New Delhi: “Everything happened due to my body, so I thought destroying it would be best. I poured a can full of kerosene on my body and set myself on fire.”
These are the first few words the 29-year-old woman utters to ThePrint. The victim of a series of alleged rapes in Hapur, Uttar Pradesh, she is admitted to a Delhi hospital with 70-80 per cent burn injuries. But even more than everything else she has gone through, she says what hurt the most was “the mockery that this disgusting society made of me”.
One can clearly see the pain and anguish in the eyes of the woman’s 27-year-old husband as he narrates what happened on the day she self-immolated.
“That day about 7 to 8 people had come to our house. They threatened us against complaining to the police. All these people live in the same village. When I reached home, she had already set herself on fire. I broke open the gate, and when I touched her she was almost like a living corpse. I immediately rushed her to a Moradabad hospital. My hands were also scorched while trying to rescue her,” he said.
The husband lists out the injustices committed against his wife, a member of the Dhuna caste. “My father and uncles were in the Army, and I went to the Army School in Meerut. I am pursuing my graduation, but also trying for a job in the Army and have appeared for the physical. I didn’t know anything about her until about a year ago. I only got to know when I was doing a stint of social work, and she told me she was being raped for the last six or seven years, and the abuse was still going on,” he said.
“I raised the matter with a lot of people, including the pradhan, but no one came forward to help her. Instead everyone tried to prove that she was a woman of ill-repute.”
In hushed tones, the woman talks about the day she set herself on fire: “That day, my husband had gone out and my rapists suddenly barged into my house. They threatened me against complaining to the police and taunted me. Villagers had been making jokes about me and taunting me since the day they had found out that as many as 16 men had raped me. All these insults led to a situation where I thought ending my life was the only option left to me.”
What the FIR contains, and what it doesn’t
The woman’s horrifying story only made national headlines four days ago, when Swati Maliwal, chairperson of the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW), wrote a letter to UP CM Yogi Adityanath, raising several questions about how the UP Police functions — several attempts made by the victim to file an FIR against her rapists were allegedly denied by the police.
Under pressure from the DCW and a huge social media uproar, the Hapur police was finally compelled to lodge an FIR.
According to the FIR, the woman “was married to Sonu, from an unknown village in Hapur, 14 years ago. The couple also had a child. After some altercations with her husband, she returned to her parental home. Sometime later, she was married again with Pramod of Shyampur Jatt village. Her father and an aunt played an important role in her second marriage. She alleges that her father is a drunkard and he sold her for Rs 10,000 only in the name of a sham marriage.”
Some newspapers had published small reports about her ordeal in the past, but most of the media has only noticed the case after the DCW chief’s letter. Sixteen men have been named as accused in the FIR, most of them Jat or Brahmin, as well as some Dalits. Fifteen of the accused are from Shyampur Jatt village itself.
No arrests were made until the publication of this report. After several pleas, the couple have finally been given some police protection.
The victims now allege that the FIR has not named the woman’s father and second husband. In their eyes, these two are equally guilty.
Narrating the details of the atrocities committed against her, the woman says: “One of my father’s proclaimed sisters (munh-boli behen) is married in Shyampur Jatt village. Pramod used to work in the fields of a landlord named Babu in the same village. He had taken a loan from the landlord, and after the marriage, we worked hard and returned the principal amount. But some interest was still left to be paid.
“Babu took advantage of this situation and started raping me. He continued raping me for several years. Pramod knew about all this, yet he remained a mute spectator. Later, some more men became aware of my helplessness, and they also took advantage of the situation. As many as 15 men raped me on different occasions — sometimes in my house, sometimes in the fields.”
The woman says that one of her three children was also a result of rape by Babu. Both she and her current husband want the matter to go to court, so that the paternity of the child can be established.
Appalling attitude of society
As the woman said, what hurts her even more than the alleged rapes is society’s attitude towards what she had to go through.
She met her current husband, who belongs to a Jat family from the village, in 2018, while describing the horrors she had gone through and asking him to put a stop to the chain of gang-rapes. However, taking her side made the man a target of social boycott too — his own family snapped all ties with him.
A few families in the same burns ward as the woman have been noticing the tireless efforts the man is putting in for his wife. One man who has come from Bareilly for the treatment of his daughter’s leg says: “For four days, he has neither slept nor eaten anything. The media has been flocking to them for the last two days, and he has not rested for even one minute. I do not know much about their case, but in my opinion, he is a good man.”
The husband’s younger siblings, including a sister who lives in Noida, have also cut off all ties since he got together with the woman.
In his phone, the husband has saved four or five names as ‘dushman’ (enemy) and a few others as ‘dhamki’ (threat). “Whenever one of the rapists calls to threaten, I record the conversation and then save the number as dushman or dhamki. This woman has been tormented beyond words, and it is hard to describe her condition,” he says.
“My father calls me four or five times a day and asks me to steer clear of the matter. But she has no one take care of her. How can I abandon her? We have already registered our marriage on a Rs 50 stamp paper.”
A mother’s cry
When the woman is shown pictures of her children, she starts sobbing. “Pramod has kept my kids too. I left my village in May 2018 and that was the last time I saw their faces. After that, this is the first time I have seen their faces. I am continuously trying to get my kids back, but Pramod is not allowing them to come to me. He himself is siding with the rapists,” she says.
The husband adds: “When I took her to the police station, the SHO threatened me and said ‘what does this mother of three have to offer? Leave her’. He also refused to lodge an FIR.”
This is an updated version of the report