However widespread the outrage over the gang rape of a photojournalist in Mumbai last week or of the medical student on December 16, 2012, for rape victims the agony continues for years, after the assault.
For nearly 16 months after that dreadful night of February 5, 2012, she was known as the 'Park Street Rape Victim', the woman who had accepted a lift outside a Kolkata nightclub and ended up being gang-raped. This changed in June this year, when she took part in a protest march against rape and outed herself as
Suzette Jordan. “Why must I hide?” asks Jordan over the phone from Kolkata. “I was raped; it is those who raped me who should feel shame. We should speak up, because if we don't, these things will keep happening and the criminals will keep getting away.”
In a country where women often do not report rape cases to the police, Jordan's decision to come out is unprecedented.
Part of the reason, she says, was that despite the media’s attempts to darken or blur her face during interviews many people knew who she was and accosted her on the streets.
They wanted to know if she was indeed the ‘Park Street rape victim’.
“I couldn’t get a job. I went for several interviews but while no one admitted that the rape was the issue, they would not call back,” says the mother of two teenage daughters.
Jordan separated from her husband more than a decade before the assault. It was the support of her family, friends, school teachers and NGO activist Santasree Chaudhuri that kept her going.
In cases of rape, it is often the rape victim who carries the guilt. Take the case of 19-year-old housewife in Sonepat district, Haryana in September last year. The victim filed an FIR but after pressure from parents, in-laws and the dalit community she belonged to, she retracted her testimony.
Ironically, this constituted legal perjury, an offence for which the woman was imprisoned for 10 days in April earlier this year. Jagmati Sangwan, vice-president of the All India Democratic Women's Association, an NGO that took up the case says, “In rural areas, sympathies are usually with the assaulters, especially if they are economically or socially stronger, as is often the case.”
According to Sangwan, people may condone the act, but push for a compromise so as not to “ruin the boy’s life”. Supreme Court made a statement this Tuesday: ‘Rape is…an offence against the society and is not a matter to be left for the parties to compromise….”
It was in 1994, nearly 20 years ago, that the Supreme Court first directed the National Commission for Women (NCW) to evolve a “scheme so as to wipe out the tears of unfortunate victims of rape”.
This resulted in the rape and rehabilitation scheme, the first draft of which was submitted to the government in 1995 and another in 2005. But the scheme is yet to take off. In 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12, the finance ministry allocated Rs53 crore, Rs36 crore and Rs122 crore respectively, but not a single rupee has been utilised.
Similarly, the Rs1,000 crore-fund announced for a scheme in the name of the Delhi gang-rape victim remains caught in red tape. What rehabilitation schemes are available for rape victims?
In response, Haryana has a scheme to allot Rs2 lakh compensation to dalit rape victims, if the perpetrators are found to belong to the upper caste. Dorothy Kamal, a counselor working with the Centre for Social Research (CSR) remembers a scheme a few years ago where Rs10,000 was given to every rape victim who filed an FIR.
CSR is the designated Crisis Intervention Centre for the south-west region of Delhi as per the city police guidelines.
Kamal receives a call whenever a sexual offence is registered at the neighbourhood police station. “I help victims are uncomfortable giving details of injuries,” she says. They also run a 24 X7 helpline, but calls made to it on Thursday and Friday went unanswered.
The problem is more acute in the lower courts says activist Rishi Kant of Shakti Vahini, a Delhi-based NGO. “What do you expect when cases come up for a hearing two years after the rape?” Ninety per cent of the time, it ends in an acquittal.
“Criminals have also realised such loopholes in the law,” says Madhu Garg, a Lucknow-based activist who is working on the ‘Ashiana’ case where a 13-year-old daughter of a kabbadiwala was gang-raped by four men in a car in September 2005.
“We have a clear case, but for the past eight-and-a-half years, it has been shunted from one court to another. We have spent more than Rs3 lakh, most of which was collected from donations,” says Garg. Her father is still waiting for justice.
With inputs from Ritika Chopra and Kanu Sarda.