Caste and rape connect Radha*, Meera* and Kailash* – two women and one man who live hundreds of kilometres apart – in an unusual alliance that has changed their lives.
What’s common between the three?
Radha, Meera and Kailash belong to lower castes in three tiny hamlets that are dominated by a higher caste. While Radha and Meera were raped, allegedly by powerful upper caste men who resented living at close quarters with them, Kailash’s wife’s rape (also by an upper caste man) brought him to the forefront of her battle.
The strongest unifier, however?
The three are, today, members of a rape survivors’ forum where they tell one another their stories – and help, a little bit, with the healing.
Too caught up to read? Listen to the story here:
A Horrific Test
Radha is the first woman I meet, on a Friday afternoon.
We’re sitting on a white sheet made of stitched-up, unused cement bags that form the platform for our interview. Radha and her husband Gokul once lived in a larger village (“we built that house brick by brick,” they tell me) – but moved out in 2013 at the time that Radha was raped, by a farmer she and her husband cut crops for.
They now live several kilometres off the beaten track to avoid running into her alleged rapist, who has been wandering free for five years.
As we wrap up her story – a story that I later chronicled in a little graphic novel detailing the horrors of the two-finger test she was subjected to – Radha asks if I have come all the way just to meet her. Of course, I tell her; she’s pleased, but then she asks me if I have met her “Meera didi”?
It is at this point that Radha becomes the most exuberant she’s has been during the conversation. Meera has helped her through this, because she has had a similar story to share.
How Radha and Meera Became Friends, Miles Apart
Meera was raped more than seven years ago, allegedly by the village pujaari, and later subjected to the intrusive two-finger test that said she was “habituated for (sic) sex”.
For both these women, their worlds came crashing down because of two completely unnecessary and invasive procedures.
The two women, as similar as their stories are, should ideally never have met, each huddled away in their own microcosms.
How did they become friends?
Meera and Radha first met at the Rape Survivors’ Forum that Jan Sahas – an NGO they had in common – had organised. The NGO had been helping both women with their cases, and brought the duo, along with several other women (and their families) to a common platform where they could share their stories with one another.
Sangeeta Parmar, one of the field coordinators for Jan Sahas – who has counselled both women – says:
“Meera – who has been fighting her case for far longer – has helped Radha in more ways than she knows. While things seem great between Radha and her husband now, there was a time when he wanted to have nothing to do with her after her rape.”
When I get a few minutes alone with Radha, I ask her this, and she tells me about it, after I’ve reassured her that we won’t quiz her husband.
“He (my husband) didn’t speak to me for a year and a half after I was raped. We’d sit down to a meal together and he would walk away in a huff. There were times when he’d tell me, ‘you must have taken money from that man’ (the alleged rapist).”
Radha wasn’t a woman to be cowed down, however, and she stood her ground – even in the midst of great personal pain. Her husband finally came around after Meera and her husband spoke to him.
“I had reached out to Jan Sahas and pleaded with them to help. Meera didi and her husband then reached out to Gokul, and showed him where they were at in their relationship.”
In fact, according to Sangeeta, Meera scolded him, saying:
“Aap aise kyun kar rahe ho? Aapko is waqt unka sahara banna chahiye (Why are you behaving this way? You should be her strength at this time).”
Radha recalls how Gokul came up to her and said what she’d wanted to hear after a year and a half of stoic indifference – “Tum sahi thi (you were right)”. She says she forgave him after she saw the heart with which he dived into the court battle with her.
Radha and Meera meet every time the duo go to Dewas (the nearest town) for survivor-meetings, and the smile that lights up Radha’s face when I talk about Meera is hard to miss.
A Forum for Survivors and Their Families
Radha’s “Meera didi” – who lost her case in the district court after her inconclusive medical exam – is now waiting for succour from the Madhya Pradesh High Court, where she has filed an appeal.
She also heads an ad-hoc committee of survivors from across the country.
This committee is 20-member-strong – and as I look at the list, I chance upon six names that are male.
Amu Vinzuda, a district programme coordinator at Jan Sahas, tells me the women (and men) stay in touch after they’ve exchanged phone numbers and always greet each other warmly every time a survivors’ meeting is convened:
“The forum had reached out to the men in survivors’ families to participate. It’s so important that men and boys join the conversation to end the violence against women. When it first met, the forum also included policy makers and representative from the judiciary, the media and lawyers so survivors could meet them and know that there’s hope.”
One of the men at the forefront is Kailash, who lives in a small tehsil in Khargone, MP and works as a driver. He joined the committee to speak up for his wife who was raped.
“She didn’t tell me for 15-16 days after it had happened. I finally understood something was wrong when she started receiving phone calls that would scare her. I picked up her phone one day and realised it was the rapist, threatening her to keep quiet,” says Kailash.
How the Husband of a Survivor Helps Other Men
Jan Sahas reached out to the couple a few months after the incident. Recalls Kailash,
“They’d seen it in the papers, and wanted to help. I was already so shaken by my wife’s condition that I shunned them at first. I didn’t want to trust anyone. I kept thinking they were friends of the man who had raped my wife.”
Kailash eventually listened – and now works as a counsellor with the group to reach out to other male members of rape survivors’ families. He recalls a particularly trying time last year when a man had turned his wife out of the house after her rape –
“I went to him and said – ‘You’ve broken up your family over your own mistrust. Where will your wife go? What will your kids think of you?’ It took me a while to get through to him. I still talk to him every month.”
Kailash says that he is often asked by other men what his “connection” is to all this.
“When I tell them why I care, they understand. I know it’s not easy to forget what happened – main bhi jaldi bhool nahi paya tha – but you need to get over it and help your wife.”
So far, members of the forum are sticking together in solidarity. Whilst several of their cases continue to languish in various stages of appeal and long-drawn-out courtroom cases, they are finding solace in each other’s stories.
Judging from the way their faces light up when they speak of one another, it’s obvious they’re helping each other heal, even hundreds of kilometres apart.
(*All names of survivors and their families have been changed to protect identity)
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