Revisiting India’s forgotten gang-rape victim

Twelve-year-old, attacked four months before 2012 New Delhi rape case, is evicted from haven in capital as trial begins.

Despite tougher laws to punish rapists, poor victims continue to face prejudice [Shahnawaz Akhtar/Al Jazeera]

Jaipur, Rajasthan The gang-rape and hanging of two Dalit teenage girls in northern Uttar Pradesh state has made headlines in India, but a minor girl raped in 2012 has still found no takers in the local media.

The girl gang-raped at the age of 11 has become the forgotten victim of a crime that exposes widespread indifference towards the country’s poorest groups.

In a case that occurred four months before the 2012 New Delhi gang-rape – yet which did not make the headlines – the child has been left physically and mentally scarred.

As far as rape cases are concerned, the media only reports what happens in large metropolitan cities and ignore crimes committed in small towns...So in this case, while the crime was very brutal, it was rarely reported on national media. Justice continues to elude this victim

by Narayan Bareth, senior Indian journalist

Bouts of reconstructive surgery have failed to end the ordeal as efforts to convict the accused drag on.

In December,  Al Jazeera had reported about the minor  who at that time was waiting for her case to be tried in court.

The child from Darbhanga, in eastern state of Bihar  was visiting her older sister in Sikar district of the western state of Rajasthan in August 2012 following the death of their father when the attack occurred.

“On August 20, we were returning after watching an evening movie,” said her sister, Chanda, whose name has been changed to protect her identity.

“It was Eid. When we reached the bus stand, four boys in a jeep kidnapped my sister and escaped. We tried to chase them, but failed,” she said. “We reported the matter to police immediately and even gave them the direction that they took but the police did not take immediate action. The next day my sister was found unconscious in a forest area.”

Reconstructive surgery

The girl was brought to Rajasthan’s capital, Jaipur, for treatment at the JK Lone paediatric hospital. By January she had undergone 19 major and minor operations.

“The girl was gang-raped so brutally that her private organ and anus were ruptured,” says Naseema Khatoon, an activist who has been fighting for her cause.

Her condition did not improve and she was then referred to the All India Institute of Medical Science in the capital New Delhi where she underwent four more operations in a bid to restore to her a semblance of normal life, before being discharged in April this year.

The child’s suffering has also been visited upon her family, which has been camping at Rajasthan Bhavan, the state’s official building in New Delhi, since she was transferred there for treatment. Her mother has become poorly and withdrawn, unable to respond to questions.

“Along with my sister, our lives have also been ruined. We die everyday,” Chanda said. “We have not been able to return to either Bihar or Rajasthan in the past 20 months. We have no money to eat and have to depend on Rajasthan House [the state’s office in Delhi] to offer us whatever they can for our meals.”

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Last week, the survivor, now 12, and her family were evicted from Rajasthan Bhavan, the official guest house of Rajasthan in the capital, and sent back to Sikar district, where the minor had been raped. The family opposed it as they felt that they would not be safe back there. Security officials told Al Jazeera that they had to follow the orders from higher authorities.

“Rajasthan Bhavan has got an order from Chief Minister Office [of Rajasthan] to send back the girl and family to Sikar as now the treatment is over. So we cannot do anything but follow orders,” Ram Singh, the security personnel at Rajasthan Bhavan, told Al Jazeera.

Despite new laws that reflect a tougher approach to rape and to support victims following the New Delhi case – which caused widespread outrage and sparked nationwide protests – the plight of the girl and her family reflects the continuing prejudice that poor victims continue to face.

The child was given just 500,000 rupees ($8,500) compensation from the then Rajasthan government under the Congress party, which was deposited in her account on the condition that she would not have access to it until she turns 18.

In Sikar, the family had scraped together a living from day labour and washing dishes, but moving to be with the girl, first to Jaipur and then New Delhi, has deprived them of an income.

Suspects charged

While police later arrested four men in connection with the attack, they charged only two with rape and the other received bail. In March, they finally conducted an identification parade – a full 19 months after the attack.

The trial of two men, age 25 and 20 respectively, and two others accused of helping them, has now begun at a lower court in Sikar.

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The accused are members of the Jat community, considered a powerful caste in Rajasthan with its stronghold in Sikar. In 2012, when the incident occurred, a minister hailing from the district and of the same caste was accused by activists of shielding the accused.

The victim’s sister Chanda claims that Sikar police, responsible for the security of the victim, have admitted her to hospital her twice to prevent her talking to the media.

“I do not need any treatment. They have put me here again,” she had told Al Jazeera over the phone from Lady Hardinge Hospital in New Delhi.

Haider Ali Zaidi, Sikar’s police superintendent, insists the case is now too old to comment upon and told Al Jazeera: “As the identification parade has been done and the trial has begun, it’s now with the court to act on the case further.”

Case ignored

The New Delhi rape case – in which a 23-year-old woman was attacked by six men in a bus and later died from her injuries – sparked mass protests and forced the government to strengthen the law. In both the New Delhi case and another high-profile case in Mumbai last year the convicted men were sentenced to death.

Khatoon said that even after so much media attention following the New Delhi and Mumbai cases there has been little coverage of the 12-year-old girl’s plight.

“The accused are influential people and they are doing everything to destroy the case,” Khatoon said. “They even spread rumours that the family has taken money from them so that public sympathy does not remain with the survivor.”

Narayan Bareth, a senior Indian journalist, said: “In recent times, the media has penetrated every sphere of life in India. But as far as rape cases are concerned, the media only reports what happens in large metropolitan cities and ignore crimes committed in small towns.

“So in this case, while the crime was very brutal, it was rarely reported on national media. Justice continues to elude this victim.”

Follow Shahnawaz Akhtar on Twitter: @ScribeShah

Source: Al Jazeera