Slum children, whose labour-class parents have no choice but to leave them unattended as they head for work in Ludhiana, are increasingly becoming victims of sexual crime. In the underbelly of Punjab’s industrial city alone, 11 sexual assaults on minors have come to light in the past month.
The perpetrators of the crime are young neighbours and relatives, who the victims trusted. For instance, on March 14, a local girl had her throat slit in a rape attempt. Left for dead, she bled copiously but survived. She is just 2, the assaulter only 14. In 10 days, another child, barely 4, was raped in Ludhiana. The accused, her 23-year-old cousin, had lured her with the promise of a chocolate.
Here is an account of four of the 11 victims and their families who have been living with the trauma as they struggle to make ends meet and lead a life of dignity.
Railway quarters adjoining the Ferozepur line
Teenager tried to rape, kill two-year-old
Adjoining the railway tracks in the small, dingy, railway quarters, two children – a girl, 2, and a boy, 5, — are engrossed in play. The girl, who has just returned from school, has a deep scar around the neck, where the stitches are now healing.
She is in a tattered frock, playing in filth. Her chewing gum drops out of her mouth repeatedly. Every time she picks it up from the dusty surface and puts it back into her mouth, unaware of the risk to her health. Asked how she got the wound, she is quick to name the boy who did it. Her brother volunteers to narrate the incident: “He picked her up from here, locked her in a room, and gagged her with his hand,” he goes, putting his hand over his mouth. “Looking for her, we heard her cries from a room. When we broke open the door, there she was, with blood all over,” he narrates in a single breath what he has overheard elders say umpteen times in the recent days.
On March 13, a neighbourhood boy, 14, whom she called ‘Bhaiya’ (brother) fondly, kidnapped her. At vacant quarters in the area later, he attempted to first rape her and then kill her using a kitchen knife. Saved in time, she spent a week in hospital, where she survived after a difficult surgery and four days of being on ventilator.
The mental scar
“Her wind pipe was damaged 95%, Doctors said it was a tough surgery,” says the victim’s father, a juice vendor from Bihar, staying in the city for the past 15 years. “Her mother works as a domestic help. We have to make ends meet. There is no one to look after the children once we go off to work,” he says.
“My daughter started going to school only today. She used to be cheerful but now she gets scared outside and clings to her mother all the time. The boy who tried to kill her was drunk,” he adds.
Accused a porn addict
The accused boy told police he had been carrying a kitchen knife all the time only to kill the child after raping her on first opportunity. The school dropout who took to selling vegetables said he was addicted to watching porn videos on the mobile phones of his friends. He is in a juvenile home now.
Danger lurks in neighbourhood
Let without support, the EWS (Economically Weaker Section) Colony girl, 9, was crying even two days after a neighbour had made an alleged rape attempt on her. She moved to Ludhiana only a month ago, to assist her ailing aunt in chores. Her parents and three siblings remain at Saharsa in Bihar. Her house, with a dark entrance and corridors wide enough for only one person, is piled up with garbage. Flies hover over the area, where the last sanitation campaign was four months ago.
She was raped on the evening of April 6.The accused, brother-in-law of her family’s tenant, lives only a few metres from the cramped quarters. No woman to turn to after being raped, she could not share her pain with anyone that night. Only the next morning she could telephone her aunt in Bihar.
“The neighbour came in that evening and locked me up in my father’s room. Drunk, he pinned me to the bed and shut my mouth to not let me scream. He then raped me, and I have been in pain since,” says the girl.
Victim in depression
The girl continues to be in deep shock after the incident. She can’t reach her parents in Bihar and her uncle is the only support she has here; but he’s too busy making a living. Alone all day in the one-room tenement in a crowded locality, she has sunk into depression.
“I will send her back to her village. It was a mistake to bring her to Ludhiana. At least, she was safe there. The neighbours beat up accused Jai Parkash, who is in judicial custody now,” said her uncle.
Uneducated, of course
Accused Jai Parkash, 19, a bachelor from Bihar, is a school dropout. He works as a labourer and was reportedly inebriated when he committed the crime.
What safety when the monster is in the family
While the one-room tenement at Dholewal, where a girl, 4, was raped by her cousin, is empty, her father is found ironing clothes nearby. His daughter soon returns from school. Asked what had happened to her, she puts her hand on her mouth and points to her private parts. Her expression changes and she hides behind her mother and clings to her. The claw marks are still visible on the face.
It was Holi (March 24). Her father was sharing drinks in his one-room quarters at Dholewal with relatives, including the accused, his nephew Santosh, 23. The child was playing nearby. The accused passed her a Rs 50 note and told her he would get her a chocolate. She followed him outside to the storeroom. He was about to strangle her after rape when another relative raised the alarm. Neighbours gathered and thrashed Santosh before handing him over to police. The girl was left bleeding.
‘Cannot trust relatives now’
“I cannot trust my relatives now. I will never leave her alone,” says the child’s father, while her mother describes how their daughter wakes up horrified at night. “I have to keep her close all the time,” she says.
The devil in drink
Police say accused Santosh of Bihar is a drunkard who works in a local factory. He is a bachelor who switches jobs frequently.
Forced into silence
Sitting in her mother’s lap at Jeevan Nagar locality of Ludhiana’s Moti Nagar area, the girl (7) runs away on seeing the HT team. Her mother is reluctant to talk about the incident. “There is no use,” she says.
Neighbour Mohan Ji Kesri, 30, police say, is the man who tried to rape the girl on March 30 after picking her up when she was playing. Her father says he heard her screams from a room, which was bolted from inside. The people who broke open the door found the accused trying to disrobe the child. They beat him up and called police.
Feeling humiliated and threatened, the family, which includes the victim’s three older siblings, doesn’t want to pursue the case. “We fear the man will come out of jail and threaten us,” says the victim’s mother. The accused has two sons, aged 8 and 6. His wife has now left him and taken the children with her to Bihar.
Unemployed, school dropout, and known to be violent, the accused, say neighbours, has been involved in frequent fights in the colony.