The country has risen in support of the Delhi gang-rape survivor but for Sonal (NOT her real name) and her family, it has been a lonely and long frustrating battle for justice. Sonal was eight years old when she was sexually assaulted by her paternal aunt's brother-in-law. Sonal and her younger brother had been left with the aunt in Yavatmal district of Maharashtra because their father is visually impaired and earns his living moving around singing bhajans. The two children were going to school at the aunt's place where the 47-year-old man had access to the child and authority to get his way.
The girl told her aunt who reportedly scolded her and scalded her with a hot iron ladle to ensure she did not tell this to anyone else. The child fell ill. When the parents brought her home to Hyderabad, her mother noticed the child was withdrawn, terrified to let anyone come near her, would not even let her mother give her a bath. The mother soon discovered what had happened and they took her to a doctor who said the child had been sexually assaulted and had suffered injury in her private parts. They filed a police complaint.
The case was subsequently transferred to Ladkhed in Maharashtra. After five years of running around the police stations and pursuing the case, in April, 2009, the court of Darwha additional sessions judge found the accused guilty under section 376 r/w 511 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The accused went in appeal and he was acquitted by the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court within a year. The Maharashtra government did not think it was necessary to appeal against this judgement in the Supreme Court. The father of the child, with neither money nor influence, was unable to find a lawyer to fight his case. Finally, the Human Rights Law Network intervened and filed a Special Leave Petition (SLP) on behalf of the parents.
In the SLP, the petitioner has mentioned that "the honourable High Court without being sensitive to prevalence of domestic child sexual abuse, overthrew the entire case of prosecution based on its wrong assumption that every burn injury, irrespective of its nature and grievousness, is bound to leave a burn mark on the body even after 25-27 days, without giving a chance to the witness to clarify this. The High Court even erred in calculating this time period as 10-12 days as against the proofs available on record.
"The High Court again erred in assuming that word 'Kukarma' was used by the victim while as per the records she never said this word. The original statement of the victim at the Alwal Police Station uses the word 'rape' and testimony in the witness box clearly uses of phrase 'sexual intercourse'.
"It is important to mention here that Honourable High Court has unduly considered the irrelevant facts for releasing the accused. The order of the Honourable High Court does not consider the seriousness of the allegations, the age of the victim, the stage of the appeal, which should be given a very serious consideration at the time of ordering release of an accused person. Rather it considered the facts, which should not be considered as grounds for release of an accused person.
"The High Court in its judgement has found this highly probable that a blind father will put the reputation of his unmarried daughter and family on stake for extracting a petty amount of money (which may not be more that Rs. 1200) from the accused who happens to be a relative too. The facts, which must primarily be considered - the seriousness of allegations, the age of the victim, order of the Session court, the possibility of the accused threatening the victim again or repeating the act again with the victim or other girls - have been completely ignored by the Honourable High Court."
Saurabh, a software engineer who was so moved by the plight of the father and his fight for justice, decided to make the battle his own. "How can anyone say that for Rs 1200, a father would put his daughter's chastity at stake. Whereas he has spent several times that amount in trying to pursue the case."
Saurabh points out that the case has suffered because of shoddy investigation and poor evidence collection by the investigating authorities. "It is very obvious that the evidence of the doctor who examined the child and gave a report must be taken on record. Also the testimony of the person to whom the child first reported the crime, in this case the aunt. Both of that was not done. When in the High Court the questions were asked about this evidence, the prosecution had no answer."
Saurabh says he feels there should be a system of ensuring feedback on the quality of investigation and some punitive action for some obvious lapses. "The victim pays such a huge price for basic lapses by the investigating agency. So if at some stage, either during trial or later, the judge notices lapses of this sort, then questions must be asked and the officers made accountable."
The SLP filed by the family has been admitted in the Supreme Court. But eight years after the crime, justice seems delayed, if not denied, too long. The child has grown into a 16-year-old. Social taunts forced her to drop out of school. She has few friends because other parents don't want their children to interact with a "rape victim" because they presume she could be a "loose character" and a "bad influence on their child". So it is a lonely existence for the young girl. The family has been ostracised by relatives who wanted them to accept a "monetary compensation and bury the case". Socially there is heckling and humiliation. The siblings also dropped out of school because the mother wanted to be with her children to protect them. The visually impaired father, who also suffers from polio, needed a support. So the son dropped out and started accompanying his father on his bhajan tours.
The girl's mother asks, "They say we must fight for justice. My daughter's life and ours was ruined. We are fighting for justice. Why isn't anyone helping us? Neither the government nor anyone else?"