Bundelkhand: An 80-year-old woman in Kabrai was raped late one night when she went to check on her fields.
A 14-year-old girl was abducted from her home, gangraped and brutally murdered in Charkhari in the Mahoba district of Uttar Pradesh. Her mangled remains were found days later, disposed off in a deep quarry.
When the body of a six-year-old girl, a mere child, was found on a doorstep in Chitrakoot, mutilated and bloodied, ripples of shock sent the local media into a tizzy… for a while.
It faded away when a new crime gripped locals with its ugliness, the rape of a 15-year-old girl in Kulpahar in the Mahoba district, who was assaulted when she went to relieve herself in the fields – a common occurrence for girls and women throughout rural India, indicating a failure of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.
These rapes have all occurred within the span of a few months in the unruly expanse known as Bundelkhand in Uttar Pradesh, which is often in the news for all the wrong reasons – violence against women featuring prominently among them.
The common thread that ties these crimes and horror stories of inhumanity together is the pall of shame that descends upon the survivors and their families. If the girl survives the harrowing experience, there is an entire village, community, town that ensures she never ever forgets; demanding an unrelenting gloom, forcing upon her a prison of shame to live in for the rest of her life.
In report after report of rapes and assaults on women, we have found that the prejudice in the matter remains the same – the onus of the act lies on the woman and the woman alone.
The law dictates that the names of rape survivors not be revealed, their identity kept under wraps, but when we head to report on the latest rape and its aftermath in Kulpahar, Mahoba, we meet an entire family who refuse to be recorded on camera.
They are more than willing, desperate even, to come forth with their tale – they do not wish to shy away from what they know is their right. In a refreshing turn of events, the girl’s mother displays a peculiar bravery and resilience, not too familiar in a culture that shuns the survivor post a sexual assault. It is inspiring and overwhelming when we hear her say, “We’d decided that even if it tainted our family’s honour, we would file an FIR.”
This – the filing of an FIR – is easier said than done. If it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes one to destroy it. Again and again, the parents of the 15-year-old girl were advised to keep their mouths shut, to not bring dishonour upon Kulpahar, to spare the neighbours the taint of what had happened to a young girl, a minor who had been raped. The mother recounts, “We were at home in the morning, when our daughter went to the fields to defecate. She was assaulted there. It was my father-in-law who happened to see that she was being dragged across the fields. He frantically ran towards her.” The accused, who has since been arrested and sent off to a juvenile home in Karwi, since he too is a minor, had planned to abandon the girl after he had assaulted her. The girl’s grandfather chased the assaulter, but he managed to get away. According to Shashi Kumar Pandey of the Kulpahar police station, the accused was held on multiple charges, including rape.
The girl’s father too was not bogged down by societal pressures. Even as he turns his back on us, so that his face avoids the camera, the anger in his voice is more than visible, “Such criminals should be hanged, so that others dare not follow in their footsteps.”
The mother, whose face is veiled, accompanies us through the very fields that were the scene of the crime, and tells us of the “compensation money” they were offered by the accused and his ilk. For a farmer’s family in Bundelkhand, short on cash, forever-reeling from drought, it is no mean amount, “He was ready to send us Rs 20,000 in order to buy our silence. Everyone told us to take it. The people of the village encouraged us to settle the issue amongst ourselves. ‘You can make something of the girl’s life with the money’, they said, ‘She is ruined anyway’.” But the family did not relent. “We went ahead and filed an FIR,” says the mother of the girl. The defiance in her voice is unmistakable.
This piece first appeared on Khabar Lahariya. It has been edited to meet style guidelines.
Khabar Lahariya is a rural, video-first digital news organisation with an all-women network of reporters in eight districts of Uttar Pradesh.