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Delhi's Forgotten Survivor of Gangrape and Public Shaming

Columns | No candlelight vigils for this Gangrape survivor in Delhi. No voices to amplify her struggle for justice. No stories in the media. Not even embers of empathy.

By Prema Sridevi
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Gangrape victim

Gangrape survivor | Representative image | Photo courtesy: Special arrangement

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This is the story of a middle-class woman in India who fell victim to one of the most heinous crimes of gangrape, assault and public shaming in January 2022. The story is important for several reasons. First, the woman is a gangrape survivor. Second, she was paraded in the heart of India's national capital - Delhi. Third, this occurred on the streets of Delhi, just a few kilometres away from where the government heads and the who’s who of Delhi were celebrating Republic Day. Fourth, as we speak, today the survivor is still engaged in a relentless fight for justice - justice that continues to elude her.

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My involvement with this case began around August last year, amidst our active search for women who had suffered from extreme forms of sexual violence. At that time, both the international and national media in India shifted their attention to the escalating violence in Manipur between the Meitei and Kuki tribes, marked by a disturbing incident where two women were stripped naked and paraded by a mob. The unsettling video of the incident quickly went viral, showing the women being assaulted, groped and forced to walk towards an empty field. The video forced both the global and the national media to focus their coverage on Manipur. While contributing to the coverage, my aim was to highlight the fact that such atrocities are not isolated incidents within India. Many women, across various walks of life and spanning all spheres and social strata, from top metros to remote towns and villages across geographies, fall victim to senseless acts of violence, some of which are so brutal they defy description.

While searching for victims, my team and I spoke to many women and their families. We heard shocking accounts of events during the course of the story, some from the victims themselves and others from their distraught families. We also came face to face with the story of how a village panchayat had ordered a naked parade of a minor girl and boy in Rajasthan in Banswara in 2017. Both were cousins who fell in love with each other and eloped. They were caught and brought back to the village, where the intent was to make an example of them to both the individuals involved and the entire village community. They were paraded nude and forced to walk through the entire village. On that very night, the girl was hastily married off, and the injured boy was discarded at his doorstep.

In another case from West Bengal last year, I learned of two women who became the targets of theft accusations. They were stripped and mercilessly assaulted by a mob, all while numerous onlookers remained silent witnesses to the atrocious act. After encountering many such cases, we finally got the opportunity to speak with Tejpartap Singh, the lawyer representing the gangrape survivor.

Singh's account of the events that transpired while the nation was engrossed in Republic Day celebrations on January 26 shook me to the core. He described how the woman was savagely attacked by a group of men: she was beaten severely, her head forcibly shaven, subjected to gangrape, her face smeared with black ink, a garland of shoes hung around her neck, and then paraded through the streets of Delhi. This abominable act was rooted in her rejection of unsolicited sexual advances from a young man, he said. Following the man’s suicide, his family blamed her, and then they decided to exact their revenge.

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Singh recounted the ordeal in harrowing detail: "Her head was completely shaved. They assaulted her with rubber pipes and sticks, and tore her clothes apart. Minor boys from that family with their private parts open, forced themselves into her mouth, while the women of the family tried to pry her mouth open. Subsequently, she was gangraped. They literally wanted to kill her. Unsatisfied with what they did, they smeared her face with black ink, hung a garland of shoes around her neck, and then paraded her on the streets of Kasturba Nagar in Delhi. 

The savagery of this crime doesn’t end here. Initially, the police were barred by the assailants from rescuing the woman. As she was paraded through the streets, not a single person stepped forward to assist her. And today, as she battles for justice in court, she continues to endure intimidation and threats not just from the perpetrators but also from their kin and legal representatives. What is nauseating is that these acts of aggression occur within the court premises. If a woman, particularly one who has survived such a gruesome act of violence, is not safe within the halls of justice, what hope is there for her safety on public streets?

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A month later, in September last year, I instructed my team to reconnect with the lawyer and attempt to arrange an interview with the survivor for a follow-up story. The survivor’s narration of events left us speechless: "When I was standing in front of my house, a group of men (20 to 30 of them) surrounded me. They began assaulting me, shaving my head then and there. They kicked and punched me, dragged me to an auto, and took me to a room in Kasturba Nagar in Delhi. There, they gangraped me and paraded me through the streets. Afterward, they brought me back to the very same room, where I was again subjected to gangrape and assault. This cycle of being paraded on the streets happened three to four times." 

The survivor was merely 20 years old at the time of the incident. Already married and a mother to a young child, and pregnant again, when we met her, she was actively frequenting the courts in pursuit of justice for the crime that tore apart her life. She shared with us that the perpetrators exhibited no fear of legal repercussions. When the police attempted to rescue her, they boldly declared to the police they would not permit her to be taken away, threatening instead to kill her. Before this dreadful event, the survivor had alerted the police about the ongoing threats she faced. Had there been prompt action in response to her warnings, perhaps this heinous crime could have been averted.

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Two years on, the case drags on, with justice for the victim still out of reach. The question is: when will the wheels of justice begin to turn for this survivor? And when they do, will they move swiftly? Even if the perpetrators are eventually held to account, what about the police department's failure to act on the survivor's initial complaints? Will there be repercussions for their inaction? And what of the bystanders who video recorded the woman's humiliation yet did nothing to stop the crime—will they ever face consequences for their silent complicity?

This incident stands as one of the most egregious acts of violence against women since the Nirbhaya case that shook India in 2012—a case so central that it led to significant legal reforms for harsher penalties against sexual offences. I still recall being one of the very few journalists standing outside a hospital in Singapore where Nirbhaya was struggling for life. While there were huge protests back in India, I remember reporting and announcing the death of Nirbhaya in a live report for a TV channel outside the Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore. 

The stark difference between these two cases is that while Nirbhaya succumbed to her injuries, the survivor of the January 26 incident is alive, waging an unyielding battle for justice—a battle that seems to have faded from public consciousness. There are no candlelight vigils for her, not even embers of empathy. Must we only recognise and speak out for victims of sexual violence posthumously? Can we not amplify their voices while they are among us, struggling for justice in a system seemingly designed to silence them?