The year was 1998 and I had just finished my 7th grade exams. It was a typical day number one of the vacation. I woke up late, sat in front of the T.V with my brush in my mouth for more than 20 minutes trying to catch the latest film releases that summer, got yelled at by my mom for being late for breakfast, followed by home-made dosas and peanut chutney for brunch. As I gobbled up the last dosa, I breathed freedom. I was at home and this meant that I did not have to wash my plate. I lazily walked into the kitchen to dump my plate into the sink as I noticed my mother and my maid getting ready to make lunch.
I found myself a neat spot on the kitchen bench-top and flopped myself on it eager to catch up on their conversation. It was then that I noticed the weirdness in the air. My maid signaled to my mom and asked her if she wanted to tell me about it. My mom looked perplexed. I was just a curious cat so I pressed my mom to spit it out. And thus, she began.
A brief introduction; my mom ran a non-government organization (NGO) that had worked on some projects to provide free education to kids under 14 years, employment to single mothers, etc. She also participated in some sort of “women counselling” program where she did a lot from abc to xyz. Basically, she was all for women rights.
“There is this three year old girl, a kid from the nearby village. She is in the hospital. I’m going to see her this evening”, she said.
“What is wrong with her?”
“She was raped two nights ago”
My mind went blank for almost 60 seconds. I was 13 years old. This kind of stuff was too much for me to take. But my mom continued.
“She doesn’t have a father. She was sleeping outside, on a cot, in between her mother and her grandmother. (Summers in A.P were really hot and most people slept on their terrace) This man came along, he was drunk. He picked up the little girl from in between those two women and carried her to the dumpster at a distance, threw her on a pile of garbage, thrust his shirt in her mouth and raped her. It was only 15 minutes later that her grandmother woke up and found her granddaughter missing and went looking for her. She heard muffled screams at a distance and gave out a shrill cry at what she saw. Of course rapist ran away but only after the grandmother got a good look at his face.”
“She is very sick. The sick, drunken bastard bit her all over, on her vagina and it was bleeding uncontrollably. He happens to be the village Sarpanch’s son so we have tracked him down. Me and my friends want justice for the little girl. Do you want to go to the hospital with me?”
I was numb and disgusted. A three year old girl! What kind of a demon does that.
She was tiny, with several bandages on her elbows, knees and forehead. My mother went to talk to the little girl’s mother, trying to comfort her, and telling her that they had found him. I was very uneasy. I did what I do with most kids, gave my index finger to her to hold. She din’t take it. She was expressionless, and just started and started and stared, into some sort of emptiness above my head. I wondered. I wondered if she could even fathom what had happened to her. I wondered if she would grow up to forget this incident. I shuddered and wondered about the society we are living in.
She hadn’t moved for more than 10 minutes now. She was wearing a bottle green frock. A doctor came in to examine her. He moved up to her to lift her frock and see if the wounds on her vagina were healing. The second he touched her frock, she became violent. She started to fight off the doctor’s hands with all her might and was screaming so loudly that probably the entire floor could hear her now. Her mother ran forward and tried to pacify her but the little girl wouldn’t stop her terror stricken cries until the doctor left her room. Her mom was all tears said that she had been doing this. The kid wouldn’t let anyone examine her vaginal wounds. My mother pacified her mother and asked if the little girl had shown any signs of speech. Then my mom turned to me and explained that the girl could speak really well. She had even started going to the local nursery free-education program. But the incident had muted her. The doctors couldn’t tell if she had lost her voice due to the shock of the horrific incident or due to the way her neck was handled during the same. They mentioned that if it was due to shock she would eventually be able to talk again.
I ran out of the room. I cried, a lot. I cried more that night. I could not get her empty eyes and her bottle green frock out of my mind.
The rapist eventually got away. Neither was he tried at court nor was he convicted. Huh! He wasn’t even arrested. He was after all the son of the Sarpanch. He faked a letter from the Government Hospital that said that he had been in the hospital for the last seven days suffering from diarrhea or some shit. The police refused to issue an arrest warrant.
I have thought of that girl many times ever since. I think of her when I read about Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander, I think of her when I read about the rape of any woman, in India or otherwise. I thought of her when I read about the public molestation about a 16 year old Gawahati girl by a dozen savages, I thought of her when I read about an independent 25 year old woman in Mumbai who was assaulted and murdered by her lust-filled watchman, I thought of her when another 6 year old girl in Haryana was recently raped, and I thought of her as I watched Haryana Khap Panchayats shamelessly tell the media that the cause of such rapes is women not being married early.
She must be 17 years old now. A teenager. Does she go to school? Does she remember the brutal attack? Will she ever lead a normal life? Does she have a boyfriend? Is she a strong and independent girl? How does our “society” treat her? Has she been shunned? How does she feel about denied justice? And most importantly, can she TALK?
I probably will never find answers to these questions cause I am like most Indians. I do nothing. After all, I have lived and grown up in a society that flops itself in front of the television every Sunday morning to watch shows that have been adapted from the epic, Ramayana, the one where the antagonist sneaks in and kidnaps a married woman against her will, in her husband’s absence, and where the protagonist rescues her from him but gives her as much respect as asking her to jump into the fire to prove her chastity and who abandons her when she is pregnant with his kids.