She has won a 10-year-old legal battle but Shamima (name changed), who was gang raped during the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, says she will not return to her village as she is scared for her and her children's lives.
A district court in Muzaffarnagar on Tuesday sentenced two men to 20 years in prison for gang-raping the woman during the 2013 Muzafftarnagar riots. It also imposed a fine of Rs 15,000 each on convicts Maheshvir and Sikander.
"They (convicts) are behind bars but their family still threatens and scares us... I will never return. I am scared for myself and my children," the survivor said while addressing a press briefing here.
Surrounded by her counsels, Shamima recalled the fateful day, saying she was busy with household chores but the tension in the air was palpable after reports that the Jat community members were enraged over an incident involving a Muslim man and a Hindu woman.
"There was a rumour floating in the air of an incident between a Muslim man and Hindu woman and that there was a lot of anger among the Jats over it," the survivor recalled.
Soon, she heard that killings had begun and she was advised to leave the village.
"That day, I ran to never return. I ran with my two children, I ran through the fields but did not know where to go. I got lost and was caught," she said, adding that the men took turns to rape her.
"My three-month-old child was next to me when I was being raped and they asked me to cooperate or they would kill my children," said Shamima with a lump in her throat.
Recalling her 10-year-long struggle for justice, Shamima said the lawyers of the convicts questioned her character and humiliated her.
"In the last decade, the lawyers of the convicts questioned my character. My husband was asked if I am his mistress. They wanted me to withdraw the case but I wanted justice at any cost,” she said.
The survivor said she did not have the courage to report the crime. However, she along with six other sexual assault victims were contacted by social activist Shabnam Hashmi who put them in touch with senior lawyer Vrinda Grover who then fought her case.
"Six out of the seven gangrape survivors backed out but she (Shamima) remained strong and finally, after this long battle, justice has prevailed," Hashmi, the founding trustee of ANHAD (Act Now for Harmony and Democracy), said.
The survivor claimed no lawyer was ready to fight her case before Grover stepped in.
Grover, who was also present at the briefing, said during the 10-year-old legal battle, there were few questions about the incident and more about the character of the survivor.
"They (convicts) had political patronage," she said, adding that the duo might appeal in higher courts.
"It is their right but they would not win as we have a very strong case,” she added.
Grover said a lot of delaying tactics were used, but the survivor stood her ground and even the judge called her a "sterling witness".
Shamima said she wants to concentrate on the future of her three boys – aged 12, 10, and 6 years.
"My elder son wants to become a doctor and another a lawyer. Their education has suffered, but now I want to concentrate on their future and want them to fulfil their dreams," she added.
Maheshvir and Sikander were convicted under sections 376(2)(g) (punishment for committing rape during communal or sectarian violence), 376D (gang rape), and 506 (punishment for criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code.
This was apparently the first conviction under section 376(2)(g), according to Shamima's legal aide.
Clashes between Hindu and Muslim communities in Uttar Pradesh's Muzaffarnagar district in 2013 resulted in the death of more than 60 people, while more than 50,000 were displaced.
According to the prosecution, the SIT had filed a charge sheet against three people -- Kuldeep, Maheshvir, and Sikander -- in the court. Kuldeep died during the trial period of the case.
The Supreme Court had directed the trial court to take up the matter on priority, saying the case should not be adjourned for a long date.
The court order comes on the heels of the victim approaching the Supreme Court praying for expeditious trial of the case which had from the inception witnessed partisan investigation and the deliberate and protracted delay meant to exhaust her, Grover had said.
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