Print edition : October 31, 2014

KIRAN (name changed) is a 16-year-old girl with large fluid eyes, a sharp nose, jet black curly hair, dark glowing complexion, medium height and a slim frame. At the shelter home, she seems calm and there are few signs of the pain and suffering she has endured.

Kiran ran away from home to an acquaintance’s place when her stepfather repeatedly tried to rape her and her mother refused to hear her cries for help. She began working as a domestic help and worked part-time with a caterer.

One night in May 2012, while walking home from work, a few drunken men made lewd comments at her. She ignored it and entered the house and bolted the door. But the men started banging on the door and asked Kiran to come out. They threatened Fatima, the house owner, that if she did not open the door and hand Kiran over to them, they would break open the door and rape everyone inside. A scared Fatima asked Kiran to leave. When Kiran did not budge, she threw Kiran out. The men dragged her down the lane, entered a vacant room and gang-raped her.

Five of the six men took turns to rape her. They beat her with belts and burnt her cheek and wrists with cigarette butts. Kiran fainted. When she regained consciousness it was morning. Fatima took her back in but did nothing to help. A woman called “Kaki” helped her lodge a complaint. The police arrested the five men but let them off the next day. Meanwhile, Kiran’s boyfriend, who initially helped her move out of her home, too, tried to rape her.

A traumatised Kiran confided in her friend Pooja, who took her to a social worker. When they tried to file a complaint, the police taunted her, saying her mother was a prostitute and she was no better. The social worker admitted Kiran into Asha Sadan as a “child in need of care and protection”. Doctors at J.J. Hospital, where she was referred to, sent her to the police station. Finally, on June 16, 2012, an FIR was lodged.

She was sent for medical examination five days later. The Rahat team met Kiran at Asha Sadan and started helping with the case. Investigations were taking long and the defence lawyers applied for discharge.

But the judge threw out the discharge application and, convinced by Kiran’s account, listed the case for trial. The sensitive judge also followed the guidelines for rape trials. The victim was brought in through the entrance meant for judges. Kiran’s examination-in-chief and cross-examination were held in camera. This prevented her from deposing in front of her rapists.

After about six months, three of the accused were convicted for 10 years.

Shubada’s case

Shubada (name changed), who lived in the Cuffe Parade slums of South Mumbai, was molested by her father when she was 10 years old and later raped by her stepfather when she was 15.

According to the lawyers who worked on her case, Shubada trusted her stepfather, Ravindra, who would take her side whenever she quarrelled with her mother Vimla. On one such occasion, in the guise of taking her for a walk to calm her down, Ravindra led her to a friend’s house out of the city and raped her.

When they went missing, the mother filed a missing person complaint and Ravindra was arrested. Vimla apparently was under a lot of pressure to secure her husband’s release and used whatever money she had to file a bail application. But the judge rejected it. At this point the judge requested Rahat to intervene. Shubada was admitted to Asha Sadan for safe custody until the trial was complete.

Shubada initially refused to interact with Rahat lawyers. She felt guilty about the incident and blamed herself for putting her “Appa” behind bars. Vimla would also visit her regularly and instigate her. When the trial started, Shubada was reluctant to testify or divulge details of the incident. The judge came down from her dais and spoke to the girl kindly and explained to her the need to pursue the case.

The defence argued that it was a false case filed by the mother. It also tried to prove Shubada was 16 and had gone with the accused of her own free will. However, municipal records proved she was 15 on the date of the incident.

It was during the trial that the biological father’s abuse came out.

The judge eventually convicted the accused for 10 years of rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs.15,000. The case did not end here for the judge. She visited Shubada in Asha Sadan. A remarkable achievement in the face of all that she went through was that Shubada cleared her tenth standard board examinations with high marks.

“The role of a judge needs to expand beyond the conventional confines of merely delivering a sentence. This case brings new hope and meaning to our work of providing support to survivors as we witness a gradual change in attitudes within the judiciary,” says Flavia Agnes, who leads the Rahat programme.

Anupama Katakam

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