The family of a gang-rape victim had tried to escape the stigma that scalded their daughter in the aftermath of the incident and shifted 6km away. But they couldn’t.
On Monday night, the 16-year-old, raped twice in three days in October, attempted suicide by setting herself on fire after the landlord of the shanty and others in the locality gave the family a one-month deadline to leave the locality.
She had been abducted and raped a second time while returning home after lodging a police complaint.
The tragedy of the family exemplifies how a woman is victimised over and over again.
“Before giving the house on rent to the family, we had no idea that their girl had been raped in Madhyamgram three months ago. Had we known about the incident, we wouldn’t have allowed them to rent the house,” said Bela Sil, the landlady. “We have asked them to vacate the house within one month.”
The family of four was paying Rs 2,000 a month for the one-room shanty with tiled roof not far from the airport.
The victim’s father said he was being subjected to constant pressure from the friends of the accused to withdraw the police complaint, something that pushed the teenage girl over the edge.
It didn’t help matters that the landlady was a relative of the prime suspect’s friend. That man had allegedly been threatening the family to withdraw the complaint.
The landlady’s daughter lives near Madhyamgram and she apparently was the first to recognise the girl and say that she shouldn’t be allowed to live there.
“A month ago Dipali came to visit her parents and saw the girl. She raised a hue and cry,” said one of the victim’s neighbours in the new locality.
A neighbour of the family in Madhyamgram, where they lived earlier, said: “The father was scared. He told us that he was leaving the area so that his daughter could start a normal life where no one would be aware of her plight.”
That was not to be. The trauma returned to haunt them again and again.
“My daughter had become very depressed after whatever happened to her in October. She would hardly speak. But the trigger for the suicide attempt was Minta Sil, a cab driver and friend of the main accused, Chhotu Talukdar. He came to our house frequently and abused her and threatened us,” said the father, a taxi driver.
“This verbal abuse, in which they called my girl names that I cannot repeat was like killing her every day. Some of the neighbours would also taunt her. She set herself on fire after all this,” he added.
The girl’s mother said Monday was the fourth day on the trot that Minta and Tapan Sil — the son of the landlord and Minta’s cousin — came to their house drunk and abused the girl.
Hours after the teenager’s suicide attempt on Monday, the police had appeared to be trying to dilute the case. Santosh Nimbalkar, deputy commissioner of police, Bidhannagar commissionerate, had said: “It has been alleged that the teen was not on good terms with her mother and they were seen fighting every now and then. The family has yet to lodge a complaint about threats that the girl has allegedly been receiving.”
The officers of Airport police station did not bother to visit the spot and ascertain what prompted the girl to set herself on fire.
Asked, an officer of the police station today said: “We collected statements from some of the local residents who spoke of a family feud. Now it appears that those whom we spoke to belong to the group who wanted the family to leave the locality.”
Police, however, arrested Minta and the landlady’s son Ratan on Wednesday. They have been charged with criminal intimidation. The Barrackpore court has sent them to police custody for three days.
Social activists who have been working towards gender equality were not surprised by the police reaction. “The entire process starting with the police to the medical to the courtroom is an experience that is humiliating and debilitating (for a rape victim),” said Anuradha Kapoor of Swayam.
And the state mechanism is ill equipped to deal with the kind of trauma that these women face.
“As luck would have it, the new house we moved into was owned by Minta’s aunt. He soon found out about our whereabouts and the threats renewed,” said the father. A broker had found them the new house. “The friends and relatives of the accused have gradually driven my daughter to this,” said the girl’s mother.
The girl is admitted at RG Kar Medical College and Hospital with over 60 per cent burns, sharing a ward with several other women where fear of infection looms large.
According to the hospital authorities, the girl’s condition was critical.
“We are monitoring her condition closely but it is difficult to say anything about her chances of survival before 72 hours,” said a hospital official.
Some women from the CPM visited the hospital to protest the atrocities against her and ended up shouting slogans on the hospital premises.
The state doesn’t do enough to protect rape victims, said Urmi Basu of New Light who works towards protection of women and children from the red light areas. “Life is never the same for them because at every step they need to revisit the trauma…. Be it investigators taking down the narrative, medical staff running tests or legal representatives in court, lack of training needed to deal with a woman in distress adds to their vulnerability. Lack of skills and understanding contribute to increasing the trauma,” she said.
The girl’s mother said the family had received “no help from the state government”.
“We have already spent Rs 3,400 on medicines since Monday. On top of that the ayahs are charging Rs 600 per shift,” said the father.
“It’s like being raped again and again,” said Anuradha of Swayam, who has witnessed cases where a survivor has lost her job or her place of residence and put to shame after being sexually assaulted.
“Put the blame where it is due and give her dignity at every level,” she added, stressing on the role that family and neighbours can play too.
The last thing that the teenager told her mother on Monday? “We are women. There’s no future for us….”
Additional reporting by Soumen Bhattacharjee