“Insaaf to mila, izzat aur naukri kahan se aayegi? (We got justice, but how will we get back our prestige or jobs?),” asks Mohit.
He is one of the three Haryana youth discharged last week by a local court of charges of harassing two sisters on a bus about two years ago.
A video of the three men being thrashed on a bus by two girls, Aarti and Pooja, on being allegedly harassed went viral and the sisters were quickly hailed as ‘Sonepat bravehearts’.
Mohit and his two friends — Kuldeep and Deepak — were briefly arrested before being let out on bail.
But, though the girls’ version has been thrown out by the court and the men were vindicated, life is still not the same for Mohit or his friends.
When the alleged incident happened, Mohit was eyeing a job with Delhi Police while Kuldeep and Deepak were in the line for jobs with the Indian Army, after having already cleared the medical and physical tests. But once they were implicated in the case, they were barred from taking the written examination and their pursuits for secured jobs stopped in the tracks.
Their discharge came late. Having crossed the eligible age limit of 21, they cannot apply any more.
“After clearing the two stages we were told we could not appear in the written test due to the case. Who will bring back the missed opportunity,” laments Kuldeep from Aasan village of Haryana’s Rohtak district.
Victims of what has turned out to be staged-managed vigilantism, the men find their lives in disarray. The sisters from Thana Khurd village in nearby Sonepat are continuing with their studies at a college in Gurgaon.
Having set the social media alight with the video of their thrashing the three youth, the girls went from hero to zero rather rapidly. Another video showing the sisters kicking a man between his legs at a park surfaced a few days later. Some locals also chipped in, claiming the two were “habitual bullies”, and the Haryana government put in abeyance its announcement to felicitate them.
The girls’ family dispute the counter-narrative, saying they were being targeted for their caste.
“Why would everyone suddenly start targeting our daughters? Is it because we are backward (Bairagi) and they (the three men) are Jats?” asks Santosh, their mother.
Other family members say they were contemplating challenging the verdict in a higher court.
The families of Mohit and his friends, however, have no plans of pressing defamation charges against the sisters.
For the record, they say they respect women and don’t want to do anything that may discourage real victims from lodging complaints. Off the record, they have had enough of the trouble foisted on them.
Mohit recalls the stigma he had to endure. “People would tease us, call us names, insult our parents, walk straight up to us and ask embarrassing questions,” he recalls.
Their families underwent public humiliation. Mohit’s mother covered her face every time she stepped out as “people always passed lewd remarks against her two daughters”.
Their family reputation now restored, the three men hope they will be able to piece together their disrupted life with the arts degree that they are pursuing currently.
Balbir, a retired soldier and the father of Kuldeep, prays that the Haryana government will help them get jobs. “After all, grave injustice was done to them.”