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Stigma preys on twice-raped teen

Billogram (Nadia), March 2: Fear of social stigma prompted a father to join fellow villagers in driving out his 14-year-old daughter, who had been allegedly raped and made pregnant by a neighbour.

Sadhana (name changed) and her six-month-old son were about to leave Billogram nine days ago when Priyabala Sarkar, a member of the CPM women’s wing, got to know about her plight.

She informed sabhadhipati Rama Biswas, who is also the secretary of the Ganatantrik Mahila Samity’s district chapter. Biswas contacted the district administration and arranged for Sadhana to be taken to a shelter.

According to police, in November 2006, Ambedkar Das, the son of an affluent farmer, had gone to the house of sweet-seller Mrityunjoy Modak and twice raped his daughter, then a little more than 12.

Ambedkar, 32, threatened her with dire consequences if she opened her mouth. A month later, Sadhana, a Class III dropout, realised she was pregnant and told her father and elder sister that she had been raped.

Mrityunjoy, a 45-year-old widower, lodged a complaint at the Nakashipara police station. Ambedkar was arrested but he denied the charge.

“Ambedkar has been out on bail since the last week of December 2007. The case is going on,” an officer said.

Sadhana’s son was born in August 2007.

When Ambedkar returned to the village in end-December, Mrityunjoy went to him and said he would withdraw the complaint if he agreed to marry his daughter.

But Ambedkar refused, telling him that neither had he raped Sadhana nor was he the father of her child.

“I felt so helpless. I had an unwed daughter with a child at home and the villagers’ glares were stinging. It became difficult to live with the social stigma,” Mrityunjoy said.

He approached village elders and requested them to call a shalishi.

“A meeting was called in January and again, Ambedkar denied raping Sadhana and refused to marry her. He also asked Mrityunjoy to substantiate the allegation. Mrityunjoy could not come up with a reply and the shalishi fell through,” CPM activist Sarkar, who had attended the meeting, said.

To add to Sadhana’s woes, Ambedkar began poisoning the villagers’ minds against her, branding her a girl of loose morals and her son illegitimate, Mrityunjoy said.

“It became increasingly difficult for me to face the villagers who had started hurling abuses at us. My daughter stopped going out. My 11-year-old younger daughter, a Class IV student in a local school, too, felt scared to step out of the house. I had to send her off to her aunt’s house in a neighbouring village,” he added.

On February 22 this year, Ambedkar and his mother Chhabi demanded another shalishi to decide whether Sadhana should be allowed to live in the village.

“My son did not rape the girl. She has falsely implicated him. So the girl must be punished,” Chhabi said.

The father and daughter were called to the meeting and Mrityunjoy was asked to send Sadhana away.

“Why didn’t she tell us about Ambedkar’s crime before she became pregnant? She is lying. She lacks morals,” Krishna Das, a villager, roared at the teenager.

Mrityunjoy said he was forced to accept the ruling.

“What else could I do? Had I disobeyed them, they would have ostracised me. Besides, I could not take the abuse any more. So I asked my daughter to leave the village,” he said.

Sabhadhipati Biswas condemned the villagers’ decision. “How can people think like this in the 21st century? We will try our best to rehabilitate the girl,” she said.

District magistrate Onkar Singh Meena said he had referred Sadhana’s case to the Nadia social welfare officer to ensure her protection under the domestic violence act.

“The district social welfare officer will move an appeal in court to send her home and provide her protection,” the DM said.

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