This story was shared as part of the launch of Sexual Violence in South Asia: Legal and Other Barriers to Justice for Survivors, co-authored by Equality Now and Dignity Alliance International. This story is anonymous and the name Prabha is a pseudonym.
When the doctor finally came to examine my injuries, it was 1:30am and I had been waiting for her in the hospital since afternoon. Earlier that day, a gang of men attacked me in the rice fields and took turns to thrash and rape me. I had passed out and they left me for dead.
After a local hospital refused to treat me — shocked at the nature of my injuries and fearing police involvement — my husband took me to the police station and begged them to find medical help, so the police brought me to a bigger hospital. The doctor spent just a few minutes checking me and declared I had not been raped.
To my shock, she lashed out at me and said that I was trying to get an upper hand in a land dispute by framing the accused. “You’re a woman, tell me why I would lie? Just look at my body!” I shouted. But she was unrelenting. I was in the hospital for a month.
At that moment, I realized my gangrape was political. The accused, who had strong connections with a powerful local politician, had bribed their way across the system to shut me up. Who knows, the doctor may have been one of the people who had been paid a hefty price for her silence?
It’s never easy for a woman to fight a case of sexual assault in this country. And when the survivor is a poor, Adivasi woman and the accused from the majority community with powerful political connections, it is even more difficult to obtain justice. In a system designed to take our land, our livelihoods, and keep us at the bottom of social hierarchies so that we keep serving the powerful in silence, what hope do I have?
The public prosecutor who was assigned to my case barely ever spoke to me. Though he is paid by the government to represent me, I paid him 1500 taka (approx. $18 USD) every month from my meager savings just to tell me the dates of the hearings, which is his duty to tell me. Even then he would be unreachable for days. Then I had to start paying his clerk to get to know about court appearances and even then I’d be informed the evening before appearing before the court.
In the court, the defense lawyer, another man from the majority community, continuously shamed me. “Which husband of yours is this, you have many?” he said. And he asked my daughter, “Do you number your fathers?” My lawyer did not raise a single objection.
While all the accused were arrested, most of them got bail soon after and they are roaming free. Some of them live in the same lane as I do. We receive death threats almost every day, like a well-oiled routine. They have filed dozens of lawsuits against me and I risk losing the land I farm and which feeds us.
The little money I earn selling our harvest goes in legal fees. I received no government aid at first because the doctor had written off my accusations as false. Then desperate, one day I made a trip to the Prime Minister’s office and cried and begged till they let me in. Since then, I have received 80,000 taka (approx. $945 USD) in aid, which has gone on fighting the many lawsuits.
The police filed a charge sheet a year after the rape, which happened in August 2014. I was shocked when I looked at it – they made my case look so weak that the accused would walk free. But I wasn’t giving up, I visited senior police officials and complained till they agreed to do a better job. My case is still ongoing.
I often wonder if my life would be different if I was a Bangali woman, not a marginalized Adivasi woman. I see young people from my community being rejected from jobs just because of their identity, our women and girls are raped every day and the culprits walk around with impunity. I may look alive, but inside I have been shattered into hundreds of pieces. Only my courage has kept me together.