Being a teacher, I used to be a people person. I also did a lot of social work. I feel too ashamed and unsafe to come out in public now, although it has been five years since the incident. It’s as if the only identity I have is that of a ‘raped woman’. The teasing, the leering, the judgment makes me feel like I am being raped over and over again.
I used to be a teacher in the tea gardens in Bangladesh. I am Hindu and Dalit. The culprits were Muslim men from the nearby village, affluent and well-connected. After I was raped, I was terrified of revealing it to anyone, let alone complaining to the police.
I was admitted to the hospital after I fell sick and initially refused to divulge the details of what happened. As my condition worsened, the doctors coaxed me to say the truth. The injuries on my body had made it clear to them that I had been raped. When I gathered the courage to reveal sexual assault, a doctor said, it was too late and most of the evidence had been wiped from my body. Though they were the ones who urged me to speak about the assault, they also wrote, ‘no sign of rape found’ on their medical report. I delayed reporting the incident, and I deeply regret it.
I was in three hospitals for a few weeks and everywhere the accused’s family could walk in, unobstructed. They would walk into the women’s ward of a big government hospital where I was admitted and would intimidate me and pressure me to reach a financial settlement. No-one stopped them. Once I was back home, they would come to my house after sun down and demand we negotiate with them. One day, I did not step out of my house and we kept the door shut all evening and night, and when I stepped out in the dawn, they were huddled in front of my house. It was terrifying! So we quit our jobs and left the neighborhood.
The moment I was called to the witness box in court, the five defense lawyers pounced on me, asking one painful question after another, slamming my character, and accusing me of lying. I tried to speak, but no words came out of my mouth. I wept, and they kept shouting. The public prosecutor representing me sat quietly, not raising a single objection. Weeks after I had been raped, I felt like I was being assaulted again, this time with people watching and jeering.
I always felt that the public prosecutor was lazy because he wasn’t getting paid extra. We took out loans and borrowed money from friends to go to the court, which was at least 40 kilometers from my home. The principal of the school where I taught helped me with some money. Then, my husband had to find a new job because we were on the verge of starving. It was in Dhaka and he left for work. At first, I had to pay someone to come with me to court, I was scared of traveling alone. But now, I have gathered some courage to do it on my own.
I wish I knew that reporting the incident immediately was important, I wish it was explained to women why medical evidence needs to be collected swiftly, I wish there was more awareness about the long, painful legal process involved in a sexual case. My case is still ongoing after five years, I wish courts acted faster and the society treated the rapists as pariahs, instead of ostracising the survivor.