The #Suryanelli Gang #Rape Survivor: Would I Get More Support Had I Died?
In Jan 1996, a school girl was kidnapped, held captive, and raped and brutalized by 42 men for 40 days. 16 year on she still awaits justice. Since the law in India does not allow rape victims to be identified, the victim became known as the “Suryanelli girl.” To read the full story of her continued fight for justice click here.
After the Delhi bus gang rape where the victim succumbed to the injuries that were inflicted on her, a number of violent gang rape survivors in India have raised the same question: Would they have received more public support if they too were killed after the rape? Why are women who’ve survive violent gang rapes in India and who are fighting a corrupt police and criminal system to get justice, not given the same sort of support by the public in India and internationally even when their cases are equally high profile as the Suryanelli and the Park street case have been? Why is there no one standing by their side, as they continue to fight despite harassment from the criminal system and social stigmatization?
Below the Suryanelli victim asks this question in her own words:
You may not know my name, ever. To the day I die, I am destined to bear this tag that I cannot shrug off. I am the Suryanelli girl. For the past 17 years, I have been fighting for justice as some called me a child prostitute and others the victim. But no one ever gave me a name like Nirbhaya or Amanat (treasure) [like they did for the Delhi Gang rape victim]. I will never be the nation’s pride or the face of women wronged. I am no longer the 16-year-old school girl who fell for her first love, and lost her life.
Yet, at 33, I am battling the same nightmares; my world is a grey longwinding road that stretches from my house to church and office.
People have a tendency to smirk when I recount the 40 days when I was turned into a female body that could be used anyway they liked sold like caged cattle, pushed into dark rooms across the state, raped day and night, kicked and punched. They ask me how I can remember everything, and I wonder, how can I ever forget? I drift into disturbed sleep every night with those days flashing in front of my eyes, and I wake up to a dark fathomless hole inhabited by slimy men and wicked women.
My trauma did not end with them dumping me near my house when I was near-dead . My family stood by me, and I filed the case thinking that this should not happen to another girl. I thought I was doing the right thing, but what followed changed my belief. The investigation team paraded me across the state, asked me countless times to describe everything they did to me. They made me realise that being a woman is not easy, as a victim or a survivor.
I feel relieved that the Delhi girl died, or she would have faced the same pointed, porn-tinted questions from everywhere, forced to explain countless whys, and would have had to live a life fearing her own shadow and without a friend.
I too don’t have a friend; no one in office wants to talk to me. My parents, and my sister working in Karnataka, are the only people who hear my voice, and yes, there are advocates, media persons and social activists. I read a lot too nowadays , I am reading K R Meera’s ‘Aarachar’ (The Hangman) now.
Apart from my family, no one else knows that I worry about my failing health, my constant headache, a leftover of those 40 days when a kick on the head was part of the abuse they unleashed on me. My doctor says I should not be so stressed, and I really thought it was funny. I have gained weight too, it is nearing 90. When I was suspended from my job for nine months, I spent most of my days in bed, and the kilos piled on. Now I am doing some exercises. Total cure is another dream, another prayer that keeps me going.
My belief in the Almighty that everything would turn out to be good is still alive. I pray every morning and night, and I don’t ask why me, why this again. I trust Him, even in those days when I could barely open my eyes or stay alive, I prayed. I belong to the Latin Church which is the largest individual church in the Catholic Church, but in all these 17 years, not even a single prayer was said for me in any church anywhere. No rosaries marked the Hail Marys, and no angels came to my doorstep to offer kind words.
But my belief has not wavered. It gives me the strength to watch 24/7 news channels where the protectors of law call me a child prostitute, and eminent personalities discuss why my case won’t stand. Even when I am framed in a financial fraud case in my office, and when my parents go down with major health problems , I convince myself that this too would pass. One day.
This account is an excerpt from The Sunday Times.