Give her strength

Smita PrakashIt is a true story. Neelima (name changed to protect identity) got married last month to the man of her choice. She married out of her community and caste. My cousin twice removed had broken taboos and all of us silently applauded her. Neelima grew up knowing that her mother had no option but to stay married to her father — the man who had no job and sat at home chewing tobacco, not helping either with the income or with doing chores. As an engineering student in the ’70s, he abused prescription drugs and lost his mental balance. His parents refused to admit that there was something wrong with their handsome son, and asserted that once he was married off, all his ‘problems’ would end. Instead, his problems kept multiplying. He produced three children but couldn’t provide for them. His poor wife was forced to hunt for odd jobs while his parents used up all their retirement funds to sustain their son’s family in the village home. It was a hard life, especially when relatives came visiting. As children we didn’t know how to reach out to Neelima and her younger siblings. The chasm ran deep. We were privileged city cousins who wore shoes and jeans, we spoke fluent English, and we laughed without a care. They didn’t.

Justice denied: 24,206 cases of rape were reported across the country last year but only a quarter of them ended in conviction

But their mother had steely determination in her eyes which we saw every year when we visited them during our summer vacations. She walked into the marriage unaware of her husband’s impaired mental faculties. She bore his children. But their future was something she would chart out. She knocked on every door for that. Her children studied hard and did brilliantly in their board exams. All three got admission in professional courses on merit, but she couldn’t afford their tuition fees. Scholarships came their way, as did jobs. Neelima and her siblings are well on their way to success now. She hops on to auto rickshaws, jumps on a state transport bus, smiles with the confidence of a girl who has known hardship and strives for a better tomorrow. I haven’t spoken to Neelima for a long time but I am so proud of her.

But Neelima and her mother are just a few drops in the ocean. The majority out there just succumb. They take the oppression, the pressures, the wrongs heaped on them day in and day out. On October 11, the world celebrated the first International Girl Child Day. And just a day earlier, a former Chief Minister of Haryana commented that early marriage would curb rape cases. Barely had Om Prakash Chautala uttered these words that a six-year old was raped in Gurgaon. Lured with a bar of chocolate, the baby girl was brutally raped by three men. Should she have been married off at age 5? Would that have prevented her from being raped?

This was the 19th reported rape case in Haryana in a month. Although Haryana is a state with the second highest per-capita GDP in India, it has only 830 girls for every 1,000 boys in the 0-6 age group. It has been billed as the challenger to southern states in business-friendliness and in attracting investment. But alas! Like other states, it has to bear the burden of its crass politicians, and caste groupings called khaps. They blame the women, and shield criminals and misogynists. Dharmavir Goyat, a Congress leader from Hisar said, “90% of women give their consent (for sex) but later the person turns out to be a criminal.”

The situation will not change unless we speed up trials of those who are found guilty of rape. 24,206 cases of rape were reported across the country last year but only a quarter of them ended in conviction. Rape is the most heinous crime and unless exemplary justice is delivered promptly, this menace of rapes will continue. Rapes happen in rich homes and poor ones, in those glass and chrome buildings as well as thatched huts, in dingy dark corridors and in brightly lit 5-star hotels. Women in India at times don’t report rape because their families fear social ostracism. And because they know justice won’t be delivered.

From the time of Draupadi’s cheer-haran, society has merely watched as men publicly disrobe a woman. Even gods could not save her humiliation in mythology. Can we write a new story now, where no Dushashan ever dares?

Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash

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