Lessons for Hathras from Birbhum survivor
A 26-year-old tribal woman who had been gang-raped in 2014 following a kangaroo court order at her village in Birbhum’s Labhpur, responded to the Hathras atrocity saying she was “painfully familiar” with what the Dalit girl in Uttar Pradesh had gone through.
Speaking out about her life in the wake of reports from Uttar Pradesh this week, she said she had a sense of what the government could do to aid and assist women like her and their families.
“Whenever I hear about a rape victim, I am deeply haunted,” she told this correspondent. She added that in cases like this, the rape survivor and her family were “equally traumatised”.
The Dalit girl in Hathras who was allegedly gang-raped and tortured, succumbed to her injuries last Tuesday after fighting for her life for two weeks. The role of the administration and police — from the allegedly hasty cremation of the body in this case to various political delegations and the media being discouraged to meet the Dalit family — has come under scanner.
For this woman in Birbhum, her nightmare is over six-and-a-half years old, but she said “the cloud of torture and shame haunts me every day”.
In January 2014, the village head of the tribal hamlet had ordered her to be gang-raped for having a boyfriend from a non-tribal community.
The woman explained no rape victim could “return to their former life” but underscored the importance of the administration and police reaching out to penalise offenders and secure the safety of the survivor and her family.
“No one can go back (to how things were before the rape)... However, it is the duty of the government to ensure justice and support for the family. If a raped woman is killed, her family deserves help from the government to get justice,” she said.
She did get justice, she added.
All the 13 accused, including the village head who had ordered her punishment, were sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment after they were found guilty by a Bolpur court within a span of eight months from the incident.
“The government came forward to help me from the first day and continues till this minute. Everyone like me should get that support,” said the woman, who lives with her mother and younger brother in two government-made houses 3km from their village.
Police sources said all 13 accused were arrested within 24 hours of the incident. Police had started a probe immediately after securing the woman’s safety.
“We did not delay the arrests and collected the evidence quickly as it was a serious crime. We provided security to the lady and her family members with the assurance that we were with her,” said a police officer then posted in Labhpur.
That 24/7 police security still continues. Police sources said a picket comprising five personnel, including three women, for the rape survivor and her family’s security had not been withdrawn.
As many villagers were against that woman for her relationship with the non-tribal youth, it had been deemed “risky” for her and her family to return home. Police security apart, the administration spotted around a bigha of land for the family and set up two houses under a government scheme within months.
Krishna Hembram, chief of Trinamul-run Chowhatta Mahodori I gram panchayat, said that he had allotted another house for the mother of the woman as the small houses were not enough for the entire family. Hembram said they tried to help the woman and her family as they live away from their village. Panchayat members had asked the family if they’d like to shift to the village, but an elderly woman of the family refused. “We took care of the family during the lockdown too,” Hembram added.
The woman said she has only one problem — she needs a steady source of income to survive.
“I need a job from the government for survival. We survive on a pension of Rs 1,000 from my mother and the income of my younger brother, which is not sufficient,” she said.