Rekha, a 16-year-old Dalit girl, visited a grocery shop in her neighbourhood. At the store, the 46-year-old shop owner offered to give her free toffees and snacks and called her to come inside. When she refused, the man forced Rekha into his store, raped her, and threatened to kill her if she told anybody.
This story was shared by Equality Now and Swabhiman Society – an organization providing paralegal support, legal aid and other services to survivors of sexual violence from marginalized communities in Haryana – as part of the launch of their joint report, Justice Denied: Sexual Violence & Intersectional Discrimination – Barriers to Accessing Justice for Dalit Women and Girls in Haryana, India.
After the attack, the man followed her home and began stalking her. Multiple times, he came to her house when she was alone after school and her parents were out working. He also began appearing at other places where she went, including a playground where she practised sport. For a six month period, the perpetrator raped Rekha numerous times and continually threatened her, saying he would kill both her and her parents unless she kept silent. In fear of her life, she spoke to nobody about the ongoing abuse.
Eventually, Rekha became pregnant but did not realize it. One day, she felt a pain in her stomach, and her family took her to the village dispensary where the doctor informed Rekha that she was six months pregnant. It was at this point that Rekha confided to her family about what she had been enduring.
Rekha went to the police to file a complaint but they were slow to take any action and the family of the shop owner put pressure on the police to drop the case. It was only after a medical report confirmed evidence of rape that the police finally arrested the accused.
The police investigation into Rekha’s case is ongoing and the government has not provided her with any counselling or other rehabilitation services. She had to leave her village to have the baby and during her pregnancy, government authorities kept her in a small, dirty hospital room without sufficient food to keep her and her child healthy.
Rekha was pregnant during the COVID-19 pandemic and government lockdown measures meant it was difficult for her family to deliver food to her every day from their village. When activists supporting Rekha complained to the authorities about the poor conditions she was being kept in, they were barred from visiting her. However, after further intervention by those supporting her, Rekha was eventually moved to a better room and gave birth to a baby girl.
After the arrival of her daughter, Rekha returned home to study for her school exams, which she missed while in hospital. She is legally entitled to compensation from the government but when she applied she was informed that state authorities do not currently have sufficient resources to make the payment. Without this money, it has been a struggle for Rekha and her family to make ends meet and they have opted to put the baby up for adoption.
COVID-19 quarantine rules have delayed progress in the police investigation and the DNA report is still pending. Rekha and her family have faced pressure from both the family of the man who raped her and the local khap panchayat (village council) to settle the case against the accused.
Rekha and her family were provided with police protection until she gave birth. This was subsequently withdrawn and they remain vulnerable to coercion, threats and violence from people in their community. However, they are determined to see the case through to the end and are hopeful of eventually obtaining justice.
*Names have been changed