BIGOTS BOYCOTT RAPE VICTIM
Local mosque committee tries to coerce a 13- year- old Bangalore girl to marry her rapist
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.
COMMITTEE MEMBERS OFTHIS RAMACHANDRAPURAM
MOSQUE STAND ACCUSED IN THE CASE