A Matter of a Life Unimagined

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Illustration : Mayanglambam Dinesh
Illustration : Mayanglambam Dinesh

Unimaginable as it is, two months ago, a 13-year-old deaf and mute girl is admitted in a hospital for an abortion, without even realising what was going through her; the aborted foetus is one conceived out of rape. Back at her home, the eerie, lonely atmosphere of her colony resembles nothing of the general mood of its inhabitants. Neighbours rush to aid the rape surviror’s mother Geeta (name changed), who had lost her husband two years ago. Fear and anxiety are the only expressions flashing on her face as a result of the misdeeds of a 37-year-old man who was once a neighbour and a trusted brother figure for her family.

So far, all reports in public purview of sexual harassment and rape have been limited to the arrests of the accused. Once that is done, it is assumed that the episode is over and life has moved on for the ‘victim’ and her family. However, what is overlooked is how the ‘victim’ turns into a ‘survivor’. How mothers, who have conceived out of the rape, deal with the next undesired outcome. Tehelka explored to bring forth the voices of some survivors and prove that the fight is not yet over. Fortunately, for some, the community stands by them.

“Uske din achhe the jo wo jail mein hai humare haath mein aata to marr chuka hota (His days were good that he is in jail, otherwise he would have been dead.),” says Gauri (name changed), a neighbour of the rape survivor. “It is good that we got to know about the pregnancy well in time; otherwise, we would have been shamefaced in front of the whole community,” remarks Gauri. The girl is unaware of the changes brought by the incident because she could not be told about the biological outcomes of sexual assaults effectively, owing to her being differently-abled. Geeta tells through tears, “The only way in which the incident manifests itself in her is through her fear.” The survivor had been threatened with the life of her mother. The catharsis deepens when one observes A (the survivor) roaming about the house innocently, wondering at the gathering in her living room.

Cases of sexual abuse usually involve people who are seen as helpless and children all over the world come across as easy targets. As per the details disclosed by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 33,707 cases of rape were reported, indicating a massive increase of 35.2 percent in the year 2013 over 2012. According to a report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2002, 150 million girls and 73 million boys under the age of 18 had experienced some form of sexual violence. According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services in 2002, 1.2 per 1000 children in the country were victims of sexual abuse. In light of these figures, Tehelka reached out to Daleen Berry who is a New York Times best-selling author. Since 1988, she has been an award-winning print journalist, columnist and editor who recently crossed over to write for online publications. Another side to Daleen Berry is that she was a victim of child sexual abuse at the age of 13.

Often, the perpetrators of rape are known to the victim. More often than not, they are trusted within the family. “Like many children, I came from a single-parent home, with an overworked mother and an ‘absent’ father. This allowed my abuser to gain access to me easily than a two-parent home; my mother trusted him as a family,” says Berry. Rape and the stigma attached to it leads to the survivor feeling isolated and this is magnified if she has conceived. After being subjected to the abuse for three years, Berry eventually married her abuser as she was carrying his child while she was still unmarried. Unfortunately, her abuse didn’t end there.

“By 1995, I was 21. I had three children and was pregnant with my fourth when I sat down on the bathroom floor and planned to kill all of us,” recalls Berry. A woman’s helplessness is oft overlooked when the legalities dealing with the abuse are over. Berry describes her reasons for contemplating suicide, “I wanted to die because I felt like I would never have a say over my own body, and what happened to it. I felt like a pawn to be used, like my physical body was a tool, and he (husband) would do whatever he wanted with it. I felt like I would never be free from that life and I couldn’t bear to live like that anymore.”

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