle the situation," she said.