“Men raped my eight-year-old daughter three years ago. I am still fighting for justice as the accused roam around free. Police did not file the complaint instead the put me behind bars for three days when I went to register the FIR. Now that the case is filed, the hearing is yet to start. My faith in the justice system is failing every day,” a survivor’s mother from Agra told SheThePeople.TV.
A poor labourer, who lives in a kuccha house, she did not know that last year, the Union cabinet had passed the amendment of death penalty for those convicted of raping girls below 12 years of age.
“Aesi harkatein hoti hi rehti hain humari bacchiyon ke saath kyunki humara ghar hai nahi… hum road par rehte hain, gareeb aadmi kya kar sakta hai? (Such abuse keeps happening with our girls because we don’t live in houses. We live on roads, what can a poor person do?),” said the woman who has been an integral part of the Dignity March and travelled to all 24 states within 65 days right from the day it began from Mumbai on December 20, 2018.
Dignity March is an initiative to end sexual violence against women and children. As part of the march, survivors and other stakeholders travelled 10,000 km across India. The march kicked off from Mumbai and culminated on 22nd February (Friday) at the Ramlila Ground in New Delhi.
Over 5,000 survivors from several states gathered in the capital city to keep the momentum around the cause of sexual violence against women.
A survivor told SheThePeople.TV that she does not want to feel embarrassed about the violence that happened to her when her abusers roam free and don’t feel embarrassed for violating her. Offered work as a labourer, she was tricked into trafficking. They drugged her and sold her for Rs 2 lakh.
“I was raped every day for six months and when I ran away from there to come back to my husband’s house, he did not want me. I persisted and went to my in-laws’ house but they beat me up and threw me out. Finally, I went to my parents’ house and even they did not accept me. They said that now that I am married, it is my husband’s house where I will live or die,” the survivor from Madhya Pradesh spoke to the audience at Dignity March.
According to NCRB, reported cases of crime against women increased by 83% from 185,312 in 2007 to 338,954 in 2016, when the last annual NCRB report was released. As many as 2.5 million crimes against women have been reported in India over the last decade. Rape accounts for about 12% of all crimes against women. In 2016, 106 cases of rapes were reported every day and the same year it saw the lowest conviction rate of 18.9% in the last decade of crime against women.
Several women, who are either survivors themselves or are related to survivors as family, also called for attention towards male survivors of sexual violence. They said that while we can talk about our abuse here at the Dignity March, the male survivors heard us and said that they cannot even talk about the abuse that happened to them. The women don’t want justice only for themselves but also for those men who fear ostracization from society if they open up about their stories of rape.
The epitome of hope and fighter’s spirit, Bhanwari Devi from Rajasthan also spoke at the march. “Don’t stay silent against abuse whether it happens with your own daughter or female relative or somebody else’s. Raise your voice, every voice matters in this struggle as it is your support that will keep this struggle going. We will not stop until we see the end of this social evil. We appeal for justice from the government,” said Bhanwari Devi.
She was gangraped in 1992 while working in her field by higher-caste men who were angered by her efforts to prevent a child marriage in their family. It was after her case was reported widely that activists and lawyers pressured the government into formulating the Vishakha Guidelines. It provided the basic definitions of sexual harassment at the workplace and provided guidelines to deal with it. It is seen as a significant legal victory for women’s groups in India.
While the march, where survivors travelled the length and breadth of the country both on foot and by vehicles, has come to an end, the impetus it has created around sexual violence should not end. This march is significant, considering that it focused on the marginalized communities which rarely get justice. The people who marched are the ones who need the support of our legal system the most and we must ensure that it does not elude them.