There are good, feminist arguments about testimony, accountability, memory-keeping and record. This is not that kind of rape-story. Here we look at what happens after the cameras leave, as families from marginalised castes continue to seek justice.
The man at the other end of the line offers to pay. His voice is crackly, he has left Karwi where he drives a rickshaw for his village near Koshambi in U.P. these days. He will return soon for a court-date, he says. He does not know the name of his lawyer. No, they have not received government compensation yet but they have heard talk that such a thing as muafza (compensation) exists.
“Thoda help kar dijiye. Agar humko mil jaaye toh hum aap ko bhi…” (Please help us a little. If we get it, you too—)
“No, no,” the reporter interrupts. “We’re not that kind of mediahouse. I will find out.”
After a few pleasantries she asks, “Main pooch rahi thi bitiya waale case mein hua kya fir?” (I was asking, what happened in the case of your daughter?)
“After approaching the Superintendent (SP) and then the Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of police, the perpetrator is currently in jail.”
“Aur dhaaraye kaunsi lagi hain?” (What sections have been registered?)
“POCSO, teensochihattar (376).”
These two questions and this uncomfortable probing of a delicate situation mark an all too frequent conversation for reporters at Khabar Lahariya. And teensochihattar which dots such conversations is a reference to section 376 of the Indian Penal Code, which determines the punishment for rape.
How to tell a rape story?
It depends on whom you ask. There is a sensationalist, voyeuristic lens that feeds a harmful media frenzy as KL reported in September from Hathras. The brutal rape and murder of 19 year old Manisha, a Dalit girl from the Valmiki caste, brought a plague of reporters to the grieving family’s home from across the country. Some months later, the country it seems has moved on. This is characteristic of such ‘episodic’ reporting of rape — that focuses on the details of cases that hit the national radar, mentioning the degree of assault, the events that transpired, often rife with speculation about the victim. It may involve dramatic recreations on TV and feed a public hunger for ‘justice’, leading on occasion to execution based on flimsy evidence— as in the Dhananjay case of 2004 in Kolkata. There has long been a feminist stance against capital punishment, as it has been found to largely have no impact on deterring sexual violence — leading instead to fewer convictions, and actually fostering impunity for dominant caste and upper class perpetrators.
In Uttar Pradesh where the statistics on violence against women balloon every year, Khabar Lahariya has done more than its fair share of rape-reporting. As impact works differently for KL’s hyperlocal reporting, the difference between a case being ignored at the police station and having a shot at sunwayi (hearing) may be a persistent reporter calling up an irate superintendent to ask about delay in proceedings. On occasion KL reporters have gotten personally involved, unable to help themselves from following a case over the years and interminable court dates.
After an assault, if the survivor or their family wants to seek legal redress there are certain established steps through the police and courts: registration of a First Information Report (FIR) at the police station, a medicolegal case report from the hospital, taking the accused into custody, a police investigation, a court case, government compensation for the survivor or victim’s family.
However this stairway is marked by two unwritten yet clearly established categories: sexual assault where the victim is from a dominant caste and sexual assault where the victim is from a Dalit, OBC or Adivasi background. For the latter, this stairway comes with many stumbles, roadblocks and often mortal danger. Here we look at the various steps along the way where families from marginalised castes have been thwarted in seeking justice.
When the police chases you away instead of registering an FIR
For the OBC family of a 13 year old schoolgirl abducted on 22 February in the town of Mau in Chitrakoot district of Uttar Pradesh, their requests to investigate went unheeded by the Mau police station. “Jao, bhaag jao yahaan se (Go on, get out of here)” the police told them.