From behind her veil, a 28-year-old Muslim woman cannot but stay fixated on the tumult engulfing Bulandshahr in Uttar Pradesh, just 40 kilometres away from her home, and remember her own ordeal last year.
As politicians throng Bulandshahr to express solidarity with a mother-daughter duo allegedly way laid and gang raped last month, the woman living near Simbhaoli of Hapur district finds the unfolding script eerily similar to that of hers.
Gangraped allegedly by two local residents in December 2015, the 28-year-old mother of four was pitchforked to media headlines after an insensitive village panchayat heaped further insults on her.
Some elders got together and ordered that she drop the charge once the suspects compensate her by paying Rs 50,000.
The ruling shocked everyone and the resultant outrage brought frenzied mediapeople to her doorstep. It made the authorities shake off their customary stupor and lodge a FIR. The two suspects were promptly thrown behind bars.
“Then everyone lost interest,” laments the woman, holding her head in despair. The accused got bail some months later and are free again.
The case is in the courts, negotiating the notorious red tape associated with India’s judicial system. Having dropped off the headlines, the woman has now been left to fight a lonely battle that she does not expect to win. “Ab kya hoga... ha me in case ladna padega( what will happen now? I will have to fight the case),” she says.
Her biggest problem is she does not have the money to feed her family, let alone pay the legal fees. “Aap andar jake dekho ki hamare ghar me kya hai... kuch nahi hai (you go inside and see for yourself what we have in our house. You will see nothing),” she says, pointing to her ramshackle home.
Hailing from Buxar in Bihar, the woman got married early to a man who earns Rs 400 a day at best as a wood cutter. The money barely provides for the children. Then there is also an ailing father-in-law to be looked after.
“Dikkat paise ki hai... court case ki hai (The problem is in arranging the finances to contest the case),” the woman points out.
Living in the same village where the suspects came from, the couple faces other odds. Any visitor to her house sets off gossip in the village. They also have not been able to get a ration card since local influential elders don’t cooperate.
The couple says even their relatives make fun of their plight. “Mazaak udate hain (They ridicule us),” complains the woman. With no friends and more foes, the woman has withdrawn into a virtual shell. “Since the incident, I don’t even go out to the local shop.”
The rape survivor finds herself more under siege, from a hostile neighbourhood and dismal circumstances.
This is first of a three-part series
The alleged gangrape of a mother and her daughter at Bulandshahr in UP has put the focus back on crimes against women in the country’s most populous state. HT revisits some cases that are yet to see closure.