Even as the Delhi gangrape has led to protests across Madhya Pradesh and made the state government take measures for the protection of women and children, life has not changed an iota for two teenaged cousins who were raped by 16 men in Betma (35 kms from Indore) last February.
Neha, the younger sister, moved to Gwalior after getting married in April to a boy she was engaged to before the rape. Sandhya, the other victim, along with her mother and a younger brother, have been socially ostracised and left to fend for themselves.
Lilabai, Sandhya's mother, did odd jobs but these have dried up since the rape and subsequent social boycott. "I used to work as a casual labourer during the sowing and harvesting season, but now I don't get any work," said Lilabai. The family relies on the Rs. 30-40 brought in by the son, an apprentice at a local garage, to keep the wolf at bay.
Sandhya herself remains cooped up in a dark and dingy room barely 6x6 feet. Outside the family's two-roomed residence a group of men sun themselves on stoops and women oil their hair while keeping a watchful eye on their boisterous kids. For the teenaged girl, though, the scene playing out on the road might as well be happening in another world.
"I want to do something, but I can't gather the courage (to go out)," said the slim, dark-eyed girl clad in a cotton churidar-kurta who's rarely ventured beyond her doorstep in the 10-odd months since the rape. But now she is trying to pick up the fragments of her shattered life. "I'm thinking of appearing for Class VIII exams. I'll fill the form soon," said Sandhya, who dropped out of school after the sixth standard.
She doesn't discount the possibility of marriage, if the right person comes along. "After what happened I have lost faith in relationships. But if somebody's ready to marry me, I might learn to trust that person,"
Sandhya may be steeling herself but re-entering the mainstream won't be easy even with the Rs 2 lakh apiece given by the government to both victims.
"My daughter's future is destroyed. As long as I'm alive I'll look after her but what after I'm gone?" she queried, stifling a sob. After all, she can't even count on her family. "My brother lives just a few feet away but doesn't maintain any relations with us due to community pressures," said Lilabai.