‘I vowed to pu­n­ish my wife’s rapists’

CHANGE AGENT This man from Haryana mar­ried a gang rape sur­vivor, sold prime prop­erty to hire lawyers and is now fight­ing a long bat­tle for jus­tice de­spite threats from the ac­cused

Hindustan Times (Noida) - - LET’STALKABOUT - Ji­ten­der Chat­tar let­[email protected]­dus­tan­times.com n

Let me be­gin with the part that’s the most un­com­fort­able to write or read about. Some years ago, my wife was gang-raped by eight men. They took pho­tos and videos of her dur­ing and af­ter the rape and used the recorded ma­te­rial to black­mail her. She was shot naked and they used the pic­tures to rape her for a year-and-a-half.

We were not mar­ried when this was hap­pen­ing. I heard about it from her soon af­ter we were en­gaged in Septem­ber 2015, when I met her for the first time. Our par­ents had ar­ranged the wed­ding. I vis­ited her home with my par­ents, who ap­proved the match, and I was not to see her again un­til the mar­riage cer­e­mony four months later. That is the tra­di­tion in ru­ral Haryana.

We stayed in touch via the odd phone call to each other; me from Ch­hat­tar vil­lage and her from Jind, about 30km apart. One day, she said she had some­thing im­por­tant to tell me, and asked if I could visit once more with my par­ents. When we made the trip later that week, she told us she was a rape sur­vivor and said she didn’t want to start a re­la­tion­ship with a lie. With tears in her eyes, she looked into mine and said, “I am not wor­thy of this re­la­tion­ship, please do not marry me.”

My con­science started haunt­ing me and I thought to my­self, “God will not for­give me if I don’t marry her.’’ I told her, “I will not only marry you, I will also en­sure that you get jus­tice.”

The pur­suit of jus­tice started be­fore our wed­ding.

Haryana has a huge rape prob­lem. In the state — whose name means the abode

of Hari, or God — the num­ber of gang rapes also out­num­ber that in any other In­dian state. Yet, this crime is dis­cussed in hushed tones. Our so­ci­ety places the blame en­tirely on the women.

Most men in the sit­u­a­tion I found my­self would have im­me­di­ately with­drawn the mar­riage pro­posal — a woman who has been raped is con­sid­ered to have no hon­our. Par­ents con­stantly fear for their daugh­ters’ safety in the abode of Hari.

I re­mem­ber that in Ch­hat­tar vil­lage, men would hang around the girls’ school and ha­rass the older fe­male stu­dents, who would never com­plain to their par­ents as it could mean no longer be­ing al­lowed to go to school to study.

An­other place where women would get rou­tinely ha­rassed was on the Haryana Road­ways bus from Ch­hat­tar to Jind, which was used daily by col­lege stu­dents. Be­cause of the ha­rass­ment, many Ch­hat­tar fam­i­lies had forced their girls to drop out of col­lege.

When I was a stu­dent trav­el­ling to Jind on the same bus in 2004, I wrote about the is­sue to the dis­trict gen­eral man­ager of Haryana Road­ways, and cam­paigned for a sep­a­rate, women-only bus for fe­male stu­dents. I wanted them to be able to con­tinue their ed­u­ca­tion with­out fear. Within a cou­ple of months, a new ve­hi­cle on the Chat­tar-jind route was re­served only for fe­male stu­dents. Then in 2013, I worked with the lo­cal Thua khap pan­chayat to help pre­vent sex se­lec­tion and fe­male foeti­cide in 24 vil­lages in Jind.

I learnt as I grew. There was a time when I be­lieved that al­co­hol, drugs and fast food were re­spon­si­ble for in­creas­ing rapes. For a while, I was known as a khap leader who said eat­ing chowmein leads to rape. Con­trary to what the me­dia has made me out to be in the past, I have al­ways be­lieved in fur­ther­ing the cause of women. I had also told jour­nal­ists that men need to be ed­u­cated about the is­sue, and that our chil­dren need to be taught tra­di­tional val­ues, which in­clude re­spect­ing women, but those bits were some­how left out.

Two weeks af­ter my visit to my fi­ancee’s home, I vowed to get her rapists pun­ished. I helped her file an FIR against the eight men, hired lawyers, and ini­ti­ated le­gal pro­ceed­ings. We got mar­ried in De­cem­ber 2015 de­spite sev­eral threats be­ing made to her fam­ily and mine. The men were wealthy young men from po­lit­i­cally con­nected fam­i­lies, with their main busi­ness be­ing poul­try, which is ex­tremely lu­cra­tive in these parts. Thugs were sent to our house to threaten us, ev­i­dence that we had placed be­fore the po­lice was kept out of court, and three fraud­u­lent FIRS were filed against me (all of which were found to be fab­ri­cated on in­ves­ti­ga­tion).

My par­ents stood by me and my wife, but that bat­tle was dif­fi­cult. I was threat­ened against pur­su­ing the case and also of­fered money to with­draw my com­plaint.

The dis­trict court ac­quit­ted the ac­cused. I have now taken it to the high court and have had to sell some land to pay for fight­ing the case. We sold two plots of land in Ch­hat­tar to raise about Rs 14 lakh in le­gal fees. We also have to live in Jind, in­stead of the vil­lage, as it is closer to the courts.

We have lost our peace of mind. Only bring­ing the per­pe­tra­tors to book will as­suage my wife’s pain. She has fre­quent night­mares.

Women in Haryana have lit­tle agency of their own. Af­ter mar­riage, I quit my fam­ily farm­ing busi­ness in Chat­tar and

› We have a two-year-old son, who we will en­rol in a school in Chandi­garh, away from Haryana’s vi­cious pa­tri­archy and rape cul­ture, which con­tin­ues to de­stroy the lives of women. But we have hope that one day there will be a huge shift in the sit­u­a­tion

moved to Jind so my wife can be closer to her par­ents. I am also pur­su­ing a de­gree in law, af­ter which I will fight my wife’s case my­self as I can­not af­ford any more le­gal fees, and nei­ther do I trust other lawyers.

We are for­tu­nate that my par­ents have given their bless­ings to what we know will be a long and hard bat­tle for jus­tice. It is not pos­si­ble, in these parts, to do such a thing with­out your par­ents’ per­mis­sion. Their sup­port has also helped us in the eyes of the vil­lagers, most of whom have been on good terms with my par­ents for years. In fact, be­fore the wed­ding, the en­tire pan­chayat came out in sup­port of my de­ci­sion to take up my wife’s fight for jus­tice.

At my sug­ges­tion, my wife is now also study­ing law. I have made plans to move our fam­ily soon to Chandi­garh, where we will prac­tice law to­gether and pro­vide women from ru­ral In­dia ac­cess to the le­gal ma­chin­ery. We also have a twoyear-old son, who we will en­rol in a pri­vate school in Chandi­garh, away from Haryana’s vi­cious pa­tri­archy and rape cul­ture, which con­tin­ues to de­stroy the lives of women. But we have hope that one day, soon, there will be a huge shift in the sit­u­a­tion. Like ur­ban In­dia has got its #Metoo move­ment, we hope that things will start chang­ing for women in the vil­lages too. My wife and I are do­ing our best. We hope we can bring change.

Ji­ten­der Chat­tar fea­tures in the up­com­ing doc­u­men­tary ‘SON RISE’ — a film by Na­tional Award win­ning film­maker Vibha Bak­shi

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