Divya*, 23 spoke to Nishita Jha about the nightmare that never ends
It’s easy to believe that women are raped only in isolated parts of the city, in moving cars, by men they don’t know. That it only happens once darkness falls. It’s easy to read the news and pick holes in the victim’s story, consider the things that you would not have done were you in her place and distance yourself. It’s easy to believe that rape only happens to other people.
When Divya (23), a student of Delhi University regained consciousness, her rapist was getting dressed in the bathroom. She remembers sitting up and wondering if he was going to come out with a gun and kill her. She couldn’t understand how she was still alive. She tried to call a taxi to pick her up, but she didn’t know the address she was at. He came out and found her crying. Let me drop you home, he said. She decided it was the only way to get out. On the way, as Divya wept continuously, he told her about his family’s connections, and how even if she did try to speak to anyone, nothing would change. She got off the car at the first red light and decided to walk home. Her only thought — what were people going to say.
Deciding to testify:
The day Divya was raped, she reached home and told no one about what had happened to her. She went to a hospital, received treatment for her various wounds (from being beaten brutally by her attacker for resisting him) was informed that her vagina was severely torn, but still refused to admit that she had been raped. At home, she wanted to shower and change and sleep and forget the entire day. She couldn’t. Two days later, she still couldn’t. Finally, she confessed to her twin sister that she had been raped by a friend whom she had agreed to meet for lunch two days ago. She was taken to an NGO, where she met a counselor and then the police. Required to write down a clear statement recollecting all that had happened, Divya recalls the confusion of trying to order the jumbled memories of the past two days in a coherent, sequential fashion. ‘I wrote things as I remembered them, as they came back to me. Later, his lawyers tried to insinuate that something I recalled and added non-sequentially (for instance, the fact that he had threatened me saying that he had made a video), was fabricated. Is it really that hard to account for the fact that I was traumatised, that I hadn’t eaten a single meal or slept since the day that I was raped — and that therefore, I could not organize my story from beginning to end?” Divya recalls realizing that everything from this moment, the moment she had decided to ‘come out’ with her story, everything would only get worse. She was right.
Divya was then required to go to a government hospital for her MLC. The police took her to AIIMS. In the OPD, she waited with her sister while the police informed the nursing station that an examination was needed. After a while, the nurse looked up and shouted, “kiska rape hua hai? Andar chalo.” Divya stood up and followed her in. “I remember that as the point at which I ceased to exist as Divya and became the ‘rape victim’. That’s what everyone called me. The orderlies at the hospital, the court staff, the media.” she says. She was asked to remove her clothes and lie down so the attending gynaecologist could examine her. The doctor took notes of the various scratches, bite marks and bruises on her body. She roughly inserted a speculum in her vagina, without prior warning or an explanation as to why this was a necessary part of the proceedings — Divya, a virgin till two days ago, who had been brutally raped, whose vagina was torn from the violation she had suffered — screamed out in pain. “Chup kar” the doctor said before taking a swab. On the MLC, the doctor stated that the patient was ‘uncooperative’ with the examiner, but the certificate established that she had been raped. Later, the doctor revoked her statement and denied her own handwriting on the document. Divya’s lawyers filed an appeal — the doctor had clearly been bought. Shortly after, the original medical certificate that AIIMS gave Divya, confirming rape, ‘disappeared’ from her file in the lower courts.
Divya was fortunate to have been acquainted with lawyers, and because a senior lawyer offered to fight her case for free. At her first four sessions in court, there was no screen present shielding her from view of her assailant (mandatory for rape cases), his family, his lawyer and the remaining orderlies and young lawyers that walked in and out of the hearing, often just to drop in and “hear the details”. Weeks into her trial, the court procured one screen. In the interim, Divya mentions having to look her rapist in the eye every day, while describing what he had done; and consequently, hearing him deny the entire incident. “He had friends present at the hearing who would exchange high fives in the middle of court proceedings. Every one at the court who knew I was testifying about being raped, looked at my body instead of my face, as if to ask, why did he pick you?” If this weren’t intimidating enough, someone (that Divya and her lawyer believe was connected to her rapist) called her friends and family from an unidentified number each time she appeared in court. Her father, a heart-patient who lives outside of New Delhi was threatened and told that his daughter was going to go to jail for fraud and her friends were told to cajole her into making an out-of-court settlement for any amount of money that she desired. (Divya’s lawyer has since registered a case with the police against the unknown number. In the past three years, the police has been unable to discover any leads).
In her cross-examination, which spanned over several hours, Divya’s account of being raped was investigated with more than 300 questions like — Did you wear loose jeans or tight jeans when you were raped? Did you know that if you wore tight jeans it would be harder for him to take them off? Were you on top of him or below him? Describe his erection. How long did he take to penetrate you? How do you know the exact time it took? How many times did he enter your vagina and your anus? Along with these questions, her clothes, which had been taken by the police when she registered her complaint, were held up one by one, in a court-room full of strangers and examined from the perspective of how provocative everything from her T-shirt to underwear could be considered. Text messages that the assailant had sent her (one read: “come with me … If you wana live :-*”) were read out in court as evidence, but the judge ruled that since her phone had an ‘edit’ option she could easily have fabricated them — in spite of the fact that her phone was seized the moment she had filed a complaint. The police also seized videos from her rapist’s laptop that showed him forcing himself upon other women, but while the colour and make of her underwear was deemed important enough for discussion — the videos were not.
‘The only thing I’m certain of now is that if I find that I am about to have a daughter, I will abort the foetus’
Last week, in spite of a recommendation rejecting her rapist’s bail by a high court judge, Divya lost the case against him in the lower courts. Her lawyer is currently preparing to appeal again. In the meantime, Divya has lost her boyfriend of two years (who broke up with her immediately after she registered her case with the police, saying that he did not want his name to be dragged in to the proceedings), most of her friends (several of them women, who tried to convince her that her ‘lifestyle’ had been such that it was hardly a surprise that she was raped) and two years of important professional growth. “Rape is a crime unlike any other. You have to live with your violated body, you have to live with the memory of what was done to you, and you have to live with the fact of your own helplessness,” she says. For almost a year, Divya would begin screaming and crying hysterically whenever that feeling of being powerless returned — if her car stalled, if she was stuck in a lift, if she heard sounds around the house she could not explain. Being reduced from a person to a ‘rape-victim’ has other repercussions that outlast the trial, and sometimes even therapy — “It’s like suddenly living in a different world. The usual comments, groping and stalkers that a girl in Delhi is accustomed to and ignores every day, suddenly evolve into a far larger and more terrifying animal. I read accounts of rape every single day in the papers and wonder what we’re doing wrong, as a society, as women. I used to spend time thinking about my future and picking names for my unborn babies — the only thing I’m certain of now, is that if I find that I am about to have a daughter, I will abort the foetus,” she says.
There are aspects of Divya’s story that belie the idea of rape as a public atrocity, that suggest that it is simply a matter of being careful who we choose to befriend. Simply because she was raped in a private home as opposed to a moving car, by a well-to-do, educated professional whom she knew through a mutual friend and had met on a few occasions before. Yet the young woman who was gang-raped in Gurgaon by seven men (one of them, the first of her assailants — a fourteen year old school dropout) after being abducted from her taxi, taken to an unknown location and then dumped near a metro station shares certain aspects of her story with Divya’s — these tell the deeper and more gruesome story of why most rape victims fail to testify against their assailants, or drop the case half-way, often settling for money at the cost of their dignity. Over the phone with Tehelka, the 23-year-old victim from Gurgaon, from a vastly different class and background from Divya’s, confesses that she is “broken” from repeated attempts by the police and media to crack her story. In spite of the fact that it is mandatory for the police to direct rape victims towards some form of psychological counseling, she has received no assistance thus far. “I know that they are in jail and can’t be out on bail for the minimum of one year. But what do I have to live for? I have lost my job and it is unlikely that I will get another one since everyone where I lived knows what happened to me,” says the mother of a three-year-old son who has currently gone into hiding at her family home. Does she regret having gone to the police? Silence on the line.
*Name Changed To Protect Identity
Nishita Jha is a Correspondent with Tehelka.
Article first published on 31 Mar 2012.