By: Tamanna Basu
This is the story of Ayesha, a fourteen-year old girl. She was from a low income household; her father was a labourer and her mother was a domestic worker. Ayesha went to a regular school.
Somehow, without the knowledge of her family, her 24-year-old neighbour managed to rape her, repeatedly. Out of fear, or shame, or guilt, she never told her parents. The rapist would threaten her. He said he would harm her and her family if she didn’t “obey”. So she did.
This violence went on until she fainted in school one day and the doctor declared her pregnant. She came to us with her mother when she was seven months pregnant. Her mother just wanted a quick, clean abortion. She didn’t want to file charges against the rapist or inform the police. She didn’t want anybody to know what had happened with her daughter. She was frightened that if the story spreads, her daughter’s life could be ruined forever and the reputation of the entire family could be tarnished.
Through diligent and consistent counseling we were able to convince them otherwise. The mother was brought around to understand that her daughter had nothing to be ashamed about, that it was necessary to file a complaint against the accused for that was the only way of protecting other girls who could be his victims and of delivering justice to her daughter. We guaranteed absolute confidentiality in the whole process. The police would not reveal the identity of the victim, her horror would remain private and yet the culprit would be punished. The mother agreed to file a FIR.
However, it was far too late for an abortion. The matter was taken up to the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) within the Juvenile Justice System. After a thorough briefing of both the victim and her mother, and the CWC, a meeting was fixed. The support of the CWC was absolute. They took the police in confidence and consulted with them as to how the legal procedure was to be conducted without any compromise on confidentiality. They provided a care home to look after the victim’s personal needs as well as the requirements of the birth and adoption of her child. The delivery of the baby and his/her adoption process was conducted successfully.
The victim returned to her home after the ordeal passed and returned to her school without missing a single academic year.
This is the sort of work we do. Before we conclude there are just three points we would like to make.
Firstly, one cannot become complacent because this one girl found some supports. There are many many such girls out there. How many will find organisations that will support them?
Secondly, the fact that she was raped repeatedly and made to endure pregnancy and childbirth at the age of 14 remains a reality. It is a violence that has scarred her childhood, and may continue to play out psychologically. We cannot forget that.
Thirdly, we need to think of larger questions that emerge out of this narrative. Why didn’t the child tell her parents this was happening to her? And why was the mother so eager to hush the matter up? The fact remains that we continue to practice a culture of victim blaming as far as sexual and gender violence is concerned. We need to work in redefining shame, guilt, honour, respect, reputation, The victim should not feel any guilt. The victim and the victim’s family loses no honour. The shame belongs to the culprit alone. We need to build a society where we blame those who inflict violence, a world with zero tolerance for violence, so that people who are vulnerable or marginalised are not so afraid, guilty or ashamed to speak out.
This is the direction in which we are working. Please leave a comment below if this story has reached out to you.
*All names have been changed