Today, we can find solace in the fact that Priyadarshini Mattoo has finally got justice. I fear that Priyanka Bhotmange may never get such a chance. Unlike Priyadarshini’s case, where we know the nitty-gritty of her rape and murder, we know very little about Priyanka’s horrific tragedy.
Priyanka’s Khairlanji, I’m afraid, unlike Priyadarshini’s Delhi, doesn’t have an India Gate for the purpose of holding candlelight vigils. What it does have is a surfeit of upper-caste perpetrators who find it easy to rape and kill with impunity. That is what happened to the Bhotmange household on September 29, when a mob of more than 30 upper-caste men, armed with axes, chains and other weapons, broke in and dragged out Surekha Bhotmange and her 17-year-old daughter, Priyanka. In the gruelling hours that followed, the two were paraded naked, raped and eventually killed. Priyanka’s two brothers, aged 19 and 21, were not spared either.
Their bodies were unceremoniously dumped in a nearby canal. The next day, when Priyanka’s body was fished out of the water, initial photographic evidence showed torture. Strangely, the post-mortem report not only denied any sign of torture but also the possibility of sexual assault.
It takes much more than legitimacy and fair-mindedness to get justice in this country. What it takes is human endurance, unbiased law enforcement agencies and money to last decades and get you the best team of lawyers. And you could have all that and still feel frustrated if your case isn’t picked up by the the middle-class’s knights in shining armour, the media.
The truth is that getting justice becomes that much easier if the urban, educated middle-class picks up cudgels on your behalf. Half the battle is already won if you have society questioning the merits of a case and its progress, right down to its end. If you are fortunate enough to have the middle-class identify with — and spare time for — your ‘cause’, their attending vigils, engaging in televised debates, and participating in signature campaigns can help resuscitate even the most frigid of cases.
The lone surviving member of Priyanka’s family, her father, Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange, doesn’t have any of these prerequisites. His family’s gruesome murder and the deafening silence that has followed may well ensure that another statistic is added to the files. For, who would want to waste time — and footage — on a poor Dalit girl from an unknown village ‘somewhere near Nagpur’?
It is extremely comforting to see so many people come out in support of Priyadarshini Mattoo, Jessica Lall, Nitish Katara and their families. It is solely due to their collective action that a fresh repositioning and review of these high-profile cases has been possible in the first place. But were these the only three people to have been wronged in our country?
It is easy to see where the similarities and differences between the lives, deaths and ‘after-deaths’ of Priyanka and Priyadarshini started and ended. I hope, however, that the crusade for justice will ultimately bring them together.