Trigger warning: This article contains details about sexual assault and harassment which may be triggering to survivors.
The “accident” involving the Unnao rape case survivor has been a reflective moment for me. That reflection isn’t simply of the society we presently live in, but also of my own experiences in striving to get justice for myself.
Being privy to just how broken the system is in Uttar Pradesh, I cannot even begin to imagine the pain the Unnao victim has had to endure these past few years since her ordeal began.
None of us can.
I had the misfortune of dating the son of an IAS officer in Uttar Pradesh. He initially portrayed himself as charming and sincere but his true colours were revealed over the course of the relationship.
It turned out that he liked to abuse women; he got a kick out of it.
At the time, his father was a retired IAS officer who had held plum postings while in service and worked as the chairman of an organisation. The family was also close to ministers in the current cabinet.
I was unaware of these facts at the time, but eventually learnt of them in a painful manner.
The first time my then boyfriend assaulted me, he pushed me because of a minor disagreement. I stopped talking to him.
We had dated while we were both in Delhi. On one occasion, he had made me try ecstasy and I ended up in the hospital. When we spoke later, he said that the ‘batch’ was wrong and that he was sorry.
Years later, in a fit of rage, the truth was finally revealed when he bragged about how he had purposely mixed various drugs and landed me in that situation.
When I moved back home, I refused to talk to him. But he persisted.
After a year, we met again. We ended up rekindling our relationship, but I soon learnt that he was abusive – a trait he had well hidden in Delhi, where he lived with his friends and we mostly met in the company of those roommates.
When I stopped talking to him, he began sending a barrage of calls and texts to apologise. He told me that he was in the grip of addiction and needed my help.
It now sounds so foolish that I believed him and ended up putting myself and my family at risk.
My hell was only about to get worse.
My ‘boyfriend’ eventually started to blackmail me and even sent pictures and obscene texts about me to people in my friend list. He would come home, where I was alone and beat me up. The next day, he would pretend as though nothing had happened.
At the time, I was still recovering from the after effects of the overdose and my anxiety levels were at an all-time high. I felt helpless.
I finally gathered the courage to tell my parents. But when they acted on the matter and filed a complaint, is when things truly hit rock bottom.
My father got threatening calls from people identifying themselves as the ‘security’ of the chief minister. Two motorcycle-borne guys once followed my father from our home to his work.
I was asked to take my complaint back, on which no real action was taken – he just had to undergo a ‘counselling’ session to ask him to stop harassing me.
But this is how UP works, a fact that I had not fully been aware of despite growing up here shielded by my family and my convent education.
I took back my complaint.
My family – parents and sister – were getting threatening calls and texts.
I am still so angry that I had to do that, but it was my decision – made to ensure the safety of my family that had stood firmly with me through it all.
But it still hadn’t ended. Even after I took my complaint back, my ex continued to try and goad a reaction out of me by messaging people on my sister’s and my social media profiles.
In a fit of anger, I filed an online complaint with the cyber cell, detailing the harassment.
Months passed and I heard nothing from the police. One day, out of the blue, two policemen arrived at my house.
Instead of going to that house of the accused, they came to the complainant’s house.
This is how UP police works.
We narrated how we had been harassed, how I had been assaulted and abused. But they told me to bury the complaint once again because “upar se pressure hai”. The “pressure”, they said, was from Delhi.
The policemen then asked me about whether the accused still “troubled” me. Around a year had passed since I made the complaint, and he had backed down so I said, “No”.
The policemen then told me to write a letter stating that no untoward incident had happened since then. They said they would “talk” to him.
I knew then that the if I didn’t write it, the harassment would kickstart again, destroying all the progress I had made to restructure my life.
I wrote the statement.
Though I had filed the requisite complaints to battle the abuse me and my family faced, the way the police functions in the state makes it easy for injustice to win the day. I can’t even begin to narrate the disgusting, probing questions that were asked of me.
The system doesn’t work and the battle is hard. I have suffered a lot of anxiety as a result of the abuse – at the hands of my ex and at the hands of the state.
Yet, despite having been failed by a system that looks after its own, there was one police officer – who at the time was in charge of the women’s power line 1090 – that made every effort to put an end to the threats.
Funnily enough, it was my ex who had first mentioned him, dangling him as a yet another prominent policeman his father knew. One day, driven to desperation, I personally wrote to the officer and told him of how I was being threatened with his name.
The police officer reached out, counselled me and even spoke to my ex. He told me that I have to be strong and fight back. This helped restore just a bit of my faith in the police. The 1090 department even called me two-three months later to check in.
I recently found out that he had been transferred to another city altogether. I don’t know why he was transferred, but for me it stuck as a reminder of how good officers are shunted for their work while corrupt officers are awarded.
The Unnao girl has waged a long, uphill battle against an MLA. I have just an inkling of how hard it must be for her – after all, if the sons of retired IAS officers are protected by the system, MLAs belonging to the ruling party are fundamentally invulnerable in their positions.
I hope she gets some form of justice, mutated as it may be after years of fighting for it.
But deep down in my heart, I have given up on the idea of justice in Uttar Pradesh, where injustices reign supreme.
I just know now that the best way is to protect yourself at times. It feels like cowardice, but that is what it is.
I know I should have battled harder for myself but I lost hope after two years of living in this hell.
The Unnao victim has an arduous journey ahead, with most of her family dead and not by her side, killed in brutal ways to thwart her chances of justice.
As hard as the road to justice may be in a land where ‘Beti Bachao’ is just a photo-op, I hope she gets it.
Featured image credit: PTI