“I think my biggest mistake ever was to conceive her in the very first place,” says Mamta Devi as she wipes the tears rolling down her cheeks. “My sons were average in studies; she was brighter than them and aimed to become an IPS officer. She even got the Khakhi pants already,” the mother sobs again.
Mamta Devi’s 21-year-old daughter, Radha who once aspired to become a cop, killed herself because she was raped, threatened and harassed by none other than two cops. Radha, a resident of Bhilai hanged herself to death on 28 January 2016, leaving behind a suicide note and painful bitter memories for her family. The suicide note simply said, ‘I can’t take it anymore. There is no way I can get justice now. Nobody will call me a prostitute if I killed myself.’
The suicide note not only paints her bitter memories of the rape itself, but also her complete loss of faith in the judicial system, which is not difficult to explain given that it was after all her lawyer who made her believe that there is absolutely no hope of justice and the delayed hearings at court made it even worse.
“This lawyer named Kalpana Deshmukh, appointed by the government told her that she had never won any case in her life and that she would lose this one too,” says Anand, Radha’s brother. He further said that Deshmukh constantly asked her to withdraw the case and ‘settle’ the case outside the court. “She was always seen chit chatting with the accused’ s lawyer, not even once did we feel that she was really there to help us,” he adds.
Just a day before Radha killed herself, Deshmukh made her sign on a stamp paper. This left Radha devastated and she confined herself to her room, only to hang herself from the ceiling later. The three accused, Constables Chandra Prakash Pandey and Saurav Bhakta and a doctor, Gautam Pandit are in jail.
Radha’s ordeal began back in June 2014 when she went to a government hospital in Bhilai to get her broken nose treated. After several tests, it was found that Radha was suffering from jaundice too. “Dr Gautam Pandit was treating her and recommended a three-day stay in the hospital,” says Anand.
One night, when Radha was alone in her room, Dr Pandit injected her with anaesthesia and raped her along with two constables, Chandra Prakash Pandey and Saurav Bhakta who were on duty outside the hospital. The culprits also made an MMS clip of the act.
The men continued blackmailing her and raped her several times later. “The two constables would even demand money from her. Radha had given them a sum of Rs 2000 and Rs 1500 respectively on two occasions. My little sister took it all. She didn’t let anyone know about it,” sobs Anand on phone.
On 7 January, when the young girl was returning from college, the constables blocked her way and started misbehaving with her. They let her go only when she threatened them to commit suicide. She was flustered after this and headed towards a temple only to find some solace and weep bitterly. A constable spotted her crying and when she told him what all had happened to her, he accompanied her to the police station to help her file an FIR.
But more adversity awaited her there. “When my daughter told this lady constable about the incident, she slapped my child so hard that she fell down. She even used profane words and said it was my daughter who was characterless and is defaming the cops for nothing,” says the inconsolable mother. “The cop further said that if so much has happened to you, why didn’t you kill yourself? Why are you still alive?” she recalls.
It was 9 pm and the family was repeatedly calling Radha on her mobile phone. It came as quite a shock when Radha returned home with a cop. “It was then that we came to know what my sister had been going through for the last six months,” said Anand.
The next day Anand went to the police station and an FIR was filed against the three accused. The police immediately confiscated their mobile phones that had the MMS of Radha and the accused were immediately put behind bars. Radha was sent for a medical check-up and it turned out that the repeated assaults had even led to pregnancy. “She was given oral contraceptives by Constable Bhakta’s mother, we came to know through medical tests,” says Anand.
By this time everybody in their colony was aware of everything that had happened to Radha. “People had many things to say but we couldn’t care less, we just wanted justice,” Mamta Devi sobs. Radha was trying hard to forge ahead in her life; she continued with her studies but her world would fall apart with each date delayed by the court and the careless attitude of her lawyer. “At times, the judge would go missing and the lawyer was never cooperative,” states Anand.
The accused and his family would continuously pressure the family to take the case back. The lawyer who was supposed to keep Radha’s details undisclosed shared her number with Saurav’s wife who would threaten the family all the time. “She would tell her that her husband is a government employee, and even if he was convicted, he would come out of prison soon and make her life hell again,” Radha’s mother says, adding, “When she realized Radha is really determined to fight back, she urged the latter to consider stepping back for the sake of her child. That shameless woman not even once realized what she has done to my child.”
Meanwhile, the lawyer instead of defending Radha accused her of framing Dr Gautam. “She said Radha wants to marry the doctor and that’s why she is accusing him of rape. Who would want to marry such an animal,” Radha’s mother asks.
All this was too much for Radha and her family but not even once did the thought of backing out cross their minds. “We had gone to the police station, we made several rounds of the court and our relatives knew all of that; there was no way we would have thought of backing out,” they say. And Radha decided she would rather give up on her life than on the case.
“She was discouraged at every step but hats off to the little girl; she braved them all -- the police, the lawyers and her society. Her mother told me she was called a prostitute by everyone around her colony, which she wrote in a suicide note too,” says Shobha Oza, All India Mahila Congress chief.
Oza visited the family when she learnt about the girl through newspaper reports. “The incident paints a very sorry picture of police and lawyers. The family couldn’t afford a lawyer and hence had to rely on a government-appointed lawyer and look at what kind of mental torture she was subjected to,” says Oza.
Thanks to the widespread protests that followed the Nirbhaya case, reporting and awareness have increased but is largely restricted to the Metros only. “It’s still the same in smaller cities, people still blame the victim. They say awful things like ‘Isi ne bhadkaya hoga’ or ‘Ma Baap ne kuch zaada hi choot de rakhi thi’ (‘she must have asked for it’ or ‘her parents had given her too much freedom’). The less said about police, the better. I have heard of cases where the policemen raped the women when they went to the police station to report rape,” Oza shares.
But in Radha’s case it was the woman constable and the woman lawyer who tormented her no end. “Sexual assault is a big issue for you and me, but for them it just a routine crime. They deal it with every day, and that is perhaps why some of them don’t feel the need of being sensitive,” says Oza.
And Madhu Garg couldn’t agree more.
Garg is an activist in Lucknow and is state president of the All India Democratic Women Association. She represents a 24-year-old rape victim Zahira, who was gang raped in 2005 when she was just 13. Zahira, a housemaid was coming back from work when she was kidnapped and gang raped by four youngsters in a moving car. She was then taken to an empty plot where two more boys joined the culprits. After they were done raping her, the boys dumped her at a deserted road.
People passing by accompanied Zahira to her house which was located at another corner of the city. Zahira’s father, a scrap dealer went to the police station and investigation revealed that the boys belonged to influential families. The main accused Gaurav Shukla was a close relative of a politician. Threats started pouring in from all quarters and Zahira’s family was continuously pressured to take the complaint back. “We immediately rushed to her house when we read the reports in newspapers. The family was obviously scared and didn’t know how to handle the pressure,” says Garg.
The boys had inserted a barrel inside Zahira’s vagina and had burnt her with cigarettes. “The girl was not very fluent in Hindi anyway and this incident left her totally numb. She needed to speak at court and we wanted her self-confidence to be back, hence we decided to get her psychiatric therapy along with physical treatment,” Garg says.
“I can imagine what Radha must have gone through; the environment inside courts is very hostile. If it wasn’t for us and the strong support by media, Zahira and her family would have given up for sure,” Garg adds. She made sure Zahira’s case goes to the best lawyers but obstacles did surface. “There was a time when the lawyer we hired quit our case and joined the other party. But that was only once,” says Garg.
The story continued to grab Page One headlines for many days and five were finally convicted, two of whom died in separate road accidents. “Zahira braved both the Test Identification Parade as well as the hearings at court,” Garg says. But repetitive questions during the proceedings and the fact that her family was still not safe disturbed her a lot. She was sent to a children’s home where she got a chance to mingle with children of her age. She also learnt to read and write. All that boosted her confidence and she is fighting the case till date.
The main accused in the case is trying with all his might to prove that he was a juvenile at the time of crime. Zahira’s father Azhar makes sure he never misses out on the hearing, though he feels that the family has been totally stigmatised by the incident. It’s been a while since he last visited his hometown because he doesn’t wish to answer those piercing questions from his extended family.
“They are aware of all that happened to Zahira and want to know if I will be marrying her off and if she will be able to have children,” says Azhar. He makes sure Zahira’s younger sister stays home bound till she is married.
Zahira who spent her entire teens fighting the case is now preparing to appear for her Class X exams and aspires to become a judge in the future for obvious reasons. “She says she will make sure that rapists get convicted without any delay,” smiles Garg. “But I wish Radha had got the same kind of support as Zahira,” she adds quickly.
If Radha’s rapists had not made filmed the act, would she have been alive today? It is perhaps pointless to question this today, but the fact that those men filmed the rape scarred her more than the act itself. “I do understand what made her keep mum for six months. I know many girls who have been filmed in compromising positions and have been blackmailed for months,” says Naseema Khatoon, an activist from Jaipur.
Khatoon refers to this four-member gang that used to film couples while they would spend time at this popular picnic spot at Churu, Rajasthan. One member from the gang would get the girl’s phone number by acting as a cop. They would then send an MMS on the girl’s mobile phone and demand money. “It even turned out that they further assaulted some of the girls. The investigation is on and details are awaited,” says Khatoon.
One such girl who is studying in Jaipur contacted Khatoon. She had already given all her savings to the gang but they were pressing her for more. Too petrified to inform her parents or police, the girl decided to take Khatoon’s help who busted the gang with the help of Jaipur police.
Khatoon agrees that reporting to police isn’t the first thing that comes into girls’ minds when being threatened to leak the MMS. “They don’t even tell their families because of fear and try to handle the situation on their own, which makes it worse,” says Khatoon.
But what does one do when police behaves the way it did with Radha? “That’s a tricky question, the police is meant to help us, but sometimes they act in a way which leaves the victims wondering if they will ever get justice,” she says.
Khatoon recalls an incident where an 11-year-old girl, Neha was kidnapped in Sikar in Rajasthan while she was coming back from a theatre with her sister and friends. Two men, both in their mid-twenties, dragged the girl from the window of their open-air jeep and took her to an isolated place to rape her. The girl was kidnapped from a busy street and many people witnessed it happening but when the girls’ family rushed to the police station to register a complaint, they were refused.
“They told the cops what the vehicle looks like, they even told them the jeep’s number. But the FIR was written only after the story appeared in media the next day,” recalls Khatoon.
The girl was spotted by a passer-by on the outskirts of the city where she was lying unconscious. Her vagina was so badly ruptured that even 20 surgeries couldn’t fix it. She is 14 years old now and spends most of her time lying in bed. The stitches around the vagina don't let her sit for long and going out of her house and do what most children of her age do is a distant dream.
Khatoon insists that police could have lessened the severity of the damage done to the girl, if they had registered the complaint that very night and taken action on time. “After raping the girl, the men threw her to die, that worsened her injuries. I was told that it took doctors five hours to understand the complexity of her injury. There would have been less of harm if the cops had traced the girl the same night,” Khatoon says.
The government hospital at Sikar immediately referred her to JK Lone Hospital in Jaipur, where she was treated for nearly four months. The family of the accused kept threatening the girl’s family in spite of the police protection provided to the latter.
“A series of surgeries and the crying faces of family members were taking a toll on the girls’ mental health. I requested the family members not to cry all the time; also I continuously reminded them that it was nobody’s fault but the men’s who raped her,” Khatoon says.
The latest guidelines issued by the government in 2014 on medical care for rape victims states that psychological counselling to rape victims must be provided compulsorily, but it is clearly not implemented. Khatoon herself affirms, “I don’t think any government hospital has that provision,” she says.
“Counselling by professionals is a must for victims and their families. It will not only help in dealing with trauma but also the stigma that comes with rape,” she adds.
Neha’s sister Kanti is a housemaid and finds it hard to keep her job after her employers came to know that her sister was raped. “They tell me we should go back to Bihar where we came from four years ago because everybody knows what happened to my sister. People say we are characterless,” sobs Kanti. Her younger sister Chandni has slipped into severe depression due to the taunting remarks from her neighbours.
Mamta Devi meanwhile tries hard to find Radha’s traces in her belongings. “Just three days before she died, she told me how she wants to study really hard and crack IPS exams. All that I am left with is her books and clothes,” the mother breaks down.
NOTE: Personal details of people in this story were changed to ensure confidentiality.