How rape is only the beginning of a victim's nightmare

Next time we demand justice for women survivors of crimes, we must mandatorily ask for better rehabilitation.

 |  The Inner Courtyard  |  6-minute read |   28-11-2014
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Like most other women who muster the courage to register a case of crime against them, S too was sent to Nari Niketan in Meerut. She has been in the news for the last four months in the mythical "Love Jihad" case in Meerut that took the country by the storm. On October 13, this year, S, walked up to the top police officials in Meerut to deny allegations of her forceful religious conversion and gang-rape. She confessed that she was in love with Kaleem, her Muslim boyfriend. She said that she was under threat from her family and as a result sent to Nari Niketan, a government rescue shelter for women.

Last week, when a group a human rights and women's rights activists tried to meet her to know if she was doing okay, or requires some help with her future plans - education or job - they were not allowed to meet her. The district magistrate, the additional district magistrate, the probation officer and finally the Nari Niketan superintendent informed them that they need court orders to meet her, unless they were her relatives or friends.

When requested to be allowed to speak to her on the phone to know if she was doing fine, and would like to meet them, the activists were informed that since it is a "high profile case", she cannot be allowed to speak to any outsiders, including friends, which indirectly means that with an already estranged family she literally cannot meet anyone. There was also an additional piece of information that the telephone connection in Nari Niketan was disconnected because of lack of funds and that is why speaking to the superintendent was also not possible.

S, a young 22-year-old girl, who had qualified for a UP police exam, had told me in an interview, that she wants to work and study simultaneously. Under the lock and key of the government shelter, estranged from the family, a boyfriend who is in a lock-up for four months now, she is doomed to isolation and the limited company of similarly troubled women. And since the already hurt egos of some Hindutva leaders and their political agenda can no more suffer her assertive attacks, authorities are all the more keen to keep her in hiding. The fact, that she is 22 and old enough to take decisions for herself, finds no validity with the non-consenting officials.

S is only one of the many. Women-survivors of crime, sexual violence, trafficking, death threats and similar cases - who have nowhere to go once they file their case are sent to such shelters for interim periods. A number of women end up staying here for years on end-for the lack of socio-economic support-waiting for the trial to get over.

In April, last year, when the rape of a five-year-old Gudia rocked Delhi, she was sent to a similar rehabilitation home with her mother and her two-and-half-year-old brother. Gudia's family was literally split, in this vulnerable phase, for months on end. Her father was not allowed to stay with them because it was a women's hostel and they could only meet him for half an hour every day. During the course of several reconstructive surgeries because of her brutal rape, in the next four months, they were not allowed to meet anyone outside, or keep a cellphone, speak to a visitor or interact with other residents in the hostel. Her mother, N, had told me then, "My movements were under strict vigilance in the shelter. If it were a rich woman and her child, they wouldn't have treated us like this."

N's statement is a reminder that most of the women residing in these shelters are from the lower economic classes who battle far more community pressure, caste hierarchies, socio-economic vulnerabilities and stigma in fighting for justice. Once removed from media highlights and agendas of political parties, they are doomed to this anonymity conveniently facilitated by the apathetic state.

When the Justice Verma Commission came up with a 600 page report last January, suggesting changes to the rape law, what was missing was this mandatory rehabilitation package for survivors.

In 1993, the Supreme Court, in a writ petition, "Delhi Domestic Working Women's Forum vs Union of India and Others", had directed the National Commission for Women (NCW) to evolve a "scheme so as to wipe out the tears of unfortunate victims of rape". The NCW sent a draft to the government in 1995. After lying in the freezer for more than a decade, the commission came up with a "Scheme for Relief and Rehabilitation of Victims of Rape, 2005". It proposed that the ministry of home affairs issue directives to state governments for aid to rape survivors which includes shelter, legal help, vocational training and proper rehabilitation. After the Delhi protests last year, activists revived demands to implement the scheme, but neither the state nor the Centre earmarked a budget for it. As proposed by the NCW's original draft, the National Mission for Empowerment of Women has the funds. However, what is missing is the political will to implement it. Hidden away from the public glare in the most inaccessible manner, they command neither the media nor the political attention.

An employee of the Meerut Nari Niketan, on the condition of anonymity informs, "The shelter can hold only 75 occupants but we have close to 180. There are only three big rooms to accommodate all of them." The Karnal Nari Niketan, the only one in Haryana, also faces a similar space crunch. Cases of frequent trafficking and cases of sexual violence inside the Nari Niketans are also commonplace. An activist recently mentioned that most of these shelters have young women, 16 and above, either victims of trafficking or those who eloped with their boyfriends only to be embroiled in legal battles by parents opposed to self-choice marriages.

There is no clear data on the total number of inmates or the number of such shelters in India. Basic amenities like clean food, water, counseling, vocational training are anyway lacking in most of them but what they are totally dismissive of is the agency of these women, who are survivors, fighters.

It is for this lack of agency that two teenage girls from the Karnal Nari Niketan attempted an unsuccessful escape through the barbed wires of the Karnal Nari Niketan in June last year. Two days later, they were found dead in a bathroom in the shelter. Similar attempts at escaping these government funded shelter homes have been made in the past. No one demanded an enquiry, no one was suspended, no political party took notice because the girls, like S, had an estranged family. The two girls had been trafficked and rescued from a brothel in Delhi and that was stigma enough for the family to reject them.

Perhaps then, when we demand justice for women survivors of crime, we must mandatorily ask for better rehabilitation. Not like the current Nari Niketans which lock-up women, institutionalise policing and seize a woman's agency, but one that rehabilitates and provide encouraging examples for more women to fight their cause and truly become free and independent.

Writer

Neha Dixit Neha Dixit @nehadixit123

The writer is an independent journalist who writes on gender, development and politics in South Asia.

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