Written by Vaibhav Jha & Suresh Chaudhary
A minor mentally ill girl, otherwise chirpy and who loves to socialise, has been confined to her house in a Saurashtra village for the past two months.
Until last year, she was in school where she had made friends but teachers asked her family to take her out claiming she was not competent enough to cope with her studies and complained that she disturbed classes. As a result, she had to drop out of school and now largely remains indoors.
But this is not the only reason. The girl, who suffers from stunted mental growth, has not left her house for two months now after a police case was registered against a man who allegedly raped her, say her parents. The accused is almost as old as her father and she is eight months pregnant.
The family, which too has a history of stunted mental growth, has not got much help from authorities, given the offence is lodged under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
According to a local activist from Nyay, the organisation that took up the case, the accused took advantage of the girl’s condition and the vulnerable situation of her family.
"The accused frequently greeted the girl whenever they met socially. He raped the girl for over a prolonged period last year and no one in the family was aware of the assault, says the activist.
According to the FIR, the accused raped her on multiple occasions at his farmland when her mother, father and brother were away. It was only in March this year that they noticed her body suddenly bloating and took her to a hospital some 200 km from their village after hospitals nearby refused to take up her case. The authorities at the hospital found that she was six months pregnant and informed police. Police then took her statement, lodged a case of rape on March 10 and arrested the accused the other day," says Arvind Khuman from Nyay. The accused is now lodged in jail and awaiting trial.
The struggle for the family began once they found out about the sexual assault and that their daughter was pregnant.
The family, which survives on farming, had to suddenly cope with hospital and medicine expenses.
"After we found out about her condition, I took a loan of Rs 50,000 from the villagers, but that money is also drying up fast. We have to make a five-hour-long train journey to get her medical check-ups done and buy medicines. Each trip costs us over Rs 3,000 and we have no other source of income," says the girl’s father. Her mother adds to the family income by doing applique work. The girl has now begun helping her mother with this job.
The survivor, however, is eligible for interim relief of Rs 50,000.
The Supreme Court in a September 2018 order had said that sexual assault victims were eligible for compensation of Rs 4 lakh and in case of minors, the amount could be increased up to 50%. The apex court had asked state governments to implement this with the help of the National Legal Services Authority, which then bifurcates into State Legal Services Authority and District Legal Services Authority (DLSA). Under this scheme, the survivor doesn’t have to wait for trial proceedings and can directly request compensation after the FIR is lodged. At times, police and administration may also take suo motu cognizance and interim relief amount of Rs 50,000 is paid as per the merit of the case, after review by a district committee headed by a judge.
However, in this case, the compensation process is entangled in a blame game between civic authorities and police as neither took suo motu cognizance after a report was sent by the hospital staff regarding the victim’s pregnancy. It was only after Khuman took up the case that the DLSA took cognizance of it.
When contacted, the local DLSA Secretary said they had received an application on May 8. It is under review by our committee. Usually, the committee meets once in two or three months and we take up all the cases that we receive and sanction the compensation depending upon the merit of the case. It takes around 15 days to grant the victims the interim relief once the committee approves the appeal, but since this is a special case, we will speed up the process," the secretary said, adding that police did not inform them about the matter when the FIR was lodged on March 10.
The District Superintendent of Police, however, passed the buck to the girl’s family. The onus is on the victims to seek the compensation by providing the necessary documents to the DLSA. We arrested the accused quickly and are soon going to file a chargesheet. We will appeal for strictest punishment for the culprit. The case will be taken up on priority and all help will be extended to the victim’s family. We will also help them get the compensation quickly."
What’s even more pressing for the family is not the compensation, but the fate of the child yet to be born.
"The family doesn’t wish to keep the child as neither the victim is in a mental state to become a mother, nor they have any means to support an extra mouth. We have asked the child welfare committee to adopt the child," said Khuman.
Meanwhile, unaware of her plight and the unsure future that awaits her, she feels special when people come to meet her. From anyone who visits her, wearing a sheepish smile, she demands her favourite fruit apple.
Her parents say, when she is idle, she keeps talking to imaginary friends on a defunct mobile phone. When asked whether she misses her friends, she nods emphatically.
(Suresh Chaudhary is an intern with The Indian Express, Ahmedabad)