BIG­OTS BOY­COTT RAPE VIC­TIM

Lo­cal mosque com­mit­tee tries to co­erce a 13- year- old Ban­ga­lore girl to marry her rapist

India Today - - NATION - By Sowmya Aji

No­body speaks to them, their ‘ sec­onds’ tile busi­ness is not al­lowed to func­tion and they get daily death threats on their mo­biles. Their ev­ery move­ment is watched and at mid­night, there are knocks on their door with threats to break it open and kill the four- mon­thold baby boy, born out of rape to their 13- year- old daugh­ter.

Life for this Mus­lim fam­ily in Ban­ga­lore will never be the same again. Their neigh­bour­hood, Ra­machan­dra­pu­ram, barely 3 km from the state secretariat, is poor and full of ten­e­ments, with a multi- reli­gious pop­u­la­tion. A huge mosque dom­i­nates the sky­line and con­trols the lives of over 2,000 peo­ple packed into three lanes.

Shah­taj, 13, lives here in a tiny three-storey ten­e­ment with her fa­ther Ash­faq, 42, mother Saira, 40, sis­ter Zeenat, 17, broth­ers Yasir, 16, and Khur­ram, 5, and her four- month- old baby Tariq ( names changed). There is a po­lice­man on duty out­side, but it fails to calm fears, as the home is full of vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren.

A Class VIII stu­dent at the Gov­ern­ment Urdu Medium School who has al­ways topped in her class, Shah­taj has a head for maths. She su­per­vises her fa­ther’s busi­ness ac­counts. “My daugh­ter found er­rors in even the in­come tax re­turns filed by our au­di­tor. She’s the only one who knows what’s due to me from whom. That’s why she’s been tar­geted,’’ says a teary- eyed Ash­faq.

In an ac­count trans­lated from Urdu that Shah­taj has given to her ad­vo­cate A. D. Ra­mananda for sub­mis­sion to the Kar­nataka High Court, she said: “In Septem­ber last year, I had re­turned from school at 3.30 p. m. and was chang­ing my clothes, when Syed Sha­keel, 21, from Hoskote, who worked in my fa­ther’s tile shop, barged into the room. I don’t know what he did to me, but he said my fa­ther would kill us both if I told any­one any­thing. I was ter­ri­fied and kept quiet. I did not know, till I de­liv­ered in April this year, that I was preg­nant or that I had been raped. Please take le­gal ac­tion against Sha­keel.’’

Shah­taj’s mother says she did not re­alise the 13- year- old was preg­nant. The lo­cal doc­tor thought the lump on her stomach was ap­pen­dici­tis. “I thought my daugh­ter had just grown fat. Who’d have dreamed that a school­go­ing girl could be vi­o­lated this way, by a man whom I had looked af­ter as my son?’’ asks Saira, in a sad voice.

Her fam­ily ap­proached three po­lice sta­tions be­fore the one at Sri­ram­pu­ram lodged their com­plaint. Sha­keel was jailed on April 14, a day af­ter the baby was born. This was, how­ever, just the be­gin­ning of her troubles. “We’ve filed an­other po­lice com­plaint, on the boy­cott on the fam­ily by the mosque com­mit­tee, which is try­ing to force them to with­draw the case and get her mar­ried to Sha­keel,’’ says Ra­mananda.

The first move by the com­mit­tee was to give Shah­taj a trans­fer cer­tifi­cate from her school, on grounds that other Mus­lim fam­i­lies didn’t want their daugh­ters to study with the “tainted’’ Shah­taj. But Ash­faq and Saira fought this, get­ting Ra­mananda to file a case in the high court, which or­dered the

school to en­sure Shah­taj’s ed­u­ca­tion as per the Right to Ed­u­ca­tion Act.

“Our son Yasir ac­com­pa­nies her to school ev­ery day now. But the com­mit­tee is still keen on the boy­cott to force her to marry, which is against the law as she is be­low 18. I don’t care what they do, but I don’t want her to marry that thief and rapist. I’m not ready to ac­cept the com­mit­tee’s Sharia- based dik­tat. Hindu or Mus­lim, our blood is the same and the same mar­riage laws should ap­ply,’’ Ash­faq de­clares.

There is also a po­lit­i­cal twist to the story, as com­mit­tee mem­bers who are putting pres­sure on him sup­pos­edly be­long to the Congress. “I used to be with Sa­ma­jwadi Party, but I’m no longer in pol­i­tics. I re­fused to do­nate funds to the Congress, so they have been ha­rass­ing me since 2005. I fear they used Sha­keel to tar­get the only ed­u­cated mem­ber in my fam­ily, and use Shah­taj to take over my busi­ness. I’ll not al­low her to be

“The mosque com­mit­tee is try­ing to force the fam­ily to with­draw the case and get her mar­ried to Sha­keel.”

A. D. RA­MANANDA, Ad­vo­cate

harmed. I’ll ed­u­cate her and fight for our rights,’’ Ash­faq main­tains.

Mosque com­mit­tee sec­re­tary Amin de­nies the ex­is­tence of any boy­cott. He says: “It’s a fig­ment of Ash­faq’s imag­i­na­tion. He is the one who wanted us to in­ter­vene and get the girl mar­ried. Now that the case is in court and with the po­lice, we’ve noth­ing to say. The girl is bright and she must continue her stud­ies.’’ But this is at odds with his ear­lier state­ments to the me­dia, where Amin and his fel­low com­mit­tee mem­bers in­sisted the girl be mar­ried.

Deputy Chief Min­is­ter and Home Min­is­ter R. Ashoka says he was un­aware of the se­ri­ous­ness of the is­sue. He told IN­DIA TO­DAY: “I’ll en­sure the probe into the com­plaint of boy­cott is car­ried out prop­erly and will take cor­rec­tive steps if nec­es­sary.’’ Shah­taj and Ash­faq wait for such a day.

SANDESH RAVI KU­MAR

COM­MIT­TEE MEM­BERS OFTHIS RA­MACHAN­DRA­PU­RAM

MOSQUE STAND AC­CUSED IN THE CASE

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