No Justice For Women Victims Of Violence In Bihar

(This August, AIPWA demanded that the Government ensure, through the Nirbhaya fund and other measures, that every survivor of violence against women, got free medical care, as well as adequate relief and guaranteed rehabilitation. A report on rape survivors by a Bihar AIPWA team brings home the crying need for such rehabilitation.)

The Bihar AIPWA team decided to make follow-up visits between June 6 and June 10 to minor girls who were survivors of rapes which had recently been the focus of much discussion and prolonged struggles, following which the government had given assurances that action would be taken. However, it is a matter of shame and anger that in most of these incidents, even 10 months later, the government, its police, and its judiciary have adopted a criminally insensitive attitude.

Right To A Fearless And Self-Reliant Life

9 June, 2013. Our team reached Bhutane Turki in Muzaffarpur. Our local comrades took us inside the house where hundreds of neighbouring young women and children had gathered. Khushi (name changed) sat on a cot with her grandmother, looking at us with eyes which were big and swollen. Why swollen? When we asked, we were told that the rapist had poked both his thumbs hard into her eyes before he left her for dead in a field, having attempted to choke her to death, so that even if she survived by chance she would not be able to identify him. After many hours, her family members found her unconscious in the field and took her to hospital. She survived but was hastily discharged from the hospital after a week, without any assurance as to how her further treatment could be undertaken. 20 days after the incident, when our team members met Khushboo, the daughter of a poor Imam, her eyes had not yet recovered fully. Her family and neighbourhood felt bitter that though the MLA from the district was a Minister, neither he, his representatives, nor the ward councillor nor any government official had come to enquire after her health. As we came out of the house we were told that there had been as many as 3 cases of rape in the past one week in this block within a radius of 4 to 5 kms.

The second girl we met was a child of 6 years whom a neighbour, a boy of 18-19 years, had taken to a nearby Anganwadi centre and raped. The third was a child of 5 years who had gone with her aunt to attend a wedding, where someone lifted her up on the pretext of showing her the wedding procession and then raped her and threw her on the road side. Late at night a passer-by saw the crying child and took her to the police thana from where the police took her to hospital. However, even 20 days after the incident the police had made no attempt to nab the culprit.

A 7 year old girl from Bihta, Patna was lured by a the son of a powerful family of the village on the pretext of giving her mangoes, taken to a garden and raped, after which he brought her back on his bicycle. The child, bleeding and crying, told the whole story to her mother who took her to hospital. Afraid of complaining against the masters she served, cautioned by many about the expenses involved in filing a case, and threatened by the rapist’s family, she did not have the courage to file a case. It was only after someone informed the newspapers who published the news, that the police registered an FIR and arrested the rapist 6 days after the incident. However, what is happening with regard to the case and whether or not justice will be delivered is a riddle to the victim’s family.

Nawgarh village in Makhdumpur block of Jehanabad is even today a bastion of feudal power. On 18 August, 2012 Rahul Sharma alias Tunna was getting his shave at the barber’s when he abused the elderly barber Bisheshwar Thakur. The barber protested in muted tones but this could not be tolerated by Tunna who was from a dominant caste. He started beating up Bisheshwar, whose daughter Madhu sought to intervene and save her father. Tunna caught Madhu by the dupatta and shot her from close range. The astonishing fact is that this incident was much highlighted at the State level, prolonged protests were held and members of the State Dalit commission met Madhu in hospital, but Tunna was not sent to jail for even a day. He got anticipatory bail from the High Court and is even today strutting about proudly in the village. Madhu has entirely lost one eye which has been replaced by an artificial stone eye. After three operations, parts of the shots are still embedded in her face which the doctors advise to be removed later. The family has received Rs 24,400 as government aid but they say that this is nowhere near enough for the expenses for medicines and exercises after being discharged from the government hospital. Madhu told our team, “How could I have remained a mute spectator to my father being thrashed and abused? Please do something for us. I want to study, I want to move ahead.”

Unlike Madhu, the young girl from Paraiyya was silent this time. When we first met her on 12 October 2012, she had expressed her anger openly and demanded punishment for the rapists, but when we met her again on 7 June 2013 we were shocked by the desolated look in her eyes and her silence. After passing Matriculation in the First division, this young student enthusiastically attended coaching classes but her dreams were shattered by the criminal rapists so brutally that she has been reduced to silence. We had to strive hard to see even a tiny transient smile on her face. After much patient encouragement she confessed, “I wanted to become a doctor.” We tried to persuade her parents not to put pressure on her for early marriage but to let her continue her studies. Her mother said wistfully, “If only the government would give her a job.....”

In Daniyanwa, a 13-14 year old girl, daughter of a Mahadalit family, is illiterate. She has never been to school. On 25 December 2012 she took an auto to go to her grandmother’s house when the auto driver along with two others gang raped her. Now they are putting pressure on the family to accept money and hush up the matter. But her father, a Manjhi by caste, says he does not want money but justice for his daughter. However, the lackadaisical attitude of the police does not augur well for justice in this case.

In all three incidents—Nawgarh, Paraiyya and Daniyanwa—much effort had to be made before the police registered FIRs. In Daniyanwa the villagers organized a concerted protest before the police registered an FIR, and even so they slapped cases against the protesting CPI(ML) activists. In Paraiyya the incident took place on 12 September 2012 and the FIR was registered only on 25 September. The police wanted to register a case of molestation and it was only after the brave girl’s insistence that they had to register a case of gang rape. Since the rapists were feudally powerful people the police made no attempt to arrest them despite the registration of the FIR. On 6 October 2012 when the AIPWA team went to meet the victim, hundreds of people gathered there and told the team members that the criminal rapists were under the protection of the thana and that there had been earlier instances of these goons attacking girls but nobody had complained for fear of being stigmatized. On 11 October many thousands including girl students from Kasturba Vidyalaya protested in front of the thana under the leadership of AIPWA. Even as the protesters were preparing for a group of representatives to meet the authorities, the police started chasing and beating them. In this lathi charge, a man Durgi Manjhi was badly injured and died 3 days later in hospital while in police custody. A case was registered against 29 named persons including AIPWA leaders and hundreds of unknown persons. On 7 June 2013 when our team revisited the place no compensation had yet been paid to the widow and two minor children of Durgi Manjhi; they did not get any money even for his last rites! Under pressure from the protesters, a speedy trial was announced in this rape case but 9 months on, the case is progressing at a snail’s pace, proving that the term “speedy trial” is meaningless.

Our central team as well as district team went to several places in Patna, Bhojpur, Muzaffarpur, Darbhanga, Jehanabad, Siwan and Gaya to take stock of the situation. The experiences of the rape survivors raise serious questions.

Minor girls studying in Class I and II who are rape victims have discontinued school. Their parents are afraid to send them to the old school. Is it not the duty of the government to see that these girls go to a good school and get a good education, giving them a life of self-respect and self-reliance? Should they not be provided with the resources and atmosphere required for a bright future? Instead of leaving them to the mercy of the village government school the government should certainly undertake to provide full expenses for their education at a good residential school.

Why cannot the illiterate girl from Daniyanwa be given 2-3 years of training and appointed in a government job? Is it not the responsibility of society and the government to see that the girl from Paraiyya can fulfil her dream of becoming a doctor? Is it not the duty of the government to undertake the entire treatment and education of Madhu, who has lost one eye, and provide her with a good job?

Chanchal from Maner in Patna dreamt of becoming a computer engineer; she and her sister both became victims of an acid attack. After many protests the Bihar Govt. gave them 1.5 lakhs each as compensation but washed their hands of the treatment once the initial phase of treatment was over. Some social organizations are trying to make arrangements for the necessary facial surgery but it’s tough. Another acid attack victim from Hussainganj in Swan district, Tabassum studying in Class X is not so lucky! Her family is running from pillar to post, from Delhi to Bangalore on their own initiative with no aid from anywhere, in their attempts to secure treatment for her. The District Collector considers his duty done and dusted after telephoning the hospitals and advising proper treatment. These three girls no longer go to school. Is it not the responsibility of the government to bear all their medical and other expenses? Or do these children have no right to live normal lives like other girls? They also had their dreams, they also wanted to play, and laugh and study like other children but their dreams have been cruelly shattered.

In Bihar, most of these girls come from dalit, very backward and minority communities whose champion Nitish Kumar claims himself to be and who are paramount in his political equation. But in none of these cases did Nitish Kumar or his representatives, Ministers or MLAs try to even enquire about the condition of these girls. At every opportunity Nitish talks of road maps and agendas for the welfare of these sections but his government is useless when it comes to making a road map for the secure future of these girls. The Central government has created the Nirbhaya fund for the security of such women victims. Various Ministries are even having a tug of war over this fund. But in practice can the allocation of a thousand crore rupees in the budget ensure that such girls can be fearless and fit for a self-reliant life? In most cases, rape victims need shelter homes, psychological assistance and the creation of a secure atmosphere. Acid attack victims need not only financial assistance to the tune of lakhs, but also specialized institutions and proper care not within the capacity of a common rural family. But the government is not providing anything further than treatment at the local government hospital.

The rape laws now have provisions to fix accountability of the police. Yet, among all the incidents in Bihar only in Paraiyya the thana in-charge was transferred, and that was also termed “routine work.” No action has been taken on the police who delayed filing FIRs in any of the other cases. Therefore today it is essential that we say, “Fix the accountability of the police! Guarantee the right of the rape survivor to hold her head up and live in society!”

Note: The team members were: AIPWA General Secretary Meena Tiwari, Bihar Secretary Shashi Yadav, Anita Sinha and Madhu. Rita Barnwal, Madhuri Devi, Asha Devi, Sohila Gupta, Malti Ram, Sadhna Sharma and other leaders provided assistance at the different locations. The team came across and comprehended other instances of violence which are not detailed here. These include an instance of a dalit boy in a friendship with an OBC girl, whose mother was paraded naked, molested and thrashed by powerful feudal people; an MSc topper who was burnt to death by in-laws greedy for dowry; a daughter-in-law who committed suicide after being raped by her father-in-law, and other instances.

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AIPWA Dharna Demands Rehabilitation Scheme for Sexual Assault, Acid Attack Survivors

A dharna was held at Parliament Street (Jantar Mantar) in the national capital, New Delhi, on 6th August demanding free medical care, compensation, and rehabilitation for all survivors of rape, sexual assault, and acid attacks.

Women from all over Delhi participated in the dharna, including from various University campuses, and from Wazirpur slum cluster, Narela, and Mandavli. The dharna was organised by the AIPWA.

Conducting the dharna, Sucheta De, former JNUSU President recalled that “the movement following December 16th not only demanded punishment for the rapists, it also demanded the right of women to live freely without fear of rape and violence. The UPA Government announced the Nirbhaya Fund which raised the hopes in the hearts of rape survivors and acid attack survivors that they would no longer be forced to wage their battles for justice without any support and encouragement from the Government. Yet, the fact is that this hope has been belied.”

Raj Rani from Delhi University said, “Apart from very high medical costs, those who have survived rape and acid attacks have a tough struggle to rebuild their lives. Often women who survive such attacks face discrimination and are denied work, especially if they are maimed or disfigured in the attack.”

Kavita Krishnan, National Secretary of the AIPWA, said that AIPWA was holding protests all over the country demanding that Governments both at Centre and the State should bear the full costs of medical care, compensation and rehabilitation of the survivors of rape and acid attacks. She said, “It is a shame that the fund named by the Government after Nirbhaya is pitifully inadequate and its purpose is still unclear. Because of the huge movement, the Government was forced to extend full free medical care to the December 16th Nirbhaya, and also compensation and rehabilitation to her family. But the question is: why should not every Nirbhaya be entitled to the same care and compensation, as well as rehabilitation? We demand that the Nirbhaya fund must give financial backing for a comprehensive scheme for rehabilitation and compensation, drawn up in consultation with the women’s organisations.”

A memorandum to the Finance Minister, submitted by AIPWA, pointed out that “in 1995, National Commission of Women had, following a Supreme Court directive, framed a scheme and submitted to the central government on compensation and rehabilitation of rape survivors. That scheme has never been implemented. The NCW also formulated a Scheme for Relief and Rehabilitation of Offences (by acids) on Women and Children, with provision for setting up Criminal Injuries Relief and Rehabilitation Boards at National, State and District levels, as well as district-level Monitoring Committees to oversee every aspect of aid, assistance, relief and rehabilitation faced by survivors of rape and acid attacks. These schemes remain on paper. Governments at the Centre and the State seem completely oblivious to the plight of those women who survive rape and acid attacks.”

The dharna was addressed by many participants. Students from various universities spoke about the recent instances of gender violence in JNU, and stressed the need to counter the discourse of blaming women for such attacks, saying that instead men must be taught to respect women’s autonomy and their decisions. They said that the medical care, compensation and rehabilitation were not begged for as charity, but demanded as a right, to ensure that survivors of gender violence can live their lives with dignity and confidence.

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